How to avoid back pain on your bike

Many cyclists think that back pain and bikes are an inseparable pairing, but that’s not true at all. Those osteo-muscular problems that materialise after a ride are often caused by mechanical or adjustment errors, or perhaps by using the wrong saddle type for your anatomy.

 

According to the World Health Organisation, around 85% of the world’s population suffers back pain at least once in their life. A large number of people, including many millions of cyclists, will wonder if their favourite sport is in some way responsible for the problem. If we put the question bluntly: “Do bicycles cause back pain?” The answer can only be no.

Cycling is not an considered a risk activity and, indeed, the right position in the saddle actually reduces the load on the spine. But why do so many two-wheel enthusiasts complain of back pain? The issue is complicated, as is the very nature of the disorder.

Leaving aside the more serious bone conditions, such as osteoarthritis or osteoporosis, back pain is a multi-factor disorder, i.e. it can arise from concomitant and diverse causes, such as incorrect posture at the desk, undue effort, being overweight, and indeed … an incorrect position on the bicycle.

We have to consider that back pain is caused by muscular imbalances and abnormal stresses that are likely to impact negatively on the spine. Therefore, it’s a problem of “mechanical” origin. And it’s only natural that the most effective solution would also be mechanical in nature.

Before doing anything from a medical point of view, you should therefore try to optimise your pedalling position, which may include a suitable choice of saddle.

Let’s see the key points to consider:

 

Frame size

The bicycle must be the right size; it hardly needs repeating, but the fact is that on the roads you often see cyclists pedalling on machines that are too big or too small for their body structure. In those cases the distances between the 3 points of contact with the bike (saddle, handlebars and pedals) are not proportionate to those of the body, and dictate an unnatural posture that can result in physical problems.

 

Saddle

The cyclist’s weight goes 60% on the saddle: so this “accessory” is unavoidably important to the health and well-being of the back.

For people predisposed to lower back pain, a good saddle might be one with a slight lengthways curvature, like the Novus SuperFlow Endurance by Selle Italia. This is designed for long distances and encourages forward rotation of the pelvis and resultingly greater extension of the spine. In any case, the Idmatch by Selle Italia system, based on anthropometric measurements analysed by a sophisticated algorithm, means that the ideal saddle requirement of each cyclist can be determined in the space of a few seconds.

 

Adjustments

Once you’ve chosen the right bike and saddle for your body structure, some accurate adjustments are necessary to optimise every detail, best done with the help of a good bike mechanic.

Saddle height and tilt first and foremost, but also, for example, the positioning of the notches.

A saddle with too much height and backward tilt can create undue stress on the lumbar muscles and the sacro-iliac articulation. A saddle that’s too low or tilted too far forward, however, puts less “load” on the arms and a consequent overload on the spine.

Poorly positioned notches also encourage bad pedalling habits, which in the long run might affect the back muscles.

 

Cycling style

It’s better to avoid long periods in “aggressive” or aerodynamic positions, for example in the low grip position, so as not to cause muscles to stay contracted for a long time.

At the same time, however, you don’t have to sit passively on the saddle: especially in the case of asphalt or rough terrain, all the bumps needs to be absorbed, even it means raising off the saddle now and again. Think also about your brake levers, which on road bikes shouldn’t be positioned too low: when you apply them you risk causing excessive tension in the back muscles.

 

Materials

Overly stiff bike components may give the feeling of great “accuracy” when you’re riding, but beware, because even the smallest vibrations from uneven ground are transmitted to the body, basically causing repeated microtraumas to the back.

While it may be obvious that an aluminium frame is much stiffer than a steel one, we should bear in mind that wheels and tyres are also very important in this regard: high-profile or large-spoke rims have little capacity to absorb impact and the same can be said for tyres that are too narrow or over-inflated.

One final thought: if you’re not a professional, it’s altogether better to sacrifice something that offers performance for the thing that favours our well-being.

Summary
How to avoid back pain on your bike | Health on the saddle – Selle Italia
Article Name
How to avoid back pain on your bike | Health on the saddle – Selle Italia
Description
Behind the back pain that manifests itself after the pedaling, there are often biomechanical errors and adjustment of the bike, or perhaps the choice of a saddle not suited to its characteristics. Discover all our tips.
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Publisher Name
Selle Italia
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