Back pain can be one of those things that just ruin your enjoyment of anything. It seems that once a person has experienced back pain, it can frequently recur and a number of responses can be adopted such as:
- — Withdrawal from activity (I can’t do that because I have a weak back)
- — Putting up with additional suffering (I have a bad back)
- — Doing something about it (resolving posture and strength issues)
A paper published in 2004 reported that over 70% of the population are likely to experience back pain at some time in their life. Although exercise is recommended as a preventative measure, some people experience back pain while cycling.
How Can Cycling Put the Back at Risk?
Cycling is often thought of as a leg-based exercise. While the primary moving joints are the hips, knees, and ankles – driven by the prime movers of quadriceps, gluteals, and calves – the upper body is also engaged. There is a pulling motion on the same side arm as the descending leg. The ascending leg requires engagement of the hip flexor muscles to reduce the downward force on the ascending pedal. One of these hip flexor muscles (psoas major – pictured to the right) is actually connected to the lumbar spine.
In order to stabilize the hips, the obliques and quadratus lumborum on the side of the ascending leg need to engage to reduce hip tilting and stabilize the lower back. If you see a person cycling with hips tilting from side to side, or maybe just one side, it’s likely that these muscles are not engaging fully or have become fatigued. You can test the lower back engagement on the ascending leg side yourself by placing a hand there as you repeat lifting one leg.
The prime movers in the legs are very strong and have great endurance. When the obliques and quadratus lumborum are unable to keep up and start to fatigue, the smaller core muscles start to take the strain. If this situation continues, a muscle strain can occur, along with the resulting discomfort.
What Can You Do?
The first thing is to ensure that your bike fits you properly and is set up for your current range of motion. Setting up your bike in an elite cyclist’s race position may be unnatural and put you at the limit of a range of motion where an imbalance can occur. If your cycle position is uncomfortable to start with, it will only become worse after a few hours cycling and all the enjoyment and initial enthusiasm will gradually disappear.
If you are trying out a new cycle, thirty seconds in the shop is not enough. Try to negotiate a longer session on the cycle or agree that it can be brought back after a while for adjustment and correct fitting.
Source: www.breakingmuscle.com; March, 2013.