Riding a bicycle is a great exercise for the cardiovascular system, not loading the joints, as while riding there is no pressure on the legs, although the problem of back pain is quite common among cyclists.
According to one study, about 68% of people who ride a bicycle regularly experience debilitating back pain at some point in their lives. Back pains from cycling can have several causes: incorrect bike size, poor posture, and weak and inelastic back (and core) muscles.
Research indicates that the best tandem bikes result in lower physiological stress compared to traditional cycling, but still by getting to know the proper size of your bicycle, doing stretching, and strengthening your back muscles, you can avoid back pains from cycling.
Choosing the right bike
Obviously, the wrong size bike can lead to backaches and other health problems, but many people choose their bike based on the recommended price and neglect the importance of ergonomics and size of the bike.
- Ideally, a bike should be tailored to your body size, but this service will cost you a penny. It is more advantageous to buy a bicycle in a specialized store (not in a large shopping mall) and ask a seller to find you a bicycle of a suitable size.
Choosing a bike that is too large can cause back pain, as you will have to lean heavily to reach the handlebar.
- When you have chosen a bike class and frame size, ask for a long test drive (at least 30 minutes) to see how your back will respond to this ride.
People with lumbar problems should think about buying a recumbent (lying) bike.
- Make sure the saddle is at an appropriate height. Although it is important to choose the right frame height so that you can descend safely. The height of a saddle is determined by the length of your legs, and the saddle itself should be positioned in such a way that when you move the pedal downwards (closer to the ground), your knee is slightly bent.
Ideally, your knees should be bent at an angle of 15-20 degrees.
- By pressing the pedals, your thighs and buttocks should not move from side to side, and you should not pull your foot down to the bottom with each press of the pedal. If you stretch out your legs too hard, it will put pressure on your lower back.
- Adjusting a saddle angle is also very important. Horizontal positioning (parallel to the ground) is most suitable, although people with chronic pain or a sensitive crotch prefer a slightly tilted forward saddle.
- Adjust the height and angle of a handlebar. It should be adjusted to such a height that you can reach it in an upright position, and your elbows should be slightly bent. Everybody adjusts their handlebar height to suit themselves, but depending on the flexibility of the lumbar muscles, it is often the same level or 10 cm higher than a saddle.
- You can’t change a handlebar angle on most small and medium bikes, but if that’s not your case, try different tilt angles and see how your back reacts. Increasing the tilt angle allows you to raise the handlebar and bring it closer to you (allowing you to sit more vertically) which can help prevent back pain.
Beginners and those who don't ride a bike often should keep a handlebar at the same height as a saddle.
Experienced cyclists usually put the steering wheel a few centimeters below the saddle to achieve greater aerodynamics and speed, but this requires good back muscle flexibility.
Choose a bike with suspension
Almost all modern bikes (at least mountain bikes) come with some kind of suspension or shock-absorbing accessories. Shock-absorption is very important for the health of your spine, in case you ride on bumpy terrain and the bike rattles frequently.
The smoother your ride, the less skeletal and muscular pain you will have. Choose a bike with at least front shock absorbers, but if it is important to prevent back pain, consider buying a bike with a full suspension under the saddle. Other forms of cushioning for a bicycle include thick spiked tires, a soft saddle, and lined & best padded bike shorts.
Most shock-absorbing accessories can be adjusted to suit you, so if necessary, ask your sales person for help.
City and road bikes are usually extremely light and tough, but they have no suspension.
Proper body position while riding
- Don't shuffle or bend your shoulders. If you want to avoid back pain, you need to hold the correct posture. Try to keep your back straight while riding but not as if you have swollen a stake - just avoid slouching.
- Shift some weight to your arms while keeping your chest and head straight. Change the position and angle of your upper body periodically, so your muscles don't get tired.
- Carefully raise and lower your head from time to time to relax your neck and avoid stretching your muscles.
- Approximately 45% of professional cyclists' injuries are in the lumbar region.
- Keep your hands slightly bent while riding (appr. 10 degrees). This position will allow the joints and upper body muscles to absorb some of the vibrations and shocks that hit the spine, especially if you travel frequently on the bumpy ground (woods or mountain trails). Take the handlebar with your entire palms, but don't squeeze too hard. Wear riding gloves to improve cushioning.
- If your back gets tired often while driving, split your journey and make more rest stops.
- Bend your leg at 90 degrees angle when you lift the pedal. Your hips and lower back will feel best if your knee is at an angle of 90 degrees when the pedal is in the top position (furthest from the ground). At such an angle, your hip will be placed almost parallel to the saddle which will help you press the pedal firmly.
- When the pedal is at the bottom, your leg should be bent at an angle of 15-20 degrees. This position will have less impact on lumbar, tendon and ligament muscles. If your legs don't bend that much while riding, then you should change the saddle height.
- The front of your foot should be on the pedal when you press it.
- Cycling does not put as much pressure on the spine as other aerobic exercises such as running, but it has more stress on the joints than swimming.
- Cruiser bikes are not designed for speed riding but they are more ergonomic for the back and spine.
- Bonesetters and physiotherapists are skilled in strengthening and restoring back function. Think about getting checked/treated before you start cycling more seriously.