Increase your comfort and ride pain-free.
Does your lower back hurt when cycling, maybe 1 hour or so into your ride? Or do you have back pain before you hop in the saddle?
Lower back pain is a common complaint among cyclists. But in most cases, a few tweaks to your set-up, positioning, and training will have you riding pain-free and focused on what matters most: riding your bike.
So, in this blog post, we highlight the common causes of lower back pain (and how to fix them), to get you back on the road and enjoying your training. We also provide a few extra tips to help alleviate back pain on the bike.
What causes cycling lower back pain?
Lower back pain is very common in cyclists. Yet, the pain is not always from cycling. It’s funny how it works, right?!
The following activities may contribute to lower back pain:
- Sitting too much
- Muscle or tendon strains
- Disk injuries
- Personal health issues
And when you get on the bike, if you experience any of the prior issues, then a poor position — and an unfavourable bike fit — will only exacerbate the problem. This can make riding uncomfortable, very painful, and impossible for some riders.
When riding, the back and the core muscles enter flexion (a forward bend), which places additional stress on the lower back. Flexion occurs when you reach towards the handlebars. If you’re riding a lower or even a slammed stem, the flexion is greater, and might cause even more pain.
This emphasises the importance of good positioning on the bike. And, if you get your position right, you can eliminate numerous pains and discomforts.
Below are several common factors that may contribute to lower back pain during cycling:
Continue reading to find solutions to these issues, allowing you to get one pedal stroke closer to pain-free cycling.
How to fix lower back pain from cycling
To fix your lower back pain, you need to understand what’s causing the pain in the first place.
We’ll start by outlining the easiest fixes and explain how each works to reduce or eliminate pain.
Sit less, move more
It’s entirely possible that your lower back pain is not caused by cycling, but instead by sitting too much. And then, when you get on the bike, the increased spine flexion adds pressure and makes the pain worse.
So what’s the fix?
This is the easiest to do but is also challenging to implement, especially if you work an office job and sit in front of a screen most of the day.
If possible, we suggest standing up and moving around every 1 hour or so to relieve pressure. Sitting for extended periods also causes the discs in the vertebrae to lose their cushioning. Over time, this can also cause chronic back pain.
It’s a good habit to sit less and move more however you do it.
Additionally, invest in an ergonomic desk chair to enhance back support and promote correct posture. And, to take it a step further, you can alternate between sitting and standing by using a standing desk or by elevating your screen with a stack of books.
Stretching your lower back, quads, hips, and glutes can help alleviate tension and lower back pain.
And while stretching might not fix your back pain altogether, it can help reduce pain, improve flexibility, and even protect you from injury. Make an effort to stretch for at least 5 minutes after each ride. It’s an easy habit to adopt and effectively relieves pain.
Stretching after a long ride, of say 2 + hours, is even more important.
Lower back stretches include:
- Knee-to-chest stretch
- Child’s pose (common yoga stretch)
- Piriformis stretch
Don’t forget to stretch tight quads and the other leg muscles. These muscles, and the low back, become fatigued and tight after riding. So keep on top of them! Little often is better than never.
Adjust your position on the bike
If the pain is mainly evident while cycling, your bike fit and positioning are more likely to be responsible.
One of the first contact points to look at is your saddle height — if it’s too high, this can cause increased spine flexion. It can also cause you to rock side to side, particularly when riding uphill (causing lower back pain).
A saddle too low is also a problem. This can cause asymmetry and various other issues. You also want to check saddle setback and tilt — common culprits include too far a saddle setback and too nose up. These are easy fixes and well worth exploring.
And if you’re unsure or want an expert opinion, then a professional bike fit is always an option — but more on this later in the post.
Train the core and lower back
No matter how many changes you make to your position, if you have a weak core and lower back muscles, you’re more likely to rock side to side when climbing and, overall, have worse instability when riding.
A lack of core stability and strength can cause lower back pain and pain in other areas.
So how do you combat it?
You should train your core and lower back muscles to provide a more stable foundation with less rocking. The core and lower back are often overlooked and underappreciated — many cyclists only train them when something goes wrong. Avoid making this mistake!
Train your core and lower back muscles 1-2 times a week. But train them like you would any other muscle group, i.e. perform several exercises at a mix of sets and reps for the most gains.
And if you don’t know where to begin, then don’t worry — we’ve provided you with some core exercises below to get started.
Exercises to prevent lower back pain (off the bike)
You should focus on training the core and lower back muscles to increase your strength and lessen or even eliminate low back pain. However, a more comprehensive strength training program is recommended. This is because muscular imbalances (including the gluteus medius and maximus and the hips) can all contribute to low back pain.
Instead of just training the core and lower back muscles, consider including a mix of exercises to address potential weaknesses while improving overall strength, not only in the core and back, but the entire body.
The following exercises are a good starting point for most riders:
- Glute bridges
- Lower back extensions
- Single leg squats
- Walking lunges
- Side planks
Tips for preventing lower back pain (on the bike)
As well as tweaking your position on the bike — saddle height, tilt, setback, and handlebar reach — you can make adjustments when riding to help prevent lower back pain. These are less permanent fixes, but good practices to help eliminate or reduce strain on the lower back when riding. And they require minimal effort!
Shift to a lower gear when climbing
Riding in a high gear when climbing places extra stress on the lower back and increases fatigue on the glutes and hamstrings. This can also cause the pelvis to rock, which causes lower back pain.
Shifting gear ahead of time and not grinding up a climb is an easy tweak to make. It will also make you a more efficient rider!
Switch your position frequently
It's good practice to switch up your riding position frequently. Get in and out of the drops, on the hoods, and on the tops. A slight change to your position stops you from being static, which can cause cumulative stress on the muscles.
And while you’ll naturally switch between positions, especially when climbing and descending, changing your position on the flats will reduce the cumulative stress and improve comfort — while reducing pain — when riding for hours on end.
Consider using wider tyres
Wider tyres may help absorb some of the shock from the road — you’re less likely to feel every bump and undulation, and they provide a more stable and comfortable ride. It’s why mountain bike tyres are so big compared to road cycling tyres.
If you encounter harsh low back pain, wider tyres can help you absorb a lot of the shock for a more stable ride.
Avoid increasing your training intensity & volume too suddenly
And finally, avoid increasing both your training intensity and volume too quickly. Instead, aim to increase these gradually over the following weeks and months. This is because your body is not used to the additional stress; you need to build up to the added intensity to avoid injury, unnecessary fatigue, and overtraining.
Do you need a bike fit?
If you have read this far and tried several remedies without success, investing in a professional bike fit could be worthwhile.
Have an expert look at your bike and your riding positioning to identify the exact reason behind the pain. You might have issues that are more difficult to spot, such as a lower limb discrepancy (where one leg or arm is longer than the other). It’s usually nothing to worry about, but spotting this can help find the right solution to help eliminate the pain for good. Make sure to bring your cleats with you to your bike fit, too. They can check the cleat positioning and help set these up correctly to improve power transfer and eliminate any pain or niggles that you encounter.
A bike fit might also help you find a few extra watts!
When to seek medical help?
If your back pain stops you from performing daily activities for more than 2 weeks, then we’d recommend speaking to your doctor.
Also, if possible, avoid taking self-prescribed painkillers to mask the pain, and instead, only use them if necessary. Furthermore, be very cautious of riding while on painkillers — this can worsen your back pain and lead to a more serious injury if you’re not careful.
How to fix cycling lower back pain: to summarise
If you experience back pain shortly into your ride or even before you begin, there are numerous fixes you can explore to help alleviate or even eliminate the pain for good.
Most times, lower back pain is a result of poor bike positioning, weak core and trunk muscles, and in some instances, muscular imbalances in the glutes.
Apply the Styrkr Muscle Cooling Sports Cream for pain relief
If you’re suffering from lower back pain and want immediate relief, try the Styrkr Muscle Cooling Sports Cream. It contains natural and soothing antibacterial ingredients for cooling relief and antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds to help relieve pain.
Why does my lower back hurt from cycling?
Your lower back may hurt due to bad positioning on the bike, a poor bike set up, weak core and trunk muscles, or muscular imbalances that cause back pain.
Is it okay to cycle with lower back pain?
Yes, it is okay to cycle with lower back pain but use your best judgement. If the pain is so severe you can’t perform daily activities, then it’s best to stay off the bike.
How do I strengthen my lower back for cycling?
Perform exercises such as deadlifts, lower back extensions (bodyweight or weighted), and planks. However, don’t neglect the core as well!