As compared to many sports, cycling is one with a relatively low injury rate (crashes and collisions apart). However, riders do need to take care of their backs.
Given how hard a cyclist’s legs work on the bike, it’s natural to make the assumption that when an overuse injury strikes you, it’s your knees which will be most susceptible. Surprisingly, however, the research says otherwise. It seems the main culprit is not knee pain in cyclists – it’s lower back pain.
When Norwegian scientists studied 116 professional road cyclists and they looked at the types of overuse injuries suffered over the previous year, some interesting facts emerged: 94% of the cyclists had suffered some kind of overuse injury during that period:
- 45% of the injuries were to the lower back,
- 23% of injuries were to the knees,
- 58% of all the cyclists had experienced lower-back pain in the previous 12 months, and
- 41% of all cyclists had sought medical attention for back pain.
Why Does Cycling Cause Lower Back Pain?
Essentially it’s the position you’re in as well as the amount of time you spend there. There’s no getting away from that, sadly. Unless you would like to adopt the aerodynamic properties of a wall, you need to bend forward. Being in a bent-over position for long periods of time has been involved in back pain if you do it on a bike or just sitting slumped in a chair.
It’s thought this results in something called flexion relaxation. This is a situation where the muscles of the spine just turn off. Rather, you rely on passive structures such as ligaments to assist with maintaining your position. This could be an energy preservation strategy adopted by your central nervous system (CNS), or it could be owing to a lack of endurance in those muscles.
We can’t do much about the former however the latter can be improved.
Develop Core Strength To Address Lower Back Pain
Cyclists need to be strong in their lower backs and cores in order to avoid suffering the consequences of reduced movement patterns.
Here’s three exercises which can help to promote stability as well as correct movement patterns:
This exercise is responsible for working your entire posterior chain and it should be completed before you ride in order to activate the muscles:
- Begin with your feet hip width apart, in an upright stance, and have your hips over your ankles and shoulders directly over your hips.
- Rock back so that your weight is on your heels and unlock your knees.
- Bring your hips back and then tilt your body forwards and making sure that you keep your chest straight.
- Push your hands straight in front of you and have your fingertips together.
- Reach your hands forwards and then over your head.
- Reach up and push your hips back
- You should now feel a burn through your upper and lower back, glutes and hamstrings.
- Hold for 10 seconds and then repeat three times.
The woodpecker exercise works your deep gluteal muscle fibres. This means that it’s good to do before you ride in order to activate them in advance:
- Begin with your legs together and step your right leg forwards. Now, you should be able to look down and still be able to see your shin.
- Ensure that your hips are square.
- Reach out your arms out in front of you, and then clasp them together.
- Pivot at your hips, ensuring that you keep your lower body and upper body still.
- Reach as far forward as you are able to – push your right heel into the floor and then pull your hips back.
- You should feel a burn in your glutes. Hold this position for 10 seconds and then repeat two and three times each side
The plan works to engage the muscles, which are called the core. Do it before your ride in order to get the muscles activated:
- Come onto your elbows and your toes. Ensure that your feet are hip-width apart.
- Keep your head straight, and your eyes pointing towards the floor around 10cm in front of you.
- Ensure that you keep your hips in a straight line – no sagging or raising up.
- Hold for a minute.
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