What to do if you have back pain from cycling

Bradley Wiggins
Bradley Wiggins

It's Tour De France time!  And if like me, you live in London, you could probably mistake London Town for the French Alps as there are so many cyclists on the roads these days.  In fact, cycling has become the most popular mode of transport in recent years.  Perhaps Londoners are becoming more health conscious, maybe it's the lure of trying out the Boris Bike.  I think it's amazing to see so many people taking a practical approach to health and making their commute part of their fitness regime.  I've seen a few people fall in love with cycling, getting the latest carbon fibre frame, custom aligned to their body, all the cycling garb, the cleats - before you know it they are wearing a yellow jersey!  But then, unexpectedly, back pain strikes and feeling pro very quickly becomes feeling low.  So how do you avoid back pain when your bike becomes your best friend?  Read on to find out....

The cycling position

If you assume the pro position on the bike or even a metropolitan modification of this position then you'll probably look a lot like Bradley Wiggins (see above).  Maybe you even think of yourself as looking a bit like Bradley but I'm not here to comment on that!  You can see that the spine is rounded - excessively rounded which makes you more streamline and therefore faster and more efficient.  However, sustaining this position for long periods can create imbalance in the spine which can lead to irritation, discomfort and injury.

Getting your bike fitted properly

There is not much you can do on the bike - although it goes without saying that you see a bike specialist to make sure your bike is optimally fitted to your proportions.  If you can, try to find a company that can observe you actually cycling so they can see what's happening when you move.  I would recommend www.bike-science.com who can do a 3D analysis of your position and movement on the bike.

Rebalancing your body

I have several clients that cycle to work and recreationally at weekends.  For these Tour De France wannabes, I make sure that I put in exercises that extend the spine or reverse the bike position curvature of the spine.  I also include exercises to upright and extend the upper back as well as externally rotate the arms and retract and depress the shoulders.  All these actions are the reverse of the position on the bike which encourages flexion of the spine, internal rotation of the arms, protraction of the shoulder blades.  I also include exercises that work the glutes, hamstrings and lower back in an extended position.  In cycling the glutes and hamstrings work against a flexed torso but we need these muscles to co-ordinate in upright as well.  Here are a few suggestions to get you started and make sure you go through them with a trained specialist to make sure you are in the correct alignment and use correct technique.

Precision Movement exercises for cyclists with back pain
Precision Movement exercises for cyclists with back pain
Precision Movement exercise for cyclists with back pain
Precision Movement exercise for cyclists with back pain
Precision Movement exercise for cyclists with back pain
Precision Movement exercise for cyclists with back pain

The best bike solution if you have a back problem

dutch bike best for back pain
dutch bike best for back pain

The best bike for bad backs is the Dutch style with high handle bars.  Yes it's more of a cruising bike with a vintage feel - you are not going to see Chris Hoy on one of these - but it is the best choice for those who have back problems or structural damage.  The higher handle bars encourage your spine to stay more upright which helps keep to maintain the discs and vertebra in the optimal alignment thus reducing the risk of discomfort. 

If you are prone to back problems or have an injury like a disc prolapse it is better to take short journeys between 20-30 mins and then get off and walk or stretch a bit rather than doing a 3 hour power cycle.  The spine does not like sustained postures so the more you can change up your position the less likely you'll irritate your back. Cycle for enjoyment which means take it easy with the speed and the resistance.  

Don't forget your helmet and happy pain free cycling! 

For more information on exercise for cyclists whether recreational or professional please contact KT at KT@precisionmovement.co.uk.  If you are injured and would like more information on how KT can help you please visit the website at www.precisionmovement.co.uk.