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10 Ways to Reduce Back Pain While Cycling

June 29, 2017

The warm weather means more people are getting active outdoors and others are preparing to take on RAGBRAI later this summer. If you’re a new rider who cycles casually or even a more seasoned rider, cycling can cause some aches and pains, especially through the back. UnityPoint Health Physical Therapist Brian McEvoy gives us 10 suggestions to reduce cycling back pain while biking through the warmer months.

1.     Ride a bike with wider wheels

Any recreational riders biking for gentle exerc­ise should try a bike with wider wheels. This will allow better balance and decrease force through the joints of the upper body and pelvis.

2.     Use a larger and/or more padded seat

Recreational and gentle exercise riders can opt for a wider seat, which would increase the surface area to sit on. A padded seat may also decrease the force through the pelvis as well as the low back.

3.     Consider more upright handle bars

Sitting more upright on your bike decreases the amount of strain on the low back muscles and hopefully decreases low back pain. The handle bar height should allow for a little bit of bend in the elbows to decrease the amount of force throughout the upper extremities. However, in a racing bike, the handle bars are usually lower. The handle bars are usually even or slightly lower than the seat to assume the racing posture, which is more aerodynamic.

4.     Add shock absorbers under the seat or in the front forks (the part that holds the front wheel in place)

This addition to the bike will decrease the force to the spine, pelvis and upper extremities.

5.     Focus on shifting positions while riding

The low back, as well as any body part, doesn’t like to be in any one position for long periods of time. Being in a static position for an extended period of time can put increased stress on joints and muscles, as well as decrease the blood flow to the area. By shifting positions on the bike, the rider can increase the blood flow and minimize the force through the joints and muscles. This could be achieved by alternating pressure on the hands and pelvis or rising and lowering your head periodically to reduce tension through the neck and upper back.

6.     Make sure the seat isn’t raised too high

The seat should not be so high that the rider has to reach for the pedal when the pedal is in the down position. When the pedal is down, the rider should still have a slight amount of bend in his/her knee and not have the knee locked out straight.

7.     Try leveling out the seat

If the seat is tilted forward, the rider will have more of a problem sliding forward and increasing the amount of bend through the low back. If the front of the seat is tilted back, it could also cause too much pressure on the rider’s saddle area. This may cause numbness and tingling in the rider’s saddle area.

8.     Increase flexibility and core strength

Many injuries can be attributed to overuse, inflexibility and weak core muscles. Stretching is important, but it should not be to the point of pain. Be careful not to overstretch, as it can lead to muscle strain.

9.     Try a recumbent bike

Recumbent bikes are among the best bikes for back pain prevention as they are great to take pressure off of the upper extremities. Someone with arthritic hands, wrist and shoulders may experience less force through those areas using a recumbent bike. The recumbent bike does not place the low back in such a flexed forward position. Also, this type of bike would allow the neck to remain in a more neutral position.

10.Spend a little more money

Spending a little bit more money for a bike at a specialty bike shop might be worth it to get a bike that fits you properly. Make sure you visit a bike shop for regular maintenance for your bicycle. Also, remember to take the time to buy a helmet that fits properly. Protecting your head with an appropriate helmet can save your life.

If you experience back aches and pain while riding, visit a UnityPoint Health primary care provider to determine the appropriate care plan for you.

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