Need your advice about back pain

My wife complains that she experiences lower back pain after riding her bike.

I’ve messed with the height of her stem, position of saddle, but still she is in pain. Any suggestions? By the way she’s riding a mountain bike.

38 Comments

  1. Quinn August 28, 2009 7:53 am 

    As you can imagine I live with lower back every day, rather than the jeight of the stem, try different lengths,

    also trypushing the seat sll the way back, the whole goal is to keep the spine straight,

    also try a cushier seat,

    the one thinh that really helped me was a carbon seat post, I went from running a WTB Rocket to being more comfortable on a Serfas Stingwe Race when I switched to the Carbon post.

  2. Joel August 28, 2009 7:58 am 

    Stem length did the trick for me. I’m on the MTB 4 – 6 months out the year and lengthening the stem did it for me. Height and length are somewhat related, but I tried raising it, which provided only minimal relief. Within two days of getting a longer stem the lower back pain disappeared :-)

  3. Scott August 28, 2009 8:06 am 

    I get lower back pain on longer rides, especially if I am pushing hills or riding extra hard, so I’ve been looking for ideas. I had a cyclist friend, who is also a physical trainer, tell me that core training should make a big difference.

    I found a couple of things of Bicycling magazine’s web site dealing with core training to help back pain.

    http://www.bicycling.com/sittingdisease/

    http://www.bicycling.com/fitcore/

    (Beware of all the ads you have to sit through)

    I haven’ t tried these programs yet, so your mileage may vary, but I am planning on adding some core training to my routine.

  4. DDK August 28, 2009 8:12 am 

    For my wife, the answer was a bike that put her in a full-upright position — a perfectly fit Electra Amsterdam dutch cruiser. It was the leaning forward and putting weight on her hands that killed her lower back.

  5. Ben August 28, 2009 8:16 am 

    I’m on a road bike and have been fighting the same thing. From the responses I’m seeing it seems that elongating the effective top tube length (longer stem, push the saddle back) should be beneficial for back pain, rather than a more upright position. Is that correct?

  6. Cyclin Missy August 28, 2009 8:25 am 

    In addition to bike fit issues, I’ve read a little bit about compression shorts helping with muscle and nerve pain in the back. It might also help to try doing some exercise that involves more impact (like jogging, walking, arobics, etc.). That may strengthen the lower back area, which can get weaker when all we do it bike.

    Good luck finding the cause of her pain and the right solution!

  7. sam August 28, 2009 8:36 am 

    I have to say, aside from making adjustments to my bike to raise the handlebars, etc., doing Pilates to strengthen my core has done a world of good for how my back feels after a ride.

  8. Bob P. August 28, 2009 8:37 am 

    I recommend she do inverted sit-ups to strengthen the lower back muscles. I had this issue years ago, and am fine now after building the muscles.

    I can’t find the real name for them, but you would basically be on a table or such, facing the floor, with your legs secure. The waist and higher is suspended, and you lower your body, moving your face toward the floor, bending at the waist. Slowly bring your body back up. Repeat.

  9. Logan August 28, 2009 9:32 am 

    The late, great, Sheldon Brown has a page outlining cycling pain: http://www.sheldonbrown.com/pain.html

    He notes most back pain (and most other pain) is due to poor riding posture. Riding “swaybacked” as he calls it can cause lower lumbar pain. My partner also has a bad back left over from a high speed ski race accident. The only therapy that worked for her was stretching and swimming with her local masters team.

    You may also want to check the crank arm length on your partner’s bike. It should be 165mm for shorter men & women but typical mountain bikes run at 170 – 175mm. Mr. Brown talks about this under “knee pain” and mentions a shorter length doesn’t hurt but a longer length can.

  10. Paul August 28, 2009 10:02 am 

    She needs a new bike!

    Or … stretching
    On a tip from the physical therapist, this helped me a lot (scroll down to Pirformis):
    http://www.jaxmed.com/massage/pirformis_stretches.htm

    Or … really, a new bike
    A totally unproven, unscientific answer: I also have not had back problems since switching to a 29″ bike. Better geometry for taller people.

    Or … bump bumper
    Suspension seatpost if she is on a hardtail.

    Or … roadie
    Also I think riding a road bike every now and then (instead of always on a Mountain bike) will strengthen the muscles needed to prevent pain; again unscientific and unproven opinion.

  11. Garrett August 28, 2009 10:09 am 

    I would recommend going to a good chiropractor first and getting an X-ray just to be sure nothing is wrong physically. After that I would try moving the saddle forward along with raising the stem.

  12. Elizabeth August 28, 2009 10:20 am 

    I’ve dealt with upper neck/shoulder pain for years now. Strengthening the core muscles certainly doesn’t hurt — in fact, it should help, especially with lower back pain.

    I’ve also found a great chiropractor who helps patients listen to their bodies via a method of chiropractic care called BGI. http://tinyurl.com/kqa5ew

    I may be getting a bike fitting soon and will report back those findings!

  13. Ben August 28, 2009 10:33 am 

    Core strengthening is what did it for me. A slightly longer stem helped, however the pain didn’t subside until I built up my core muscles. In cycling, the core is the “platform” that supports all of the force coming from the legs. With a weak core, the low back, glutes, etc. try to compensate and guard the spine. Chiropractic helps the pain, but doesn’t address the main issue. Physical therapy and doing core strengthening (and only recently, back strengthening) exercises were the key for me.

  14. Ben W August 28, 2009 10:50 am 

    Just one more person echoing the workout / stretching advice. I have a half dozen bikes with all sorts of geometry, from long and low to upright cruisers. Sure, some positions are harder on my back then others, and back discomfort has been a life-long battle for me. But by far the *best* thing I did to be more comfortable on a bike is basic core muscle building exercises. It doesn’t even take a lot to see a difference, and the benefits go far beyond your time in the saddle. It’s worth it.

  15. Powerful Pete August 28, 2009 10:58 am 

    Core strength exercises and playing with stem length…

  16. North Cackalacky Pete August 28, 2009 11:42 am 

    Biking (sitting hunched over) is tough on your back. She should counter this with lots of walking, stretching, and core strength exercises. She should also see a doctor.

  17. RL August 28, 2009 11:44 am 

    Thanks for all the input. My wife is actually super fit. She runs like 15-20 miles per week and does push ups on her off days.

    I’ll definitely mess with the stem length and saddle position.

  18. Dean August 28, 2009 11:49 am 

    Basically what I’ve seen thus far is the same response that any google query will tell you regarding back pain.

    I’ve got a simple response here: grip the handlebars with a firm grip. My thought is that by having a firm grip on the bars, you body is distributing the tension throughout the body instead of focusing on the legs. So, grip the bars, don’t just rest your hands on them.

    Call it stupid or unscientific, but after spending countless hours/money on trying to find a cure for lower back pain for myself, this helped A LOT!

  19. ChadR August 28, 2009 12:53 pm 

    My wife had similar problems on her Trek mountain style bike. After having kids her back would ache and then just hurt like hell. I bought her a new bike with more upright posture and she hasn’t had a problem . I’m not talking about an ugly Dutch bike but a Kona Ute. Wether it’s the geometry, fit, seat or all, I don’t know. She’s not complaining, so I’m happy.

  20. Perditia August 28, 2009 4:30 pm 

    I had similar problems but since I swim at least twice a week I got no more back pain. Runinng and push ups is intended good for fitness training, but unfortunately, less for the upper back muscles but an hour is there breaststroke is super effektiv

  21. Kris Thompson August 28, 2009 5:19 pm 

    I’m with Bob P. , Ben and others… CORE strength training!

  22. RL August 29, 2009 7:22 am 

    Recumbents wouldn’t be for her. It’s not her style. Besides, I’m referring to her mountain bike. She rides trails with it.

  23. Tracy August 29, 2009 8:50 am 

    Push ups strengthen the delts, tris, pecs and the abs to a certain extent. Running can help with lower back strength but not significantly. I echo the advice of others. She needs to start lifting weights in my opinion. The exercise Bob P. mentioned above is called hyperextensions and is a good start. Do that exercise while holding some light dumbbells. Also, dead lifts with dumbbells as well as an exercise called “good mornings” will strengthen the low back. Do these 3 times weekly along with a good ab strengthening set and you will see results in 2 months guaranteed. The key is to start light to avoid over exertion and stay consistent.

  24. Zach Ellerbrook August 29, 2009 10:44 am 

    I agree with the stem height comments, but I also keep my butt on the back of the saddle, and position my saddle front-end down a little to keep my butt even higher. It helps comfortability issues in front, being a guy (hey, it’s a truth for all male bikers), and I think it reduces my back pain too.

  25. Richieville August 29, 2009 2:27 pm 

    Why don’t you try watching her posture as she rides? That might give you a clue as to exactly what’s the problem? Is she sway backed? Is she hunched over her handlebars too much? I think you have to look at the total position, including arms and neck to really tell. (By the way, I ride an “ugly” dutch-style upright posture bike – a Pashley- – no back pain there.)

  26. delores August 29, 2009 3:15 pm 

    If the pain is new, then look at changes you’ve made to the bike. When I put a new made-for-girls seat on my bike, I had a lot of lower back pain. It took a few weeks to figure out why…. I discovered my ‘sitz bones’ were straddling the seat and I was supporting all the weight/pressure on my spinal column. A slightly wider seat solved the problem (okay, so I must have a wide butt!). Life has been good ever since.

  27. mikes9999 August 31, 2009 2:05 pm 

    I’ve had lower back pain, had to do physical therapy combined with upright riding posture and a sprung seat the pain is gone.

  28. Stephan September 8, 2009 10:05 pm 

    The ergonomics of most modern bikes sold in the USA can be traced to sport bikes. The only reason to be bent over (i.e., have any pressure on your hands) on a bike is to improve your aerodynamic profile. Since most of us aren’t racing or training to race, a bent posture is completely unnecessary. Sitting perfectly upright on a bike with little or no pressure on your hands is the domain of the 100 year-old Dutch style city bikes. The ergonomics have not changed because the Dutch have predominantly used bikes as transportation, not sporting goods or toys. So, any bike which asks you to sit perfectly upright and rely on your core muscles and seat to connect to the bike – not your upper body, shoulders, wrists and hands – will improve posture and in most cases reduce lower back pain. Additionally, saddle angle will have a huge impact on allowing you to rotate your hips back to straighten your spine. The more upright the posture, the higher should be the nose of the saddle to put your sit bones in the wide sweet-spot in the back of the saddle. There is a delicate balance between sliding forward in the saddle and having pressure on your pubic bone and feeling like you are sliding off the back. When the position is correct, it should feel like you can ride without hands all day long. Your spine will benefit, your core muscles will strengthen and your shoulders and wrists can relax.

  29. magnesium September 25, 2009 5:10 am 

    Back pain is a real problem in our world today. It can be a seriously debilitating condition, and it’s not always easy to treat. Acupuncture is a well-known natural treatment which can help lower the back pain when needles are inserted to a block the blocked energy pathways in your body. Another form of natural treatment that is worthy of mentioning is chiropractic therapy where you would not only get relief from the back pain but also an improvement in your overall well-being.

  30. Andrés December 28, 2009 7:58 pm 

    Hi!…I`m from Argentina, I think you must to try with another bike!… because its something important… I have an urban Merida and I never have an back pain… sorry my english!!!… good luck!!

  31. Matt January 16, 2010 4:51 pm 

    Another vote for the core strength. Having seen an osteopath (great for a curing the pain but not solving the problem), a chiropractor (who played a HUGE role in CAUSING some of the problems) and a physiotherapist, the physio is the only one to actually provide any real long term benefit.

    As well as the bike side of things, also pay attention to your lifestyle. If you spend most of your day sitting, then the core muscles will be activated less meaning a gradual weakness could creep in which is exacerbated by riding.

    Acupuncture may work but this isn’t due to the “blocked energy pathways” (try and find a qualified doctor who can clearly point this out anatomically). Generally is down to the endorphine release from having pins stuck in you.

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  33. Christian September 18, 2011 5:00 am 

    I have had similar problems when going on long rides on my mountain bike and found adding bar ends really helped as it allowed me to change my riding position. Plus this made climbs allot easier.

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