Bicycling with back pain

Biking is a popular form of aerobic exercise, and is often a favoured form of exercise by people with low back pain conditions. Biking may be a good exercise option for many reasons:

  • Biking is less jarring to the spine than many other forms of aerobic exercise, such as jogging or aerobics class. Stationary bicycling is particularly gentle on the spine, and the variety of spinning classes now available can provide a vigorous aerobic workout with minimal stress to the low back.
  • Some people with certain back conditions often feel more comfortable in the forward-leaning position of sitting on a bicycle seat and leaning forward on the handlebars. Lumbar spinal stenosis is an example of a condition in which most people feel better in a forward leaning position.
  • For those with a low back condition in which a reclining position feels better, a reclining bike, also called a recumbent bike, may be preferable. Lumbar degenerative disc disease is an example of a condition in which many people feel better in a reclining position.

But with all the positive impact that cycling brings into an exerciser’s life there are still few practical aspects of biking that should be looked at by any person who has just recovered his or her spinal health after years of recurrent painful conditions.  The fact that biking is typically more comfortable than other types of exercise doesn’t always mean that there is nothing there to watch out for. So here it comes:

How Biking can Cause Back Pain or Neck Pain

  • Person with a sedentery lifestyle (or job) who spends most of their day in a seated position, then travels home in the same seated position, then goes on a bike, and ends up in the seated position again. This defeats the purpose of having an exercise session after the day at work in the first place. If you are this person – get up and walk! Whatever you do, Do NOT sit down again – your back will thank you for that!
  • Very little conditioning is provided to the back muscles by bicycling, i.e. you’re not advancing with your back recovery, back muscles may still remain week and susceptible to injury.
  • Back posture on the bicycle can strain the lower back, a result of the lumbar spine flexing or pulling up.
  • Position on the bicycles, with the neck arching back, can strain the neck and upper back, especially when the bicycle is equipped with aerodynamic bars.
  • Rough terrain increases jarring and compression to the spine, which can lead to back pain.
  • The body positioning on the bike and the character of the muscle work during the intensive pedalling, works the hip flexor muscles (Psoas, Iliacus, Rectus Femorus, and Sartorius) and makes them thicken and shorten. The detrimental effect of this is the anterior (forward) pull on the lumbar spine which may eventually exaggerate the lumbar lordosis and produce lower back pain. It essentially does same to our backs as sitting for prolonged periods of time – only faster!

TIP: Enjoy your biking as much as your back allows you, but the moment you get off the bike – spend next 10 minutes stretching all the muscles of the lower body. More specifically for you (a former lower back pain sufferer) – have 3 one minute Extension in lying (COBRA) sessions, followed by 3 one minute hamstring stretches for each leg. By doing just that you are likely to remove 80 – 90% of the risk associated with bicycling. 

Here is the sample routine you should do after you get off your bike: Restoring lumbar lordosis

Now go out and enjoy the ride!


Your own physical condition and diagnosis may require specific modifications or precautions. Before undertaking any course of self-treatment you should consult a doctor or physiotherapist.

Non-Surgical Spinal Decompression:

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