In Calgary, AB, where we’re located, is a haven for cyclists (particularly in the summer time). The city and surrounding area’s winding roads, stunning views, and low vehicle density makes this a great place to train on a road bike, or take a day-long cruise on a hybrid.
Unfortunately, it’s not only the roads and trails around here that are full of riders – clinics like Radiant Physiotherapy Clinic tend to see a lot of cyclists complaining of lower back tightness and pain, regardless of age, gender, or years of experience.
While back pain is a common complaint in cycling, it really doesn’t have to be. There are all kinds of preventative steps you can take to counteract being hunched over your handlebars for hours on end, starting with the five below.
1) Build your core
So much back pain in general – not just from cycling – comes from weakness in the core. Remember that the core isn’t just that wannabe six pack on your abdomen – it’s actually a band of interconnected muscles that comprises the whole centre of the body.
When you strengthen your core, you effectively strengthen the part of you responsible for holding the upper body erect. Being hunched over in the saddle for hours tends to create a lot less strain when your muscles can actually hold you up.
There are tons of free resources out there for building your core muscles, but this one from Active.com is designed for cyclists, and pretty bang-on. Start by integrating these exercises into your routine 2-3 times a week, and then slowly increase as you feel yourself getting stronger. You’ll notice a world of difference, especially at the end of a five-hour ride.
2) Get flexy
Strong muscles in the mid-back will go a long way towards reducing back pain from riding, but flexibility in those muscles is equally important.
Being in the saddle for hours on end tends to shorten the hip flexors (the muscles in the front of the hips). When these muscles are tight, they tilt the pelvis forward and compress the lower back, potentially causing pain.
Cycling also shortens the hamstrings, which run along the backs of your thighs. When the hamstrings tighten, they pull on the pelvis, creating another contributor to low back pain.
Increasing the flexibility of these two muscle groups alone can be enough to correct the strain and pain of riding. To start, keep it simple by integrating these easy stretches from Live Strong into the end of your core workout, 2-3 times a week. Ideally, work up to stretching after every ride you take.
3) Have your bike properly fitted to your body
No amount of building your core or increasing your flexibility can counteract the effects of having an ill-fitting bike. If a bike is too big for you, you’ll constantly be straining; if it’s too small, there’s a tendency to hunch and over-work your muscles.
When purchasing a new bike, make sure to take the time to have it fitted to you. If you already have a bike you suspect may be the culprit of your back pain, take it into a reputable cycling shop. You may just require a simple adjustment, which might could potentially save you a world of pain.
4) Take time for recovery
When we work hard at any type of exercise, the muscles we’re using start to break down, and microscopic tearing occurs. This is actually how our muscles grow in strength and size, and is not necessarily a bad thing.
However, if we don’t give our body time to recover from those tiny tears, they can grow larger, fatiguing the muscle and causing injury and pain.
Whether you’re in heavy training or just cycling to stay fit, be sure to take at least one day off a week, and wait at least 12 hours between rides. Your muscles will thank you.
5) Take it to the pros
This may seem like a blatant advertisement of our services, but the fact is a lot of the back pain cyclists experience comes from movement or mobility issues. We can help with that.
If you’ve tried to build your core strength and improve flexibility, had your bike fitted, AND been careful about taking recovery time, and you’re still experiencing pain and discomfort, chances are something is amiss. Seeing a professional, be it a physiotherapist, a chiropractor, an RMT, or an acupuncturist, can help you determine and treat the root cause of your discomfort.
Personalized support may help you get back in the saddle without the agony of a constantly strained lower back.
Follow these five guidelines to decrease the likeliness of injury and discomfort, and enjoy the rest of the summer in the saddle, pain-free.