Cycling and low back pain

Do you get low back pain (LBP) from cycling?  Does someone you know?  I’ve had back pain brought on by cycling and I’ve had back pain that wasn’t due to cycling but kept me off the bike for a while.  This article is to share with you what works for me in avoiding low back trouble when cycling.

Accept there’s a risk.. and try to avert it

One of the causes of lower back pain is “sustained load” i.e. staying in one position for a long period of time – especially if you put a  weight on at the same time (e.g. wearing a rucksack when cycling).  Look at the guy in the image – his lower back is bent forward.  Bending your back forward is inevitable on some types of bike – especially road bikes.

If you push hard on the bike, you could strain your back due to “peak load” i.e. heavy exertion.  This is more likley if you’ve already had sustained load on it for quite a while – your back simply tires and is less able to cope with more significant efforts.

If you do the same action again and again, you could strain something too due to “cumulative load”l; this is likely in cycling too.  Put all of these risks together – sustained load, peak load and cumulative load and it’s likely that cycling will lead to LBP at some point!  And so it does…  with 70% of cyclists reporting LBP!  So, having accepted there’s a risk, let’s do something to minimise it…

Get properly set up

A lot of bike retailers will help with this (some better than others), and you can certainly spend a lot of money on this, but it could be the best money you spend on your bike.  My friend Prof Richard Davison (who’s “huge” in the world of cycling physiology and coaching) recommended Visual Bike Fit for this.  Setting yourself up optimally on the bike will decrease the risk of strain.

Save yourself for when it really counts

If you’ve an event coming up, make sure you don’t overdo it in the lead up to the event.  If you know your back’s a “bit dodgy”, don’t go for hard pushes when you’re already tired from hours in the saddle in one position.

Do appropriate exercises

In essence, make sure to bend your back backwards frequently to offset the amount of time that you spend bent forwards.  It’s also worth improving the endurance of your back muscles and your “core” muscles – keeping a stable platform for your legs to work off makes them more efficient and that in turn means you’re less likely to tire faster.

Vary your position on the bike

Without compromising your performance – when possible – shift around on your seat and stand up on the pedals.  This breaks the “sustained load” issue.

Pedal efficiently

Remember, it’s not worth pulling up strongly on the pedals unless you’re in a sprint finish.  Otherwise, the most efficient use of your power is in the downstroke.  Getting set up properly helps to ensure that you’re putting the power through the pedals efficiently.  Pedalling “wrongly” makes it more likely you’ll strain your back.

Ask us for detailed help

If you’d like specific advice on how to solve/avoid LBP related to cycling, please give us a ring or drop me an email


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