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Can I ride a bike while suffering from lower back pain?

Monday, 25 October 2004
Answered by: Dr. Hansa Kanuga
Consultant Physiotherapist,

Mumbai
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Q. I have a lower back pain problem. I did 10 days of physiotherapy after medication. My physiotherapist suggested cycling to strengthen my muscles. What do you suggest?

A.  You have not mentioned the cause of your backache, which makes it a little difficult to give you a positive answer. Well, assuming it’s a normal muscular backache, cycling does help in relieving back pain, but there is a catch here. There are many factors that dictate your recovery to normal with cycling. 1. Your height and the length of your legs are important. Combination of long thigh, shallow seat angle, short body and handle bar stem well down in the head tube can mean a more acute angle between the thigh and the body when the leg is at the top of the pedal stroke. This can put excessive strain on the muscles of the back of the thigh that help drive the thigh downwards leading to backache. 2. If your handlebars are too far forward, it will strain your back. Higher handlebars will force you to put more weight on the saddle. 3. If you are riding a bike, see to it that your back should be arched so that if bumps cause the spine to flex a little more, it is harmless. 4. If you ride sway backed, the bumps will cause the back to bow even farther in the forward direction which will cause lumbar pain. 5. Do not sit ‘upright’. This is counter productive as a ‘straight’ spine has no way to “give” when the bike hits the bumps. 6. Road irregularities will jam the vertebrae together. 7. A properly fitted bike should allow you maintain riding position with acceptable comfort level and greatest pedaling economy. Posture Tips:
  • Your knee should be slightly bent (within a degree or two of 30°) when you are at the bottom of your pedal stroke. Your hips should not rock while you are pedaling.
  • Change your hands frequently for upper body comfort.
  • A higher pedaling speed using easier gears will help you achieve better pedaling skills. Your goals should be 80-90 rev/minute.
  • Riding position should put 60% of your weight on the back wheel and 40% on the front wheel for bike control and comfort.
  • Keep a check how your body reacts to cycling and make position improvements where necessary.
  • Flexibility of your muscles and joints is very important.
  • Good flexibility of hamstrings, quadriceps and gluteal muscles is crucial as these muscles generate the majority of the pedaling force.
  • Proper stretching, flexibility and balance exercises are important for coordination skills of cycling such as breaking and cornering.
  • If your muscle strength is not sufficient or you do not adopt proper postures while cycling, you might end up with neck and back pain, rather than relieving a back pain.
I suggest you a get a proper evaluation of your muscle power of your legs and posture and then follow the above tips. You can try swimming and strengthening exercises for your legs and back as another alternative.

A.  You have not mentioned the cause of your backache, which makes it a little difficult to give you a positive answer. Well, assuming it’s a normal muscular backache, cycling does help in relieving back pain, but there is a catch here. There are many factors that dictate your recovery to normal with cycling. 1. Your height and the length of your legs are important. Combination of long thigh, shallow seat angle, short body and handle bar stem well down in the head tube can mean a more acute angle between the thigh and the body when the leg is at the top of the pedal stroke. This can put excessive strain on the muscles of the back of the thigh that help drive the thigh downwards leading to backache. 2. If your handlebars are too far forward, it will strain your back. Higher handlebars will force you to put more weight on the saddle. 3. If you are riding a bike, see to it that your back should be arched so that if bumps cause the spine to flex a little more, it is harmless. 4. If you ride sway backed, the bumps will cause the back to bow even farther in the forward direction which will cause lumbar pain. 5. Do not sit ‘upright’. This is counter productive as a ‘straight’ spine has no way to “give” when the bike hits the bumps. 6. Road irregularities will jam the vertebrae together. 7. A properly fitted bike should allow you maintain riding position with acceptable comfort level and greatest pedaling economy. Posture Tips:
  • Your knee should be slightly bent (within a degree or two of 30°) when you are at the bottom of your pedal stroke. Your hips should not rock while you are pedaling.
  • Change your hands frequently for upper body comfort.
  • A higher pedaling speed using easier gears will help you achieve better pedaling skills. Your goals should be 80-90 rev/minute.
  • Riding position should put 60% of your weight on the back wheel and 40% on the front wheel for bike control and comfort.
  • Keep a check how your body reacts to cycling and make position improvements where necessary.
  • Flexibility of your muscles and joints is very important.
  • Good flexibility of hamstrings, quadriceps and gluteal muscles is crucial as these muscles generate the majority of the pedaling force.
  • Proper stretching, flexibility and balance exercises are important for coordination skills of cycling such as breaking and cornering.
  • If your muscle strength is not sufficient or you do not adopt proper postures while cycling, you might end up with neck and back pain, rather than relieving a back pain.
I suggest you a get a proper evaluation of your muscle power of your legs and posture and then follow the above tips. You can try swimming and strengthening exercises for your legs and back as another alternative.

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