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Biking and Back Pain – A Complicated Relationship

This article discusses the complicated relationship between biking and back pain. Is biking a good form of exercise which can be used to treat chronic back pain or should it be avoided?

Biking for Exercise

Exercise Can Help Treat and Prevent Pain

Exercise is a common non-surgical treatment method for people with chronic back pain. Exercise can help treat back pain and strengthen muscles. In addition, strengthening core and back muscles relieves pressure on the spine which can prevent further episodes of pain.

Low Impact Exercise

When recommending an exercise program, professionals will often recommend low impact activities for older adults. Low impact exercises provide the benefit of exercising without putting a lot of stress on the joints. Often these exercises can help build muscle and increase heart rate without the pounding on your body that occurs with an activity like running. Common low impact exercises are swimming, walking, yoga and biking.

biking and back pain

Biking and Back Pain

If exercise is a good treatment for back pain and biking is a form of low impact exercise that should mean that biking should help alleviate back pain, right? Not always.

In fact, many people with chronic back pain will report that bicycling exacerbates their back pain.

Cycling Posture and Back Pain

Some suspect that back pain may be caused by the rider’s posture. A study specifically focused on riders’ posture found that individuals with a history of chronic lower back pain (LBP) flexed their lower back much more than those without a history of LBP. These riders also reported more LBP after cycling than their counterparts with no history of back pain.

Cycling Distance and Pain

Another study attempted to identify the causes of back pain in recreational bicyclists. This study looked at posture, riding position (ie: where they placed their hands on the handlebars), riding time, distance, biking terrain, number of bike gears and more. Of all the factors evaluated only one was identified as being related to back pain, distance. Individuals that biked over 160km a week (about 100 miles/week) were 3.6 times more likely to experience back pain than those who biked less than 160km per week.

Ways to Reduce Back Pain from Bicycling

Biking Posture and Positioning

Cyclists posture has been shown to be related to LBP. In addition, the riders’ positioning has long been believed to be related to back pain as well. A typical bike forces the riders’ spine to be flexed unnaturally. Staying in this position for a long period of time puts unusual stresses on the backbone which can lead to pain.

So, does that mean you should ride a bike? Not necessarily. There are adjustments you can make to reduce the stress on your spine while riding.

For instance, bringing the seat forward and raising the handlebars up slightly will put your body in more of an upright position. While this may not make you as aerodynamic the improved posture will reduce some of the stress on your neck and back.

Stretching and Warmups

Also, like many other forms of exercise, don’t forget about the importance of warming up and stretching.

Biking can be a good form of low impact exercise but precaution should be taken by people who have a history of chronic back pain. By warming up, making some adjustments to your bike and not riding for too long, you can still enjoy biking as a form of exercise.


*Please Note: Information on this site or any recommended sites should not be used as a diagnosis or a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.
Blue Distinction Center for Spine Surgery