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Back Pain from Cycling
Back Pain from Cycling
Back Pain from Cycling

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Cycling Back Pain

Cycling back pain can occur during or after the ride. In most cases, this type of back pain is not serious and will go away by itself or after making the required changes in your riding style, the bicycle or other equipment you are using, or just getting in shape. Anyway, bicycling and pain are not strangers to each other.

Many types of pain can result from our great hobby, such as leg pain, bicycling knee pain, neck muscle pain and the most common bicycle saddle sores. Back pain is another quite common type of pain resulting from bicycle riding.

Types of Cycling Back Pain

There are two main types of back pain from bicycling: Upper back pain and lower back pain. On this page, I will focus on the 2nd form of pain. In most cases, lower back pain is associated with neck pain and is covered in my article about neck muscle pain.

While riding, the lower back muscles stabilize and control the movement. If our back is not in its best condition and it is not flexible enough, we can expect to suffer from back pain. Lower back pain is widespread in both road bike cycling and mountain biking.

What Causes Cycling Back Pain

There are several reasons for having cycling back pain. The main factors most likely contributing to lower back pain while cycling are incorrect riding style, non-optimal bicycle fit, and lack of core muscle flexibility and strength. Let’s discuss these factors one by one and add some others as well.

Bike Fit and Your Posture on the Bike

In most riding styles, especially mountain and road biking, our back is arched to absorb the bumps. If you ride straight upright, your spine cannot “give” when the bike hits bumps. On the other hand, if we lean too much forward, bumps might cause the back to bow even farther in the forward direction. In both cases, we can expect to have back pain.

Bicycle sizing is a key factor that affects our back while riding. Many cyclists need to be fully aware of the dramatic effect on their health of riding a bike that is too small or too big, such as lower back pain, especially on long and consecutive rides.

Generally speaking, every aspect of the bicycle geometry, such as the height of the bicycle handlebars, top tube length (or the length of the “virtual” top tube, in some bicycle models) may increase the pressure on the intervertebral disks, and harm the biker’s back that can cause back pain.

If you are interested to learn more about bicycle sizing you are welcome to visit my pages about how to fit a bicycle and about bicycle sizing.

Besides the size of the bicycle, other bicycle-related factors can affect our back. A major cause of back pain is incorrect saddle height: If the saddle is placed too high, our hips might rock from side to side. This can cause back pain. A bicycle seat that is too low might have a negative effect on other parts of our body: this can cause a bicycling knee pain.

Lack of Suspension (Mountain Bikes)

From my experience, proper suspension in mountain bikes is another not-so-commonly discussed cause of cycling back pain. Please refer to my articles about mountain bike shocks and about bicycle forks. If you are serious about mountain biking, you should consider riding a bicycle with shocks.

The saddle is Another important bicycle part you should consider evaluating. I would recommend using the best bicycle seat. You can also consider using a suspension seat post.

The Riding Style

Did you know...?

Cycling Back Pain

Did you know that doing a bit of weight training can help protect you against cycling-related back pain?

Doing deadlifts or weighted hyperextensions will condition your lower back muscles to support heavy loads, ensuring that these muscles are better prepared for competitive cycling.

While climbing and sprinting, we put a lot of pressure on the pedals, and there is a tendency to pull the handlebars up. This puts a lot of pressure on our back muscles. Strengthen your lower back muscles and avoid overload.

Lack of Muscles Flexibility / Core Strength: We like bicycling and often do not add any other sports activity to our routing. Lack of proper flexibility and core strength can cause lower back pain, as Road and mountain biking demands prolonged back flexion. Regardless of our bicycling level, core strength and stability should be something that we all have to maintain and improve.

Tiredness

As you tire on a long ride, our rising style changes. One of the changes is the tendency to put more load on the lower (and upper) back. We also often lean to the side of the downstroke so the body's weight can help the tired leg muscles. This also adds an extra load on our back. When you feel that you are tired, do not continue riding (like we did during our Rhine River tour). Take a break, fuel up, look at the scenery -- riding is supposed to be fun.

Too Heavy Backpack

Here I have to admit: although I know that it is not the best way to carry cycling equipment, I like to ride with a cycling backpack full of water, spare parts and tools on my back.

Carrying a heavy cycling backpack loaded with water, spare inner tube and bicycle repair kit increase the risk of having a cycling back pain. Extra weight increases your back muscles' work, causing cycling back pain. Try to carry the water bottle in a bicycle water bottle cage attached to the bicycle frame. Carry your bicycle repair tools in an bicycle saddle bag.

Non Cycling Related factors

There may be many other reasons for back pain besides cycling. It may be due to other physical activities. I don't want to talk about this serious matter here.

For more information, you can turn to online information sources, such as Wikipedia. As always, when it comes to health-related issues, I recommend consulting a sports doctor.

In the meantime, there are several products that you may consider using as a first aid treatment. Take a look at this excelent product.

Treatment for Your Back Pain

As with most muscle and joint-related problems, treatment for cycling back pain will differ depending on the pain's source and the injury's severity. Here are some of the most common treatment options for cycling-related back pain.

Massage Therapy

Cycling Back Pain
  • If your back pain is caused by a build-up of excess lactic acid in your lower back muscles, massage therapy is your best bet.
  • There are several types of massage therapies. You're not looking for a relaxing oil massage. You want a deep tissue or sports massage specifically designed to relieve muscle soreness and dissipate lactic acid in your muscles.
  • If the pain is particularly severe, ask for your massage therapist to perform petrissage. This type of massage uses the fingertips to knead out specific kinks in the muscle and is a basic massage skill that every certified massage therapist should know. It's great for treating cycling back pain. It'll be a little more expensive as therapists work on one small area at a time, but the relief it brings is well worth it.

Chiropractic Treatment

Cycling Back Pain
  • If your back pain is caused by an injury to your joints or spine, chiropractic treatment is your best bet.
  • Chiropractic treatment involves the application of carefully measured force to painful joints or pressure points along the spine. This will help to reduce inflammation, relieve pain, and restore lower back mobility.
  • If you are suffering from pain and restricted lower back movement, the odds are high that you need to see a chiropractor.
  • Chiropractic treatment can be excruciating, but when performed by a certified professional, it'll do plenty of good in the long run.

Change in Diet

Cycling Back Pain
  • Cycling back pain can sometimes be caused by nutritional deficiencies. Sportsmen, especially those who participate in strenuous sports like cycling, require larger quantities of essential vitamins and minerals than people with sedentary lifestyles, as their bodies are subjected to far greater stress.
  • One crucial vitamin for athletes is Vitamin D. A high Vitamin D intake reduces the risk of muscle and bone pain. The human body can produce Vitamin D in the presence of sunlight. Still, as this occurs in minimal quantities, athletes are strongly advised to ingest Vitamin D supplements regularly.
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency is also linked to chronic back pain. This deficiency is rare, but if your back pain is accompanied by numbness or tingling, you may need to see a doctor about getting some Vitamin B12 jabs or a Vitamin B12 nasal spray.
  • Cycling back pain can be alleviated by ingesting herbs like white willow bark, which, once digested, converts to salicylic acid. Salicylic acid reduces joint and muscle inflammation.

Surgery

Cycling Back Pain
  • This is a last resort. Very few cyclists will require surgery to remedy their back pain. If a surgical procedure is needed to alleviate the problem, the injury is far more severe than a muscle or joint strain. The patient is probably suffering from a disc problem.
  • Bulging or herniated disks are hardly ever caused by cycling. They are usually caused by lifting heavy weights with incorrect posture. These problems may, however, be exacerbated by poor cycling habits.
  • If the pain spreads from your back down to your legs and is frequently accompanied by numbness, you may suffer from a disc problem. See a doctor and find out if surgery is needed.

Preventing Cycling Back Pain

As the adage goes, prevention is better than cure. Now that you know more about the different causes of back pain and the strategies you can adopt to avoid back injuries, you should quickly correct any bad habits before back pain develops. Adopt a well-rounded training regime that strengthens your lower back and abdominal muscles instead of targeting your legs. Consume food and supplements rich in essential vitamins and minerals. Last of all, when in doubt, see a doctor. They'll be able to diagnose your ailment and prescribe treatment tailor-made for your type of injury!

Last Word About Cycling Back Pain

Lower back pain is quite common among cyclists. The good news is that we can prevent most cases of lower back pain by making some minor adjustments in the bicycle fit, changing our posture on the bicycle, strengthening our back, and changing our cycling style and technique. Some other reasons for back pain are not directly related to bicycle riding. Just like in any other health problem, my recommendation is to consult a doctor who specializes in sports injuries.

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