Bicycling: An Exercise Option For Lower Back Pain

Bicycling is a popular form of exercise and is a good option for people who have problems with low back pain. Biking is less jarring to the spine than many other forms of exercise, such as running or aerobics. Stationary bicycling is particularly gentle on the spine, and spinning classes can be a good workout option without causing too much stress on the back. Reclining bicycles, also called recumbent bikes, can also help those with lower back pain who feel better in a reclining position.

Although biking can be a good exercise option for those with existing back pain, it can also cause back pain if not done properly.

How Biking Can Cause Back Pain
Poor posture on the bicycle can strain the back. Leaning over, with the back arched and head up, can strain both the back and neck. Riding on rough terrain can jar and compress the spine, which can also lead to back pain. A poorly fitting bike and weak core muscles can also contribute to a cyclist’s back pain.

How to Prevent Back Injuries from Biking
Cycling doesn’t have to be hard on the back…if you do it right. Follow these tips to help prevent back pain while biking.

  • Choose the Right Bike. Select the best bicycle for your purpose. For instance, if you are a casual bike rider, you don’t need a racing-style bike. A bicycle with higher, straighter handlebars will allow you to ride with a more upright posture, and bigger tires can provide more shock absorption. Buying a bike with some sort of suspension or other shock absorbing accessories can also help lessen back pain and injury.
  • Buy from a cycling shop, instead of a department store, so you can be properly fitted for the bike. Choosing one that is too big for you will cause you to hunch over to reach the handlebars, eventually leading to back pain. A trained salesperson can also properly adjust the height and angle of the seat and handlebars, providing the least amount of strain on your back.
  • After choosing the bike, take it on an extended ride to see how your back responds. Most cycling stores have areas specifically designed for test rides.
  • Maintain Proper Form When Biking. Proper posture while cycling is crucial if you want to avoid back pain. Try to keep your back straight, and avoid slouching or hunching your shoulders while riding. Distribute some of the weight to your arms and hands while keeping your chest and head up.
  • Keep your arms slightly bent while riding, which allows your upper body, rather than your spine, to absorb some of the vibrations and impact. Maintaining a 90-degree knee angle at the top of the stroke is more efficient and best for your hips and low back. Additionally, shifting positions and changing the angle of your upper body periodically will help prevent muscle fatigue.
  • Strengthen and Stretch. Biking does not specifically strengthen the body’s core muscles (the abdominals and back muscles), which most doctors feel are a critical component of preventing lower back pain. Even if you have strong legs—a cyclist’s most obvious source of power—a weak core can slow you down. Any exercise that strengthens your core, such as planks or swimming, will help reduce your potential for back injury while biking.
    Strengthening your buttocks and legs can also help reduce the risk of back pain. Weak and tired leg muscles can negatively impact a cyclist’s posture, putting him or her at risk for back pain. Increasing the strength in your legs and glutes before you begin cycling can reduce that risk.
  • Having a flexible back, in addition to a strong one, is crucial for enduring the posture required of cycling without leading to strains. Regular stretching, combined with yoga, can be a great way to keep your back limber, improve your posture, and avoid back pain.