Back Pain From Cycling? Here’s How To Fix It
Why does my back hurt when I bike?
Sure, putting miles and miles on the bike helps keep you entire body in peak shape, from your cardiovascular system to your quads. But it also means you’re spending hours upon hours crouched over the handlebars – and that can be rough on your back. As a Brookfield chiropractor, I see plenty of cyclists walk into my office suffering from lower back pain.
Of course, spending an afternoon out on your bike is far healthier for you than slumping at a desk, but the fact is that you’re still stuck in a sitting position the entire time.
This posture tips your pelvis forward, putting strain on your lower back muscles and shortening the muscles in your anterior hip – your hip flexors and quads. And when these muscles get tight, your glutes stop working properly. So it’s a two-pronged problem: tightness in the front and weakness in the rear.
The good news is that you don’t have to just accept back pain as an unavoidable part of your everyday routine. Even better, you don’t need to pop painkillers and anti-inflammatories to fix it. And best, you don’t have to let it stop you from getting out on the road for your regular rides.
1. Get Your Bike Fitted
When you bought your bike, it was most likely appropriately adjusted to your body by the professionals at the shop you bought it at. Even so, back pain is a good hint that it’s time to see them again.
The majority of cycling-related low back pain is caused by disc compression – while the stress on the facet joints is reduced when you’re bent forward, the stress on the intervertebral discs is actually increased, particularly those in your lumbar spine.
The most common culprit is a bike that’s too big or too small, but even if you’re on the right size bike, your fit could still be out of whack. A proper bicycle fit is critical – seat height, handlebar rise, crank arm length, and saddle fore and aft (or how you position your seat) can all play a part in how comfortable your ride is.
If you’re pedaling in place on a trainer, you can probably get away with simply raising the handlebars a few inches yourself and tilting the seat forward an extra 5º, which can help minimize the pain caused by hunching forward. However, if you’re actually getting out on the road, it’s worth your time to have a pro bike fitter make the correct adjustments for your body instead of trying to dial it in yourself. It’s even possible you need to be switched to an entirely different type of bike that’ll allow you to go for long bike rides without back pain.
2. Stretch Your Hip Flexors
The first step in counteracting cycling-related back pain is to stretch the muscles in your hips.
One of my favorite stretches for cyclists targets two tight spots at once: a wall lunge that helps lengthen both your quads and hip flexors. Begin by facing away from a wall. Place your left foot completely vertically on the wall. Place your right foot far enough to be in a slight amount of hip extension at the rear leg. Keep your foot on the wall as you drop your left knee straight down. Straighten up with your torso to stretch your left quad and hip flexor musculature. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds, then switch sides.
Along with stretching, spending some quality time with a foam roller or lacrosse ball to loosen up your quads, hip flexors and IT bands can work wonders, too.
3. Strengthen Your Glutes
Because tight hip flexor muscles frequently result in weak glutes, those massive muscles should be the first to be targeted when it comes to strength training.
Squats, split squats, clam shells, side planks, lunges, and romanian deadlifts are all workouts that target your glutes. But if you only have time for one exercise, the banded glute bridge should be it.
The glute bridge (with or without weight) is a great move for firing up your gluteus maximus on its own. However, you can easily double its effectiveness and target the other glute muscles by wrapping a resistance band around your thighs and pushing your knees out to create an unbeatable 2-in-1 exercise.
To do it, place a resistance band loop (also known as a booty band) around both thighs, so it rests just above your knees. Start on your back with your knees raised and your heels shoulder-width apart, about a foot in front of your glutes. Leave your arms at your side. Drive through your feet to lift your hips and push out with your knees, squeezing your glutes as you go. Avoid arching your back and make sure your knees bend 90 degrees at the top. Hold for 10 seconds, lower your hips back down and repeat.
Because hip stiffness and glute weakness mean your core has to work harder to keep you stable, core-stability exercises like plank variations and dead bugs can also help.
4. Know When To Call Your Chiropractor
All of this being said, no matter how hard you work to prevent back pain, sometimes your body needs a little extra help from your chiropractor. How can you tell if your soreness is severe enough to require some professional TLC? Pay attention to your body, especially the following day. Cyclists should be concerned if their back pain lasts more than a day after riding or if their back symptoms are accompanied by pain or weakness running down one or both legs.
Remember, cycling shouldn’t be painful – pain isn’t normal! Following these suggestions can help prevent the cycling injuries we see so often at Ascent Chiropractic.
Got Back Pain?
Need a Brookfield chiropractor? If you’re reading this, you probably already know that the results we get at Ascent Chiropractic are second to none. To make an appointment at Ascent Chiropractic, call 262-345-4166 or schedule an appointment with our online scheduling app.
Featured image by Freepik