Is Cycling Really That Bad for Your Back?

By | December 8, 2015 | Chiropractic Care | 15 Comments

Cycling is an excellent exercise but taking it to an elite level can lead to a variety of health problems. The latest advances in bicycle design and technology, coupled with more aggressive training, has led to a higher incidence of injuries among competitive cyclists.

Pain in the lower back, knee, shoulder, and neck, as well as stiffness and numbness in the hands are common complaints among riders who spend long hours on their bikes. A study of 51 elite riders over a six-year period, between 2003-2009, showed a 10% increase in traumatic injuries (38.4% to 48.6%) in the surveillance period. When compared to a group of 65 professional cyclists surveyed from 1983 to 1995, the racers in today’s circuit – with current technology and training – are experiencing higher traumatic injuries: 0.98 per current racer versus 0.54 per racer in the earlier period. Overuse injuries were also higher in today’s competitive circuit: 1.04 per racer in the latest study group versus .86 per racer in the earlier research. The rates were measured per rider, per year, and per 1000 kilometres of riding.[1]

Advances in bicycle design over the past 20 years have resulted in sleeker, faster bikes. Racing at higher speeds, particularly in packed fields of riders, is disaster waiting to happen. Cyclists are putting more strain on their bodies and with increased competition on the race circuit, their training regimens have added to the physical stresses. In fact, the majority of injuries occur prior to major events, during which competitors push themselves to train even harder.

The most common overuse injury among professional cyclists is patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), which accounts for about one quarter of all cycling injuries. PFPS, also known as ‘runner’s knee’, is caused by excessive stress on the knee, causing a dull, aching pain where the knee connects with the femur. In cyclists, the condition is most often caused by a saddle or cleat that is positioned too low. Patellofemoral pain can also come from the downward push of the pedal stroke.

Erik Moen, PT, CSCS, a long-time cyclist, says the solution is “about working the entire circumference of the pedal stroke. When you think about the entire pedal stroke, you start to realise it is a skilled event.”

Back strain is also common among professional cyclists, the result of leaning over the handlebars for extended periods. A study of 51 elite cyclists in 2010[2] showed that a muscle imbalance between the hamstrings and hip flexors, combined with weak hip extensors, lead to uncontrolled lower back movements. Cyclists with this problem were predisposed to overuse injuries.

The source of a large proportion of cycling injuries is biomechanical dysfunction of the spine and pelvis. Therefore a combination of chiropractic care and proper bike fit can keep the cyclists’ performing at optimal levels, while have a reduced risk of injury.

The position a cyclist must endure for extended periods is not normal to the human body and therefore adds strain in many ways. Avid cyclists should have their biomechanics checked periodically. Preventive care significantly reduces the risk of traumatic and overuse injuries that could impair performance or even sideline the competitor.

Here at Sydney Spine we are now offering bicycle set-up advice. We have the latest video analysis software which allows us to visualise your best and most efficient cycling position before and after we make any changes. Make sure to ask for more details at your next appointment!

[1] Br J Sports Med 2011;45:341 doi:10.1136/bjsm.2011.084038.89

[2] Br J Sports Med 2011;45:351 doi:10.1136/bjsm.2011.084038.117

Want to set yourself up for success while cycling? Call the team today and Greg

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