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How to Reduce Lower Back Pain from Cycling

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Any exercise program will result in muscle soreness if you push it.

However, your time on a bicycle can lead to a lot of pressure on your low back, tight glutes and extreme spinal flex as the ride continues.

Keeping your spine straight can help, but if you need to get low to get out of the wind, a straight spine may not be possible.

Why does my lower back hurt after cycling?

Motion in the low spine is healthy, but compression or over-arching your low back and holding the position while you work your legs and suffer the pounding of the terrain.

The frame length of your bike can have a huge impact on keeping your low back flat. If you have to curl as you lean forward, you can overextend the lower spine and even lead to changes in the disc placement. Once discs start moving, you will be hurting.

How do I prevent lower back pain when cycling?

Here you can find 5 most common ways to prevent lower back pain when cycling:

Optimum bike set-up

If you’re a casual rider, get a bike with quality shock absorption. Consider a straight handlebar to reduce pressure on the low back and avoid too much lean.

As you ride, be ready to shift position. Keep your weight on your arms, lower and raise your head, and keep your tummy tucked to support the low back.

The perfect frame geometry

Depending on your height from tailbone to skull, your leg length, and the length from hip to knee, your perfect frame may be completely different from another rider. Do take the time to try on several bikes while you consider what you want from your bike.

For example, if you plan to commute on your bike, you may want to add panniers. Your shoe size can be a problem with added panniers; you may need a bike with a longer wheelbase to have plenty of room for your feet.

Read more: Best Bikes for Back Pain

Fix your posture

Get someone to watch, take photos, or capture videos of you if you ride. If you need to crouch for speed, make sure that your flex is happening at the hips and not in the low spine.

Carefully document the position of your head; tension in the neck and shoulders can have an impact on the tension down your spine. Keep your tummy tucked to support your low back.

Strong spinal muscles are important, but it’s the muscles from the bottom of your ribs to the top of your pelvis that support those muscles from the inside. Draw your navel back and hold it to keep your spine supported from within.

Improve core muscle strength

You can increase the strength of those tummy muscles while keeping your hips loose. One of the big challenges for a bike rider is that your glutes get tight. Tight glutes can mean

  • hip pain
  • low back pain
  • tight quads

Get on the mat for this work. If you can’t plank right now because of low back pain, start on your knees and elbows. If this hurts, get your knees apart. Lift your feet to tighten your glutes and lower your pelvis toward the mat.

Elbow crawl out a bit to keep your weight on your arms. Depending on the severity of your low back pain, you may not be able to flatten your spine. Draw in your tummy muscles and hold. If it helps to tighten your glutes, do so. Hold for 30 seconds and lift your butt to relax. If you can lower again without pain, do at least 3 reps of 30 seconds.

Stretch Your Hips and Butt

Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash

Roll onto your back and draw your knees to your chest. If rolling a bit to massage the low spine helps, do so. This stretch will impact the glutes; there may be a bit of burn here. Stretch out your feet and draw just one knee to your chest, pulling tighter with your arms if you can tolerate it. Switch sides, then lower your feet to the mat with your knees bent.

The next stretch is specifically for your hip flexors. Keep your feet flexed and do not point your toes for the duration of these moves. Lay back on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat. Draw the right leg up and place your ankle over the left knee; the right knee will stick out to the side.

With your foot flexed, reach through your legs and pull the left thigh slowly toward your chest. You should feel this stretch in your hips. If your outer knee hurts, release the stretch and check your foot; if you point your toes, you will put a lot of pressure on that outside knee.

Hold this stretch for no more than ten seconds. Relax to the mat, then stretch the other side. Monitor your form! Low back pain stinks, but adding knee pain is not a healthy option.

Is it OK to ride a bike with lower back pain?

Muscle pain may loosen up on a ride, but nerve pain will get worse. How do you tell the difference? Muscle aches generally don’t get felt until you move. Nerve pain will wake you up. Another test is to check how your legs work after a long ride.

If your legs are a bit shaky after a long ride, it’s probably muscle weakness that will strengthen over time. If you find that your stumble because your feet catch on the ground, you may be impinging nerves as you ride and need to change your bike frame, seat or form.

For those who love to ride in all weather, check the feeling of your feet. For example, on a long hard ride in a cold rain, your feet and legs should feel cold. If they don’t, you may have nerves that are being pinched off.

A pinched nerve may or may not hurt while it’s pinched; the symptoms may include numbness. Once it’s released you will feel it, so it’s a good idea to avoid pinching it in the first place.

Does riding a bike strengthen your back?

Riding a bike can strengthen your core. Keeping your low back muscles, your tummy muscles and your glutes in good shape so they can work together to support your spine strengthens your core.

Focusing on strength alone may actually pull your low back out of balance; overly strong glutes can limit flexibility in the hips. The ability to ride hard and stay loose is about posture, form, and frame.

Riding a bike for fun and exercise is a wonderful way to work your heart without overworking your knees, feet, and ankles. Do make sure that you focus always on posture when you ride. If you can’t lower your shoulders to get out of the wind without curling the low back, your frame is the wrong size.

If your bike is long enough but you’re still curling, you need practice to stretch forward without over-curving the spine. If you’re sore after a ride because your butt has taken a pounding, you may need new shocks or a kinder trail. There are several factors that can cause low back pain while on a ride.

Find someone to observe you and make sure you do some mat work away from the bike to keep your core strong and your hips loose.

Read more: Negative Effects of Cycling – Everything You Need to Know!

About Alek Asaduryan

Alek Asaduryan is the founder of YesCycling and has been riding bikes and in the cycling industry since 1991. Since then, his mission is to make cycling more accessible to everyone. And each year, he continues to help more people to achieve that. When he's not out riding his beloved fitness bike, Alek reports on news, gear, guides, and all things cycling related.

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