Low back pain and neck pain are common complaints amongst cyclists and can be debilitating, having far reaching effects on your sports performance as well as your work and social life.
There are a number of structures that are affected due to the prolonged flexed posture of the low back while cycling. This includes muscular fatigue, excessive tension forming within the tendons, lengthening and weakening of the ligaments and compression of the spinal discs. In my clinical practice I find that back pain arises from a combination of structures being affected. Visit a registered osteopath who will examine, diagnose and offer treatment to help relieve your back pain.
Many of my patients ask ‘How can I prevent back pain due to cycling?’ I cannot stress enough how important the set-up of your bike is, and my advice is to visit a reputable bike shop to have this assessed by a professional bike fitter.
Whilst cycling, ideally your spine should remain in a neutral position; this can be achieved by rotating your pelvis forwards. However, to maintain this position you will require strong abdominal muscles. Investing some time in strengthening your core muscles is a really good way to help prevent bad posture and back pain and prepare you for cycling.
A lot of the cycling related back pain I asses is due to tight hamstring muscles, particularly in those individuals who cycle to and from work but sit for prolonged periods in between. Sitting causes a shortening and tightening of the hamstring muscles as well as the hip flexor muscles which can both contribute to back pain. Ensure you are taking time to stretch out these muscle groups.
Here are a few basic tips to help start setting up your bike, there are many variations and ideally it is advisable to be professionally fitted at a reputable cycling store.
The frame size – When standing astride your bike there should be roughly a 2-3 inch clearance between your groin and the top tube of the bicycle.
The saddle height – Whilst cycling, your knees should remain slightly flexed at the end of the down stroke.
The saddle tilt – To take pressure off your low back tilt the saddle very slightly forward, this will transfer your weight through your arms and hands.
The Handlebars – Handlebars that are too low increase flexion in the lumbar spine leading to back pain. Low handle bars can also contribute to neck pain and sometimes headaches. This is because you tilt your head up to see where you are going causing a compression in the delicate structures of the cervical spine.