With the Sportive season well and truly underway – but still many more to come – we thought it was a good time to look at a common cycling problem (especially in long distance cycling), low back pain.
So what’s the recipe for biking discomfort? Main contributors to low back pain when riding are:- poor core strength, poor flexibility, poor bike fit and poor posture.
Core stability is a topic we visit on many occasions, due to it’s importance in spinal health and posture. A good core protects your low back and connects your upper and lower body – giving you extra power as one strong unit. Most importantly here, we are considering the protective nature of the core muscles. A strong core, protects the lumbar section of the spine – an area put under strain while riding a bike. Hundreds of small muscles connected to the vertebra (multifidus) fire in conjunction with the inner abdominal muscles (tranversus abdominis), creating a strong protective band around your middle. This also protects you off the bike in daily life – we’ll talk more about this in poor posture. As far as we are concerned at the clinic, all training schedules should involve core stability work – whether you are trying to improve CV fitness, lose weight, build strength or just tone, a strong core is key within all of these.
Pilates focuses predominantly on the core, as well as more specific core classes available in many gyms, we offer both here at the clinic.
Good flexibility will help to keep low back pain at bay. Not just flexibility through the back, but hips, glutes (buttocks) and legs. Tightness in the glutes, hips and or hamstrings will in turn tug on the pelvis/low back. If one side is tighter than the other, this can pull you off centre. As with any sport, being as perfectly balanced and posturally sound as possible will minimise injury and improve performance. Even if you are slightly off centre for whatever reason (tightness due to past injury, muscular imbalance or simply habit), your back will try to compensate and straighten you up, eventually fatiguing and this in turn will result in aching, sometimes pain.
It would be beneficial to incorporate a full body stretch regime into your week, 2 or 3 times, and stretching post training is a must. Yoga and Stretch classes are available at the clinic to help keep you flexible, strong and balanced.
Many people ride an ill-fitting bike. Even if it is the right size it may not be set up correctly for you personally. Ensure you seek good advice when purchasing your bike, it needs to be the right design rather than the right colour! Take time with the set up, ensuring every aspect has been considered and adjusted where possible.
If you would like further help with your bike set up, Physiotherapist, Claire Coltman would be happy to you with your bike here at the clinic.
Posture (on and off the bike)
Much of what we do on a daily basis involves folding forwards – hunching over a desk/computer, slouching on a sofa/chair, leaning forwards over a dinner table. All these actions put extra strain and pressure through the lower spine. If you are then bent over your bike for a number of hours whether recreational riding, training, or competing, this will exacerbate a problem that already exists.
Try to think about your posture in daily life – taking breaks from the desk, breaking long journeys in a car, sit well at the table and sofa – and use your core throughout the day!
While cycling, think about that hunched posture – perhaps sit up for a few minutes when you can, and while on a climb, standing will change the angle of the lean and give your back a break.
As mentioned, physiotherapist Claire is our cycling specialist at the clinic and if you need advice on any of the topics above, she can help, she’ll even have your bike in her treatment room to check the set up for you.