Lower back pain is the second most common overuse injury in cyclists and usually presents as a deep, dull, diffuse ache across the lower back, arising after several hours in the saddle. Acute damage to structures of the lower back are rare (except during crashes) instead, prolonged spinal flexion in the cycling position places strain on the structures of the lower back, similar to sitting in the slumped position at a desk.
Normal posture on the bike is lumbar flexion (bending forward) however, excessive flexion of the lumbar spine is thought to be a major factor in causing strain of the posterior structures leading to pain. A group of cyclists with lower back pain were found to spend more time at their total lower lumbar flexion compared to the pain-free group (Van-Hoof 2012).
Burnet 2004 also found increased lower lumbar flexion and rotation was associated with non-specific chronic lower back pain in cyclists.
The height between your handlebars and saddle is very important (handle bar drop). The greater this distance the higher the chances that you are flexing more to reach the handlebars. If you suffer lower back pain, bringing your front up (decreasing handle bar drop height) will decrease lumbar flexion and relieve tension on the posterior structures of your back.
A good comfortable saddle will give you more stability. This will ensure the lower back and pelvic muscles are not over worked trying to stabilise excessive movement such as rotation or rocking.
Correct activation and good endurance of the lumbar and hip extensor (gluts) muscle groups allow stabilisation of the pelvis on the saddle as well as preventing excessive flexion of the spine during cycling.
Examples of two fantastic exercises to help achieve correct muscle activation patterns and endurance in these muscles groups are the bridge and straight leg dead lift.
Hip flexion range of motion is the one of the most important factors in managing and preventing lower back pain in the cyclist. Regular stretching of the gluts and hamstrings with help increase hip flexion and reduce the amount of lumbar and spine flexion needed to achieve the cycling position.
Van Hoof, W., Volkaerts, K., O’Sullivan K., Verschueren S., & Dankaerts, W. (2012) Comparing lower lumbar kinematics in cyclists with low back pain (flexion pattern) versus asymptomatic controls e field study using a wireless posture monitoring system. Manual Therapy 17:312-317
Burnett, A.F., Cornelius, M.W., Dankaerts, W., & O’Sullivan, P.B (2004) Spinal kinematics and trunk muscle activity in cyclists: a comparison between healthy controls and non-specific chronic low back pain subjects—a pilot investigation Manual Therapy 9:211–219
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