The Cyclist’s Back

Cycling regularly brings enormous and varied benefits for your health at all ages, whether riding for recreation, as a serious competitor, or racing to win the Tour de France.

Physiotherapists can use their knowledge and expertise to provide guidance on cycling posture and the set up of your bike to ensure you enjoy those benefits in a pain-free way.

But as with any sport, there are common injuries that cyclists incur that may require the help of a physiotherapist. Broadly, these injuries fall into two main categories: overuse and traumatic

Overuse injuries most commonly includes knee pain, back pain, and Achilles tendon problems.
Cycling is a highly repetitive sport – an average cyclist might perform well over 5,000 revolutions an hour so it is quite understandable how small problems can become bigger issues over time.

Traumatic injuries are most commonly as a result of accidents from falls and crashes. Cycling is a very safe sport, but as with anything it pays to be aware of your own abilities, to be aware of the environment around you, and to take appropriate safety precautions such as wearing a helmet. The position you sit in on a bike can be incredibly important, especially when viewed in the context of cycling being so highly repetitive.

What is it?

Cycling causes your body to be in the same position for lengthy periods of time, with a lot of stress being placed on the spine, due to the un-natural posture of riding. This can lead to lower back pain for many riders.

This is very common among cyclists because the back is held in a ‘flexed’ position for long periods.

For many non-elite cyclists, it is also worth noting that the main cause of back pain may be the many other lifestyle activities such as prolonged sitting at work or heavy lifting, and that cycling is merely a factor that aggravates the problem.

A sustained flexed position can compress the discs of the spine or place an excessive strain on muscles and ligaments which over time can lead to pain.
The pain itself can sometimes spread from the back to the buttocks, and along the leg.

How does physiotherapy treat back pain?

To prevent lower back pain, it’s crucial that your bike is a proper fit for your body. If your bike frame is too large you could be overreaching; too small and you’ll be hunched over. Both will lead to back trouble.

The great news is that most bikes are adjustable, and most bodies are adaptable! You just need to find the perfect balance with the right bikefit position for you!
Try and avoid lower back pain and prevent it from happening in the first place – have your bike professionally fitted by a professional physiotherapist and bike fitter.
A physio will assess the cyclist’s posture both on and off the bike to see which aspects are contributing to the problem.

If the position in the saddle is causing the problem, they may suggest changes which can reduce the strain on the back or make cycling more comfortable.
Manual therapy, mobility exercises and stretching will be used to improve movement, not only in the back but also in the gluteals, hamstrings, hip flexors and thighs where tightness could be a contributing factor.

Core strength should be developed to help the cyclist maintain a good position in the saddle and to support the back during longer periods on the bike.

Improving core strength to address lower back pain

The evidence above points to the fact that cyclists need to be strong in the lower back and core in order to avoid suffering the results of impaired movement patterns.

Here’s three exercises that can help to promote stability and correct movement patterns:

The Founder

  • Works the entire posterior chain and should be completed before you ride to activate the muscles
  • Start with your feet hip-width apart, in an upright stance with your hips over your ankles and shoulders over your hips
  • Rock back so your weight is on your heels, and unlock your knees
  • Bring your hips back and tilt your body forwards, keeping your chest straight
  • Pace your hands in front of you, with your fingertips together
  • Reach your hands forwards, and over your head
  • Reach up, pushing your hips back
  • You should feel a burn through your upper and lower back, glutes and hamstrings
  • Hold for 10 seconds, three times

The Woodpecker

  • This exercise works the deep gluteal muscle fibres, and it’s good to do before you ride to activate them in advance
  • Start with legs together and step your right leg forwards – you should be able to look down and still see your shin
  • Make sure your hips are square
  • Reach your arms in front of you, and clasp them together
  • Pivot at the hip, keeping your lower body and upper body still
  • Reach as far forward as you can – push your right heel into the floor and pull your hips back
  • You should feel a burn in the glutes – hold for 10 seconds then repeat 2-3 times each side

The Plank

  • Works to engage the muscles often called the core, do it before your ride to get the muscles activated
  • Come onto your elbows and toes, feet hip-width apart
  • Keep your head upright, and your eyes pointing towards the floor about 10cm in front of you
  • Keep your hips in a straight line – no sagging or raising up
  • Hold for a minute

For more information about a back injury and to find out ways physiotherapy can help with sports-related rehabilitation, call us on 0813 028 0496.

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