Back Pain in Cycling
Low back pain is an extremely common complaint
among cyclists. Most serious riders have experienced
low back pain at some time riding while others
may be plagued by continued low back pain. Low
back pain will increase with increased time spent
on the bike and in a more aerodynamic position.
Proper bike fit and cycling posture is essential for prevention
and treatment of low back pain in cycling.
Ideally the low back should be maintained in a
neutral position while riding. If a riding
position is too long or too low the cyclist's
back will be extended into an uncomfortable lordodic
posture. This will result in increased pressure
on the posterior elements of the lumbar vertebra.
If on the other hand the reach is too short, the
low back will be forced into a flexed position
placing increased pressure on the vertebral discs.
Getting the proper stem/top tube length and stem
rise is therefor critical. Riders with chronic
low back pain will need to come up to a higher
Finding and maintaining a neutral spine/pelvis
position is the key to preventing low back pain.
Once you've found your neutral spine you will
need to train yourself to maintain it while riding
(similar to maintaining proper sitting posture
at a desk).
A seat that is too high or a leg length discrepancy
will cause excessive side to side rock while riding.
This will caused repeated tilt and rotation stress
on the low back.
A saddle is that is not level can also cause low
back pain. If A saddle is tilted backwards this
will cause a posterior tilt of the pelvis and
consequently strain the low back. If you are sliding
forwards from a forward tilting saddle you'll
be putting too much weight on your arms.
Muscle imbalances and control
The position of the pelvis may be influenced by
the large muscles that attach to it. Tight hamstrings
tend to posteriorly tilt the pelvis while tight
quadriceps and hip flexors tend to anteriorly
tilt the pelvis. Maintaining good flexibility
can reduce strain on the low back.
On-the-bicycle stretches can also be very helpful.
A strong core and abdominals are important in
maintaining a neutral spine and provide a stable
platform needed for effective transfer of force
to the pedals.
Training & riding technique
Pushing too big a gear for too long and staying
seated climbing for too long can cause the back
muscles to fatigue. As a consequence a neutral
pelvic tilt will be lost resulting in a painful
low back posture. Most of the back muscles contract
isometrically while riding to provide stability.
Prolonged isometric contractions can cause painful
ischemia, muscle spasm and accumulation of lactic
acid. Changing your posture regularly by alternating
hand position and coming up into a standing position
while riding can alleviate strain imposed by a
prolonged static posture. As with all overuse
injuries, gradually increasing you training and
spinning early in the season is important in prevention.
Stress on the mountain biker's back comes from
repetitive jolting and vibration from rough terrain.
Suspension and underinflating the tires can help
Cycling should be an enjoyable experience not
a painful one. Paying attention to proper riding
posture and technique can eliminate unnecessary