Cycling is a popular exercise that some people claim have helped relieve their lower back pain while some say the exercise has exacerbated it. So which is which?
We will discuss how cycling can be beneficial to your lower back and what you are doing wrong if it gives you lower back pains and how this can be corrected and avoided.
Cycling is a great low impact activity for people suffering from lower back pain. With proper posture and the right bike size and set up, cycling is a good recovery exercise that will allow you to come back strong from an injury, without undue strain to your back.
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Can I Ride a Bike When Suffering from Lower Back Pain?
Lower back pain is one of the two most common injuries for cyclists, the other being knee pain. But answering the question of whether or not you can ride a bike while suffering from lower back pain is a bit more complicated than a straight yes or no answer.
If the lower back pain is caused by cycling itself, then it’s possible that the pain is easily remedied by adjusting your cycling position or rearranging your bike setup. These settings include the height of your seat, the distance of the handlebars, etc.
If good old back muscle ache is what you are experiencing, then you can definitely get on that bike. You may need to make some adjustment to your posture and to your bike, but overall, cycling does help with muscular back pains.
If your lower back pain is not a recent occurrence if it was caused by an accident or anything else other than biking, or it just won’t go away and is worsening, then it would be best to consult a medical professional just to be on the safe side.
That is not to say that you shouldn’t get on a bike if you have a bad back. If your doctor says okay, then give it a go. In fact, cycling is often recommended as a recovery exercise for its nature.
Can Cycling Help with Lower Back Pain?
Unlike other strenuous exercises like running or jumping, cycling is less jarring to the spinal column. This low-impact sport is perfect for people who are recovering from injury, prone to injury or for the elderly.
As long as you maintain proper posture and have a good fitting bike, then cycling can only strengthen your muscles.
Cycling Seat Positions that Cause Lower Back Pain and How to Correct Them
Yes, cycling has beneficial effects in strengthening and stabilizing back muscles and the hips, shoulders, and spine. However, it can be a cause of lower back pain too!
You can easily strain your back if you don’t maintain proper posture. Leaning over with your back too arched up or too curved down with the head fully facing forward is very bad posture.
To let your upper body absorb the impact of riding instead of your spine, try to keep your arm bent slightly when riding. Do not fully extend your leg when on the downward stroke, your seat should be just the right height, so your knees have a little bend to them.
On top of the stroke, the knees should have an angle of no less than 90 degrees. This is kinder to your lower back.
While cycling long distances, you can change up the angle and position of your torso every now and then, so the muscle does not stiffen up and become overly fatigued from maintaining one position throughout the ride.
Cycling on very rough terrain or sharp slopes can also jolt and compress the spine. Some other contributors are ill-fitting bikes, and weak core and hip muscles. We will address these issues in the succeeding two sections of this article.
Choosing the Best Bike to Avoid Lower Back Pain
The best bike for avoiding or relieving lower back pain is the bike that fits your individual body size and is properly set up accordingly. You must also select the right bike for your purpose. If you like riding on rough terrain, don’t buy a road racing bike.
If you are out shopping, choose a dedicated cycling shop over just any department store so you can select a well-fitting bike. If a bike is too big, you will have to reach far forward just to reach the handlebars and possibly overextend your spine.
If it’s too small, you’ll be hunched over just to fit the bike, resulting in over flexing your back and hips. The assistant in the cycling shops will also know how to adjust the angle and height of both the seat and the handlebars to fit you well.
As a reference, you can check out this useful article on Bike Fit to help you determine a good bike fit for you.
You will be more upright and comfortable in bikes with high and straight handlebars. Bigger tires and a suspension mechanism will significantly reduce shock. Better yet, choose a bike with shock-absorbing accessories or install these accessories on your current bike to be kinder to your neck and spine.
There are bikes that are specially made to provide more support for the rider’s back. The most popular of which is the recumbent bike.
True to its name, you’ll appear to be lying down or sitting comfortably on this bike, which allows for your weight to be evenly distributed over a large area. It can look and feel silly if you’re not used to this style, but hey, your back is happy.
Semi Recumbent and Upright Models
If the recumbent bike is not for you, then there are other new bike models nowadays that sit you higher but still decreases the pressure to your back. Some of them are semirecumbent while some are upright. They’re not as comfortable as recumbent bikes, but they’re much more back-friendly than other normal, upright sitting bicycles.
These new bikes have features like seat shock absorption, lower seats, and higher handlebars. Check out the Diamond Wildwood, the Fito Marina 3-Speed Beach Cruiser, and the Schwinn Suburban. (Some of these models can be found over on Amazon)
Lower Back Pain Cycling Stretches
In order to prevent lower back pain when cycling, it’s important to have a flexible spine and hips. The glute and core muscles supporting your back must also be strong enough to do their job well.
It’s best to regularly perform some supplementary stretches and strengthening exercises that will keep your body limber and strong to prevent lower back pain when cycling.
Here are a few stretches to start a routine with:
Hip Opener and Glute Stretcher
This stretch will flex your glutes and open your hips.
Sit on a chair and place your left foot firmly on the floor with your calf perpendicular to your left thigh, and your left knee and left ankle in a straight line.
Place your right ankle on your left knee. Keep the spine as long and extended as possible, and as you inhale, fold at the hips. Exhale as you bend your torso forward over your right shin.
Hold the position and take five deep breaths. Relax and try to place your forearms on top of the folded leg. Repeat this position upon exchanging legs.
Supine Body Rotation
If you have a stiff back, then this stretch is for you. The supine body rotation will release tension in your spine, shoulders, and hips.
While lying on your back, bend your knees in front of you and bring them close to your chest, just like you’re sitting on a chair. Slowly bring your knees to the floor on your right, twist your torso while keeping your upper back flush to the floor.
Your face and shoulders should still be facing up while your knees are swiveled to the right. If they can’t reach the floor yet, you can rest your knees on a pillow.
Spread your arms outwards and count to five. Bring your knees back forward then slowly repeat the process on your left side.
Downward Facing Dog
This is a great whole body stretch that will release tension in the spine, open your hips and even stretch your legs.
Get on your hands and knees with your wrist in line with the shoulders and the knees under your hips. Toes should be tucked.
Slowly, stretch your arms in front of you, still shoulder-width apart and lift your knee from the ground with your toes facing forward. Lift your bottom and straighten your legs. Don’t forget to spread your fingers to distribute your weight evenly and avoid injuries. Relax in this position and hold it 15 seconds.
You should be able to feel this stretch on your shoulders and upper back.
Look ahead with a straight back and neck. Cross your arms around your shoulder like you are hugging yourself with either your left arm over the right or vice versa. Hug far into your back as if you’re trying to reach the center, between the shoulder blades.
Your chest should be compressed inwards while the back is ever so slightly curved outwards. Hold this position for 5 seconds and switch.
Now that you are aware of how cycling can either cause or relieve lower back pain, you can reassess your biking style and posture and be on your way to happy, pain-free cycling.