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Cycling & Lower Back Pain: Why It Happens and How to Prevent It (6 Tips)

Cycling is not without its drawbacks. This post will teach you how to prevent lower back pain so you can enjoy your rides without discomfort.

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Cycling can be an excellent way to get some exercise while also lowering your risk of obesity, heart disease, and other chronic conditions. But how does cycling help with back pain? Does it cause back pain? And how can we avoid back pain when cycling?

In this article, you will learn what lower back pain is, whether it is common in cyclists, and, if cycling causes lower back pain, so you can ride with.

Cycling does not cause back pain, but improper bike setup can. One of the most prevalent causes of lower back pain while riding is improper bit fit. If your bike isn’t set up properly for your body proportions, it might cause several issues. Small changes like raising or lowering the seat post, adjusting the stem length, or switching bike sizes can have a significant effect. However, if you are experiencing chronic back discomfort, consult a doctor.

Image of man without a shirt holding his lower back in pain. Source: kindel media, pexels
Image of man without a shirt holding his lower back in pain. Source: Kindel Media, Pexels

Editor’s note: This article was updated on July 5, 2022, to include additional information about cycling and lower back pain. I am not a doctor. Please speak to your doctor for professional medical advice.

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Before learning about cycling and lower back pain, let’s first understand what lower back pain is?

What is lower back pain?

Low back pain (discomfort) is caused by a muscle (strain) or ligament injury (sprain). Improper lifting, bad posture, a lack of regular exercise, a fracture, a herniated disk, or arthritis are all common causes.

Pain in the lower back is frequently the only symptom. Most low back discomfort resolves on its own within two to four weeks. Physical therapy and pain medications can be beneficial. A few cases may necessitate surgery.

Is lower back pain common in cycling?

Back pain is very common in cyclists. Back pain can arise from various root causes, including bike fit, training history, personal health issues, riding style, and what you do in your daily life off the bike.

Does cycling cause lower back pain?

Cycling does not directly cause back pain. However, your position and the amount of time you spend on the bike can cause a little pain over long periods. Unfortunately, there is no way around it. Whether riding a bike or sitting slumped in a chair, long periods of bending over have been linked to back pain.

Can cycling help with lower back pain?

Not necessarily. However, cycling, as opposed to other vigorous workouts such as running or jumping, is less stressful on the spinal column. As a result, this low-impact sport is ideal for those recovering from an accident, prone to injury, or the elderly. But cycling can only help build muscles if you have good posture and use a bike that fits you well.

6 Tips to prevent or treat lower back pain

You’ve probably tried a few things to help relieve your back pain. Unfortunately, no single solution will suddenly cure every cyclist’s back pain, but there are a few tools and methods that can help.

1. Get a professional bike fit

Getting a proper, professional bike fit is one of the best strategies to reduce lower back pain while cycling. Many larger bike stores will have someone who has been trained in this area. It includes taking measurements, examining geometry, and discussing the specifics of your pain difficulties. After that, a professional bike fitter will adjust your bike to improve your body position and posture.

A professional bike fit usually costs around $200 per session, resulting in enhanced pedaling efficiency, increased power output, and hopefully resolving the pain issues. However, if you can’t get a professional fit, take the following measures yourself:

A high seat height may cause your hips to swing back and forth while cycling, perhaps causing back pain. A seat that is too far forward or too far back might provide an excessively long or short effective top tube length, which can cause lower back pain. Handlebars that are excessively high or too low for the seat height might cause lower back discomfort. In short, a bike that is too big or too small for you might cause all sorts of issues. So get a good fit.

2. Start a stretching or yoga routine.

I’m sure I don’t need to convince you of the benefits of stretching (we all need to stretch more! ). However, not stretching enough can cause some lower back stiffness while cycling. If you’re looking for a way to include more stretching in your life, check out the Yoga | Down Dog app.

Image of man practicing yoga. Source: benn mcguinness, unsplash
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Image of a man practicing yoga. Source: Benn Mcguinness, Unsplash

This app allows you to set the timer to whatever length you want. You can also change the music and even the teachers.

3. Swap saddles

The evidence isn’t conclusive, but you could try switching saddles to see if that helps with lower back problems. Especially for women, who tend to have bigger sit bones, a wider saddle may support your pelvis better, putting less stress on your lower back and making it more stable.

Below are a few great, comfortable saddles to consider if you suffer from lower back pain.

4. Cross-train & focus on building core strength

We all want to ride our bikes every day. However, some strength training, particularly core-strengthening activities, will significantly reduce the low back pain caused by cycling. Biking is an excellent exercise for the leg muscles, buttocks, and back, but it is not very beneficial to the front side of the body, including the core (i.e., your stomach muscles). When you have a weak core, the back muscles, especially the lower back, must work harder than they should. This can cause back pain.

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5. Use a standing desk

Consider this: when you’re biking, you’re bent over at the waist, which is the same position you’re in when you’re sitting at a desk. Switching up your body positions is critical to helping your muscles stretch and relax. For example, if you spend most of your day sitting at a desk, it’s a good idea to either utilize a standing desk* or have the option to stand up and work when you wish.

Image of office with white standing desk. Source: standsome worklifestyle, unsplash
Image of office with a standing desk. Source: Standsome Worklifestyle, Unsplash

5. Try an inversion table.

An inversion table takes the pressure off your spine and stretches the muscles and tendons around it. Even if you don’t have bulging discs, an inversion table* can benefit many people suffering from lower back pain caused by cycling (see your doctor before using one.)

If you want even more tips, watch this video called “What Causes Lower Back Pain for Cyclists (& the solutions)” from the Road Cycling Academy YouTube Channel.

A video called “What Causes Lower Back Pain for Cyclists (& the solutions)” from the Road Cycling Academy YouTube Channel.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Do you still have questions? Below are some of the most commonly asked questions about cycling and lower back pain.

Is cycling good for lower back pain?

Cycling is a popular exercise. However, it can lead to some issues. For example, it can cause back discomfort for long-distance riders. And researchers have determined that improper bike setup can most often lead to bad motor control, leading to back pain.

However, cycling is gentler on the spine than other forms of exercise like jogging or aerobics.

How do you prevent lower back pain when cycling?

There is much evidence that people with back discomfort have lumbar spine muscular weakness. This effect has been observed in cyclists as well. There’s also a lot of evidence that strengthening these muscles helps with back discomfort. So, one way to prevent lower back pain is to do some back strength training.

Is walking or cycling better for lower back pain?

Running causes more shock to the spine because it’s a high-impact sport. However, biking improves endurance and general performance of the heart and lungs and the musculoskeletal system, particularly the spine. In addition, biking is easier on the body, especially the spine, than other forms of exercise like jogging or aerobics.

Conclusion

Cycling is an excellent way to raise your heart rate and burn calories. However, if you experience any pain while cycling, consult your doctor to see if cycling is a good fit for you.

This article covered  What is lower back pain? Is lower back pain common in cyclists? Does cycling cause lower back pain? Here are some key takeaways:

Key takeaways

  • Low back discomfort is caused by a muscle (strain) or ligament injury (sprain).
  • Improper lifting, bad posture, a lack of regular exercise, a fracture, a herniated disk, or arthritis are all common causes.
  • Back pain is common in cyclists and can arise from various root causes, including bike fit, training history, personal health issues, and riding style.
  • Cycling is a low-impact sport, so it is less stressful on the spinal column than many other sports.
  • Cycling is ideal for those recovering from an accident, those prone to injury, or the elderly.
  • Cycling can only help build muscles if you have good posture and use a bike that fits you well.
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So, do you regularly get lower back pain? Did we cover everything you wanted to know? Let us know in the comments section below (we read and reply to every comment). If you found this article helpful, check out our full blog for more tips and tricks on fixed-gear and single-speed bikes. Thanks for reading, and stay fixed.

Helpful resources

Image of man without a shirt holding his lower back in pain pinterest
Image of a man without a shirt holding his lower back in pain. Pinterest
Author avatar - Bradley Knight
Written By Bradley Knight
As a native New Yorker, Bradley is no stranger to the fixed gear scene. He’s been riding fixed for over ten years. When he’s not on the bike, you can find him practicing his many hobbies including playing guitar, video production, and photography.

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