La Crosse is home to many of the best county roads and mountain bike trails in the country. With the warm weather comes new roads and trails to ride. In this mini-series for cyclists, we will cover common areas of injury that cyclists may experience and tips on how to prevent them from happening.
The Problem: Low Back Pain
Cycling requires both mobility and stability of the pelvis and lumbar spine. Low back pain is a common symptom in riders that can be felt bilaterally or unilaterally. There are many muscles, joints, and nerves that travel within the low back and hip that can cause pain. This pain can be due to several factors including poor bike fit, mobility restrictions, or lack of endurance in essential stability muscles. Making some minor changes in how your bike fits your body and gaining stability in the right muscles can improve overall performance and prevent chronic low back pain.
The Bike Solution
Low back pain in cyclists has been attributed poor saddle angle and handlebar height. According to past studies, changing the angle/tilt of your saddle to be around 5 degrees below neutral can decrease the incidence of low back pain. By having a slightly negative saddle tilt, it allows your pelvis to tilt anteriorly, decreasing the strain on the lumbar spine. Having your seat angle too high will cause excessive lumbar strain which can cause pain and saddle pressure. Another factor that may affect low back pain is the height of the handlebars. Research has shown that having 40-60 degrees of lumbar flexion with the hands on the hood of the handlebars is the ideal position to prevent low back pain. If the handlebars are too high or low this can put the lumbar spine and pelvis in poor positions which can cause pain. Many bikes have the ability to add or decrease the amount of vertical height in the handlebars through spacers. Research has shown that cyclists with low back pain usually have their handlebars too high. Both of these factors have been shown to be important in preventing low back pain when cycling.
The Body Solution
Cycling is a movement that requires a strong back to stabilize your body in a static position for a long period of time. The deep abdominal musculature and back extensors muscles are essential in making sure that the spine is stable. These are often the first muscles to fatigue if not properly conditioned to endure prolonged periods of activation. Trying to incorporate functional core activation exercises into your strengthening routine can help prevent this fatigue and low back pain. The other components of preventing low back pain is mobility of the pelvis and lumbar spine. Although these areas of the body do not move as much as the legs, it is important that they are being addressed with proper mobility maintenance. Incorporating various foam rolling to the muscles can decrease tightness which allows for better movement and strength when cycling.
If you are experiencing low back pain with riding, try these tips or schedule an appointment with Dr. Pat to to dive into a body and bike tune up.