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Cycling and Back Pain

Back pain is a normal occurrence in cycling. Long periods of time spent in the hunched- over cycling posture results in prolonged back flexion and muscle pain for the untrained lower back. The lower back region houses the main muscle group responsible for producing power and bicycle movement control. Having an unconditioned back with inflexible muscles will result in strain, fatigue, and eventually, pain.

The relation between the bicycle’s virtual top tube length and the quantity of spinal flexion the cyclist’s back is subjected to is one of the keys to determining how back pain develops. Excessively low handlebars will cause too much lordosis or flexion of the back, which in turn puts stress on the lumbar spine. On the other hand, a very short top tube length will result in flexing of the sacral spine, subjecting the intervertebral disks to additional pressure. By making correct measurements of the top tube length in relation to the height of the handlebars will lower the incidence of back pain, as explained below.

The cyclist also has to consider the position of his pelvis. An incorrect pelvic position can strain the back muscles and result in pain. Without the proper conditioning, tight quadriceps can cause the pelvis to tilt forward, while tight hamstrings slant the pelvis backward. The amount of flexibility of the hip flexors can be determined by the Thomas test, while looking at the popliteal angle may correctly evaluate flexibility of the hamstrings.

The effort expended in pedalling, particularly uphill, is the reason for fatigue in the muscle group of the gluts and hamstrings. This causes a backward sloping of the pelvis, thereby straining the back muscles, again resulting to pain. It is crucial to maintain strong stomach muscles for a more stable pelvic bearing. To achieve this, a combination of strength training for the core muscle group, and stretching of the legs, calves and ankles will not only aid in pelvic stability, but also produce a more efficient cycling ability.

Apart from a misaligned pelvic, the lumbosacral junction may also be a source of pain. This is the focal area from which power is generated towards the legs for pedalling. When there is an inappropriate measurement of bicycle vis-à-vis the cyclist, the awkward fit between rider and bike can narrow the front part of the intervertebral disk while widening the posterior area. This puts pressure on the posterior ligamentous complex, causing lower back pain.

Although this can be prevented by tightening the stomach muscles to straighten and decrease the pressure on the spine, the cyclist will still need to breathe, making this protective measure impossible to maintain.

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