In most cases, low back pain is a simple case of prolonged pressure being placed on structures in the low back that are actually undamaged. The lower back normally has a small arch in it – the Lumbar Lordosis. For the most part this posture is one that allows efficient transfer of load, enabling the upper body to be balanced well on the lower body. If we bare load through the lumbar spine with postures other than this efficient posture, we expose it to the risk of damage. People often injure their lumbar spine with prolonged slumped sitting during their working day. Likewise cycling encourages a similar posture. Unlike sitting at your desk though, cycling encourages some muscle activity, and load is somewhat borne by the arms, and these factors take some load off the back.
Factors contributing to this situation include:
- Poor cycle set up
- Inadequate lower limb strength
- Poor active trunk stability
- Poor cycling technique and training habits
- Poor lower limb or trunk flexibility.
Let’s briefly expand on these points and how they may contribute to low back pain.
Cycle set – up
Most cyclist haven’t spent the amount of time it takes to cope with the sort of set up elite cyclists favour, with the result being that they are too high in the saddle and are reaching too far down and forward to reach the handlebars .
Lower limb strength
Weakness in the lower limb musculature, along with poor endurance and poor cycle specific coordination may lead to excessive loading of the back with rocking side to side or backwards and forward on the saddle.
Poor active trunk stability
The purpose of our lumbar spine is to act like the base of a crane; it balances our thorax (chest) and neck upon our lower limbs. In terms of the bike, the upper body needs not only to handle the bike, but gives extra stability to the pelvis from which the legs work. Poor trunk stability, leads to a poor base from which to produce power through the lower limbs.
Poor technique and training habits
Poor technique causes an uneven torque through the bottom bracket of the bike, causing the lumbar spine to rock back/ forward and side/side. Smooth pedal action, and training drills to achieve this really help. Also – getting out of the saddle every 30 minutes or so and doing some pelvic tilting for a minute or so will really help your longevity in the saddle.
Poor trunk and lower limb flexibility
On your days off the bike a routine of lower limb/ back stretching is a great thing. Good flexibility allows you to fit onto the bike will less stress through the lumbar spine.