Why Does My Lower Back Hurt Cycling?


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I get it, you’re excited to hit the road spinning now that you have cycled down somewhat and you can feel the adrenaline pumping! That 20 mile stretch of road you have been eager to tackle in less time than you did before motivates you to push yourself just a little. You accomplish the challenge feeling great, then the next day is a different story. When you awaken, you are hunched over like an old man/woman and can’t understand why your back hurts.

Why does my lower back hurt cycling?

The number one reason new or even experienced cyclists suffer from back pain while cycling is due to bike fit. In addition, many cyclists overlook the fact that poor flexibility, especially in the hamstrings, and lack of core strength contribute to back pain.

For starters, it should be mentioned that if you suffer from any medical condition in relation to your back please seek professional medical advice before continuing to cycle. Now for those that lack a medical condition, it is essential to continue reading as there are some helpful ways to prevent back pain when cycling and even help you to recover from it.

Lower Back Pain Due To Bike Riding

When going out to cycle, one of the misconceptions is that a rider does not need to stretch before going out to ride due to cycling being a low-impact exercise. I’m here to tell you that this is a common mistake and from experience, a hard lesson learned.

With any form of exercise you want to warm your body up and start out slowly, then begin to build up intensity and frequency.

You should pay attention to the position you ride in that may be causing the lower back pain. It’s easy to get relaxed on a bike as you coast along but fail to correct a slouchy or laid-back position on longer rides.

For instance, when riding a road bike, many cyclists are crouched over the bike bent at the waist thus hyper-extending the lower back. This position held for longer periods of time on the bike will eventually cause lower back pain.

To aid in reducing the back pain when in a bent-over position, practice alternating your position on the bike when possible by sitting upright or even raising up out of the seat and stand as you pedal. Listening to your body while cycling will tell you when your posture is slacking and you can do your body some good by adjusting your position.

Strengthening Leg Muscles

When you ride a bike the leg muscle that gets worked the most is going to be the quadriceps. The downward force that is placed on cycling just doesn’t aid in strengthening the hamstrings. But you don’t want to forget the back of muscles when working them out either.

Training your hamstrings is one of the essential components in increasing your performance cycling. They aid in speed, balance, and stability while riding.

Applying resistance to your hamstrings will help engage them and make them stronger.

Here are some of the best exercises for hamstrings:

  • Single Leg Pedaling
  • Leg Press
  • Single-Leg Press
  • Leg Extensions
  • Kettlebell Swing
  • Lateral/Side Lunges

Bike Fit

If you find out that your lower back hurts every time you ride, it might be that the bike fit is putting a strain on the back. Some cyclists suffer when riding a bike that is too big and doesn’t fit their bodies.

Take it upon yourself to invest in a bike fit at a local bike shop. There is usually an experienced bike fitter that will measure and custom fit a bike to your specific body. They will help to align the body with the bike and ensure it meets the height and size proportionate to you.

Just so you’ll know, a good bike fit will be an investment (upwards of $100 dollars or more) but definitely worth it to help promote a comfortable ride or prevent future injuries. It’s important to note that this is usually performed when someone is buying a new bike as many adjustments are considered to accurately fit you for a bike to your body’s dynamic.

Doing a bike fit on a used bike may come down to you doing the adjustments yourself, but with suggestions from a local bike shop. The reason being is most likely due to having to start all over with a used bike. Almost every component of a bike can be adjusted to a setting fit for you, but if the bike is already put together there may be a problem with the bike setup that may be an improper fit for you.

What A Bike Fit Entails:

  • Proper frame size
  • Height measurement
  • Inseam measurement
  • Proper seat/saddle
  • Seat height adjustment
  • Seat angle adjustment
  • Seat adjustment on the rails
  • Setting the handlebar height
  • Considering handlebar width
  • Cycling cleat adjustment
  • Brake lever adjustment

How To Stretch The Lower Back

Stretching is one of the benefits of preventing injuries, especially if you can perform a good stretch of the back.

You may not have heard of this muscle of the back called psoas (soʊ.əs) major. It’s a long muscle, similar to a spindle with yarn wraps around it, that runs down the lumbar area to the lower pelvis. This helps to contribute to flexibility in the hip joints.

One way to engage the psoas is by doing proper stretches that target that area. You can see a demonstration of this here.

Another way to getting the back stretched is by practicing yoga. Yoga for cyclists can be very useful and include some very specific stretches for the lower back. On youtube there are many helpful videos on how to do this in the comfort of your own home and some may only take 10 minutes of your time.

Lastly getting massages is one of the ways you can work those back muscles out and relieve some tension. Not only is this relaxing but can target those trouble areas to allow efficient blood flow. Be careful though with deep tissue massages as this can be more harmful than helpful.

Core Strengthening

Lower back pain can be prevented or remedied by focusing on strengthening the core muscles. Exercising the muscles in the abdomen can be one of the essential things you can do to aid in this problem.

Many cyclists who fail to practice a routine of core exercises really place the lower back in a position to be overused and strained. It’s also known that strengthen the core is a challenge and often a dreadful activity for many. But if you want to take care of the lower back getting your core right will help build stability and balance while cycling.

Some common exercises to consider are:

  • Abdominal Crunch
  • Planks
  • Abdominal press – a machine that aids in pressing the abdomen into a crunch
  • Voluntary abdominal contraction exercises – tightening stomach by contracting them then releasing, then repeating

We covered that the bike fit is the number one reason cyclist have lower back pain. It’s is vital that we take care of our back if we want to continue in this activity long term.

Let’s not accept the notion that cyclists do not need to stretch or warm-up before cycling. Nor should ignoring the problem be accepted as part of being a cyclist.

Pay attention to the trigger points that cause your lower back pain at the onset of feeling discomfort. Sometimes the symptoms may be subtle so to continue to make it a habit of correcting your posture while riding, strengthening the leg muscles, stretching the lower back, and added in some core exercises.

If you suffer from any aches, pains, or discomfort after riding it is still likely related to improper bike fit. Remember to seek professional healthcare advice if you have a back condition before returning to cycling.

Even if you consider all the exercises and stretches that contribute to a healthy back, it may not be the cure-all. A consistent and proper technique will align you in the best position to prevent the most common injuries of the lower back.

 

Photo: By Firepuck25 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

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