Back pain is very common in cyclists and can be caused by several factors, from riding style to muscular strength to lifestyle.
The repetitive movements involved in cycling can be tough on the muscles and joints. But there are things we can do to help counteract the effects of this. Here are our five top tips to help you avoid back pain and continue cycling problem-free.
Remember your core
It’s easy to forget about the core in cycling. Having a strong core supports your back and thus can help to reduce pain and fatigue. When engaged, our core muscles also help to control the bike and generate power.
A key player here is the transverse abdominis, which wraps around your midsection horizontally – the muscle you’d engage if you were about to be punched in the gut. You can strengthen this muscle with exercises such as Plank, Russian Twist and Superman.
Like in running, increasing your distance too quickly can lead to injury if your muscles aren’t used to it. Avoid doing too much too soon and work up progressively. This will help to condition your muscles and recover sufficiently before your next ride.
Specifics will depend on your fitness, training goals and previous cycling experience, but a general guideline might be to increase your cycling distance by no more than 20% each week.
If you sit at a desk all day and then go out on your bike, that’s a lot of time spent in a seated position! Your hips are in flexion and movement is limited, and as a result you may be more prone to muscular stiffness.
One tip is to tweak your daily routine to incorporate more movement, such as taking a walk at lunchtime or alternating between sitting and standing. Moving around more will help to maintain mobility and release tension.
Stretch the hip flexors
We know it’s important to stretch the hamstrings, quads and calves in cycling, but we shouldn’t forget about the hip flexors. The psoas is the strongest hip flexor muscle and acts to keep the hips in flexion, so can end up being considerably shortened after a long cycle.
When we cycle we’re in a hunched position, and many of us spend much of our daily life in a flexed position too – think work, driving and watching TV! Tightness in the hip flexors can contribute to low back pain, so use stretches such as the Kneeling Lunge Stretch to lengthen these muscleS.
Get a massage
We had to get this one in! Seeing a sports therapist for a regular maintenance massage is a great complement to the above steps, helping to keep your muscles in good condition, ready for your next training ride.
It’s always better to be proactive and prevent potential problems, than to have to stop cycling whilst you recover from an injury. A sports therapist will be able to explain how you can reduce and prevent back issues in order to keep cycling pain-free.