The Basics: What Happens To Your Back While Cycling
For starters, lets assume your bike is perfect for you. It not only matches your preferred style of riding, but is also adjusted to fit your unique physiology. You are riding at a pleasant pace that isnt too strenuous but still somewhat sporty. You may barely notice it, but cycling also uses the muscles in your back.
There are small muscle groups throughout your torso which support your skeleton and keep your inner organs in place. These muscle groups are also called deep muscles. They support your vertebrae and connect your spine to other parts of your skeleton. It is very difficult to train these small muscles, which are located along your entire spine, specifically. But cycling does exactly that.
It doesnt matter whether youre riding an e-bike or a purely muscle-powered bicycle. Even on an e-bike, you still have to pedal it just takes less force.
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As for which exercise, my advice is no different probably than what your grandmother might have given: Avoid exercises that hurt, and seek exercises that make you feel better.
You ask specifically about riding a stationary bike. Sciatica pain is often worse when sitting on a firm surface because the sciatic nerve passes right through the buttock. When you sit on a bicycle seat, it can put pressure on the nerve. But sitting does not always make symptoms worse. For example, if your sciatic nerve pain results from a problem higher up near the spine, you may tolerate riding a bike.
So let your symptoms be your guide. If biking makes your symptoms worse, then try something else for exercise. Good choices may be walking or swimming, as they don’t put pressure on the nerve particularly swimming.
In the meantime, try alternating hot and cold compresses to ease inflammation around the nerve. You also may need to take acetaminophen for pain. Or try anti-inflammatory drugs such as naproxen , ibuprofen or aspirin for pain and inflammation. Prescription medications that treat chronic nerve pain may also help. Talk to your doctor about those. In severe cases, an injection of a long-acting anesthetic with a steroid medication can provide relief.
Write to Dr. Komaroff at AskDoctorK. com c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut, Kansas City, MO 64106
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Weak Core And Back Muscles
The core creates a corset-shaped support structure around your trunk. These muscles play a role in most body movements, creating stability, facilitating power transfer, controlling posture, and protecting the various musculoskeletal systems above and below.
Having strong core muscles that activate when needed is pivotal to avoiding injury in any exercise or physical activity.
In cycling, weak core muscles fatigue quickly, resulting in the rider losing postural control and putting unwanted strain on the back muscles. Its no surprise, then, that cyclists with lower back pain often have core muscle activation issues and back extensor endurance deficits.
You can try various core and back strengthening and core activation exercises with detailed follow-along videos online to help develop your abdominals. The most commonly recommended ones include superman, planks and side planks, yogas cobra pose, and banded twists.
One tip for completing these exercises is to focus intently on the quality of your abdominal activation, ensuring the appropriate muscles are engaged and youre maintaining steady breathing from an engaged position. Without achieving this, the exercises are essentially useless.
Causes Of Lower Back Pain
Number one is our lifestyle, says Dan Boyd, a physiotherapist and bike-fitter at Complete Physio in London, when asked why cyclists are so vulnerable to injury. Unfortunately, we spend a lot of time at a desk and we werent particularly designed to sit at desks, which puts a lot of strain on our thoracic and lower back. Thats pretty unavoidable for most people, certainly recently.
The posterior chain the muscles in your back, bum and the backs of your legs is king. Unfortunately, these muscles get switched off by sitting for long periods.
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Is Cycling Good For Herniated Disc
How to Prevent Herniated Discs. Again, cycling can actually improve spinal strength and the health and hydration of your discs, says Broadbent. Having a good bike position and the right saddle is key. You want your spine in a healthy position that doesnt strain those discs in your lower back, Pruitt says.
Its One Of The More Common Ailments With A Surprising Percentage Of The Population Suffering Lower Back Pain And The Dreaded Effects Of Sciatica
Just the mention of the word can make anyone whos previously suffered wince in pain yes, its sciatica, a lower back condition that affects a large percentage of the population particularly those in their 30s, 40s and beyond.It often comes on after strenuous physical activity, and its agonising effects can last two or more weeks. Common symptoms include referred pain from the lower back down one leg. This pain can be felt anywhere along the sciatic nerve from deep in the thigh way down to tingling under the foot.
For a detailed and professional explanation of sciatica we spoke with Sydney-based Physiotherapist Peter Sharp, a keen cyclist and specialist in the field.
Bicycling Australia: Sciatica we know the term generally refers to leg pain stemming from the lower back, but can you tell us a little more?
Peter Sharp: Sciatica is a common but old-fashioned term. It is better known now as radicular pain theres nerve root involvement from your back. Symptoms include pain in certain distributions of the leg, worse than the back pain, and worse with coughing/sneezing/straining.
BA: And the level of pain?
PS: The whole spectrum from mild tightness in the leg to being too painful to walk!
BA: So who are the prime candidates?
PS: 58-84% of people have back pain in their lifetime. Its more likely in those with previous episodes of back pain, have other physical or mental health conditions, smokers, physically demanding jobs and obese individuals.
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What Is Exactly A Hernia Or A Herniated Disc
Hernia usually appears between 30 and 50. It is estimated that 3% of women and 5% of men suffer from herniated disc. The most common symptom of hernia is sciatica, which is an intense pain in the lower back, buttocks and along the leg, sometimes causing difficulties in walking.
What is the cause of hernia? The intervertebral discs, which are like small “cushions” located between the vertebrae of the spine, act as shock absorbers and aim to protect the spine from shocks. With age, because of an abrupt effort in a bad position or the wearing of a heavy load, or in case of obesity, these discs can be damaged and cause pain, that is what a hernia or a herniated disc is.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW. 70% of the people have back problems. About 3% of women and 5% of men over the age of 35 have had sciatica.
Hernia is not a fatality! It is possible and even strongly recommended to act against it. Indeed, if you suffer from a herniated disc and do not change your habits, which are often the cause of your back problems, your back pain will very likely reappear sooner or later. So what should you do to prevent hernia and back pain?
Does Stationary Bike Riding Help Prevent Hernia And Sciatica
Sports that involve identical, controlled and smooth movements, such as the exercise bike, nordic walking or swimming, especially backstroke, are strongly advised and particularly beneficial for the back. The stationary bike is preferable to road biking which involves vibrations and possible jerks.
You should however make sure to have the right position on your exercise bike! Keep your back straight, the saddle at the right level so that your knees are slightly bent when the pedal is at the bottom and hands well resting on the handlebars. Do not bend your back when leaning forward!
CAREFUL! In case of acute pain, immediately stop your training or physical activity. Pain is a kind of warning from your body that something is going wrong!
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Avoid Exercises That Stretch Your Hamstrings
Stretching your hamstrings can worsen sciatica, says Ronald Tolchin, DO, medical director of the Spine Center at Baptist Health’s Miami Neuroscience Institute. Some exercises to skip? Straight-leg sit-ups, bending forward and touching your toes, squats with weights, and the yoga pose known as the downward dog, he says. And, he adds, avoid doing leg circles where you lie on your back and make circles with your legs while one leg is down and the other one is raised.
What to do instead: When you are having pain, try walking, which warms up all your muscles, or swimming, which uses the buoyancy of the water to keep weight off your back, Dr. Tolchin says.
Asymmetrical Movement Strengthens The Lower Back
Your arms and legs are connected to your torso via joints and muscles. When you are pedalling, you not only use the muscles in your legs. The small muscle groups in your lower back are stretching and contracting as well. This can ease muscle tension and improve circulation.
The alternating forces are transferred from your muscles to your spinal discs. As a result, they also get more blood circulation and nutrients. Your spine relaxes, and the vertebrae stay in their proper places. Cycling also helps prevent sciatic pain, which is often caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve. With a good riding position, cycling is great for your back.
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How To Avoid Sciatica When Cycling
According to a recent health guide written by A.D.A.M. Inc., between 30-70% of cyclists experience back pain, including sciatica, when riding. We know what youre thinking Sciatica sounds like a painful risk to take for cycling. Should I stop riding bikes all together? The answer is that you dont have to! There are preventative measures to take that can help you avoid sciatica when cycling.
The first and easiest fix is to get the right bicycle seat. The way it feels is important. If your seat is rock-hard or approaching that, then its probably too hard. The best solution to this is typically a bike cover. A good rule of thumb is this: your seat cover shouldnt feel rock-hard, but it shouldnt feel like your pillow either. You should also consider the shape of the seat. Wider seats and seat cushions can offer more support and stability while riding. To get some ideas of good seat cushions, check these out.
Another thing to consider is the height of the handlebars. We already mentioned that leaning too far forward can cause compression of the spine, leading to sciatic nerve pain. So if you are cycling hunched over your handlebars most of the time, raise them up. They should be raised to the height of your seat, or even higher, depending on your preference. Any lower than that, and youd better be racing.
Eat Food High In Magnesium
Magnesium is a mineral that can soothe irritated nerves. Its not officially known how magnesium calms tense nerves and muscles, but its thought to do so because it reduces inflammation. Some of the best magnesium-rich food to consume include:
While you can take a magnesium supplement, its best to get this mineral through natural sources.
Sciatica is a common problem in cyclists that could end up making it very difficult for you to ride your bike. These tips will ensure that youre able to quickly heal sciatica and prevent it from happening.
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How To Avoid Sciatica In General
We have already discussed some risk factors that contribute to sciatica, such as obesity, chronic disease, and a sedentary lifestyle. But there are even more things you can do to avoid sciatica, whether you are a cyclist or not.
Wondering what foods are high in magnesium? Here are a few:
So next time you go to make a salad, opt for some of these bone-healthy ingredients.
Pay Attention To Your Form
It is important to be mindful of your body and pay attention to your form while exercising. Feel the rhythm of your breathing to improve your focus. When you are mindful, you will be distracted from the pain and anxiety of sciatica. Be sure to follow the exercise steps correctly and use correct posture to avoid further injury.
Starting a new exercise may cause a moderate degree of soreness for beginners. Using an ice pack on the sore areas after you exercise can help reduce inflammation and decrease the pain.
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Is Sciatica Curable Current Treatments
Sciatica has many treatments depending on how severe it is.
For mild cases, stretching, taking NSAIDs or other over-the-counter medications, and using ice and heat treatments might suffice.
Spinal corticosteroid injections, physical therapy, and prescription medications might put a dent in more severe sciatica. Surgery is another possible treatment.
What Should I Avoid If I Have Sciatica
11 Things to Avoid if You Have Sciatica Avoid Exercises That Stretch Your Hamstrings. Avoid Lifting Heavy Weights Before Warming Up. Avoid Certain Exercise Machines. Avoid Sitting For Longer Than 20 Minutes. Avoid Bed Rest. Avoid Bending Over. Avoid Sitting in the Wrong Office Chair. Avoid Twisting Your Spine.
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Which Bikes Are Best Suited For Training Back Muscles
The type of bike you ride also influences your riding position. Most road bike positions require a sharp bend in your neck. This can lead to a lot of tension if your muscles arent used to it. Gravel and mountain bikes are almost as demanding in this regard. City bikes, on the other hand, enable a much more beneficial position. If you primarily want to train your back, these bikes are definitely worth a look.
What Causes Sciatica When Cycling
Sciatica can put stress on your hips. This can be overcome
This problem is common in cyclists for a few reasons.
One of the most frequent causes is because of certain hip movements. As you cycle, you move your legs back and forth. This causes your hips to adjust with them. If you overdo cycling or dont stretch beforehand, it can stress the bones and muscles in this area. Eventually, it could wear down the bones causing them to press against the sciatic nerve.
Another reason is that your seat is too hard. If you cycle for hours, sitting on a hard seat can put pressure on your lower back. This can cause your spinal discs to push against your sciatic nerve.
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Stimulate Your Soft Tissues With Heat
- Improve blood flow. Heat therapy increases the temperature of tissues, causing blood vessels to dilate. Dilation of blood vessels improves the flow of blood, oxygen, and healing nutrients to your lower back.
- Stretch soft tissues. Heat therapy helps decrease stiffness and increase flexibility by stretching the muscles around your spine. The range of motion of your lower back also increases and can help you exercise better.
There are numerous options for heat therapy, including a warm bath, a hot water bottle, or a reusable gel pack.
When applying heat therapy, make sure you place a cloth or towel between your skin and the heat source and take intermittent breaks to prevent burns.
In Summary Cycling Can Help Against A Variety Of Back Pains
In case of prolonged or intense back pain, you should always seek medical help and not just hop on a bike. Apart from that, theres no reason not to go cycling. The gentle, even motion of a good bike ride strengthen your core muscles without being too hard. That way, your back stays healthy. You should make sure your bike is a good fit for your size and fitness level. We offer a broad range of great bikes for athletic cyclists as well as day-to-day riders. Have a look and dont hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.
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