Similar to other sport and activity-related pains, prevention is key – prior to beginning any cycling program or long-distance ride, be sure to prepare with appropriate training and equipment.
- Rest. There’s a reason it will be the first thing most people who work in the medical field will tell you. Rest often works, at least in the short term. If not, try… Be sure to avoid being overly sedentary: consider some lighter, low-impact activity such as walking or elliptical.
- 2 Days Ice, then 2 Days Heat. If there is swelling of the back or the pain is a little bit more severe, ice for a few days followed by heating packs, heating pads or warm washcloths should be helpful. If you don’t feel any relief from ice, feel free to start on heat.
- Check Your Saddle and Handles. Improper saddle/handle configurations not only limit your efficiency on the bike, they take your body off the neutral alignment that is key to preventing injury. Saddles that are too high can cause your hips to rock from side to side, probably without you realizing it. You should have a slight bend (25-35 degrees of flexion) in your knee when the pedal is at its lowest point. The professionals at a cycling shop are able to assess your equipment, recommend equipment optimization/changes, and such a visit will be well worth your time.
- Work Your Core. When cycling, your core is the foundation. If you have a weak core, your lower back muscles may be trying to compensate, leading to overworking, stress on the joints and ligaments within your spine, stiffness and pain. Sometimes, a little outpatient therapy can be helpful to get you started with safe exercises based on your functional strength and pain symptoms.
- Increase Suspension. More suspension, or shock-absorbing ability, on your bike can have a surprising impact on your low back pain, especially for anyone riding any terrain other than a smooth road. Those sudden movements can be jarring to muscles in a fully flexed state. You can buy accessories at your local bike shop, get cushioned bike shorts or thicker tires. Riding on smoother terrain is also helpful.
- Stretch Before Riding. Tight hamstrings are most common for cyclists, because they can pull the pelvis down and cause the low back to curve more than it otherwise would. Tight hip flexors, quadriceps, piriformis and other muscles can lead to back pain as well. The more limber you are, the more efficient (read – faster) and less likely to have positional pain you’ll be. The downward dog, legs straight up in the air, and crossing one foot over the other knee and leaning forward are three basic stretches to get you started. Or, see a full list of good cycling stretches. Yoga and pilates are included in a well-rounded cyclist’s cross-training routine.
- Ask an Expert. Ask a more advanced cyclist to watch your technique. They may notice problems that a novice might not. As above, visiting a cycling shop and consulting an expert on your equipment, alignment, and technique will lead to a more efficient, enjoyable, and pain-free experience.
As a spine specialist surrounded by a team of sports medicine experts, we can be very helpful if you are dealing with low back pain that you cannot seem to solve.
For more information about spine care at OrthoNebraska, call (402) 609-3000.