Cycling builds and maintains cardiovascular strength and endurance, and can complement many rehabilitation programs. Cycling can be a safe and low-impact exercise when performed correctly.
Lower back pain can be commonly experienced by cyclists; this is largely as a result of poor cycling technique or poor bike set-up. If you experience discomfort in the lower back when you cycle there are a few things that you could consider:
Check your posture: The sustained flexion position of the lower back, that most are accustomed to while cycling, places a lot of strain through the soft tissues in and around the spine. This can lead to pain or irritation in the low back, and may also be felt into the buttock or legs.
When cycling try to adapt a ‘neutral spine’ position, by making adjustments to the pelvis position into a more flat-back position, you should be able to feel a low-level muscle activity through the lower stomach muscles. This will also enable you to cycle with more efficiency, as engaging these postural-support muscles improves force transfer across the pelvis.
Start integrating the postural changes with short cycles only. Over time you will gradually increase the endurance of the postural muscles to more-easily sustain the neutral spine posture.
Get a professional bike-fit: To prevent unnecessary strain to the body, and to ride with efficiency see a local bike store for a comprehensive bike-fitting. It is important that your bike frame is the correct size, and bike fittings such as the handle-bar height, saddle height, and saddle angle are adjusted to your body dimensions.
Small alterations can impact how we use our muscles. For example; saddle angle directly effects the tilt of the pelvis; which correlates to the position of the joints of the lower back. All spinal joints are most happy in a mid-range posture; the easiest way to maintain this neutral spine posture is with a saddle angle that is level with the ground.
Use your gears: An ideal cadence during rehab to progress towards is above 70 RPM. A higher cadence (ie a low gear) such as this, will decrease muscle tension and allow blood flow to nourish working muscles. Moving down the gears as the incline increases will challenge the cardiovascular system more, but will avoid increased pressure through the soft tissues.
Cycling is a repetitive movement, so regular position changes to the front and back of the saddle, and to standing are encouraged to further avoid strain.
At Bespoke Physiotherapy, a number of our clients use cycling as an integral part of their rehabilitation process. For some, even with appropriate bike-set up and correct use of gears cycling may not be appropriate. Weakness around the core, reduced flexibility and poor postural habits will have a large impact on discomfort and may need to be addressed prior.
Clinical Pilates is a great form of exercise to help you prepare for your return to cycling after injury or surgery because of it's emphasis on improving core stability, postural awareness, strength, balance and flexibility.
We'd love to hear from you if you're considering getting back on your bike!
Remember that cycling may not be appropriate after surgery or some injuries. If cycling is something that you would like to work towards please don't hesitate to chat to one of our Physios who can assist and advise in a return to cycling program.