As someone who has been dealing with chronic back pain for many years, I can tell you that exercise is critical to maintaining a healthy back. The problem for many of us is that finding activities which are not painful can be very challenging. Today I want to talk about biking with back pain.
Let me start at the beginning with my story, to give you some background. Please hang in there with me. My back problems began about 20 years ago. I noticed tingling pain down my right leg. After many doctor visits, different treatment options, including shots and physical therapy, it was determined that surgery was my next best solution.
Fast forward 20 years and I still have back pain. One thing that was never discussed with me was getting to the source of the pain, surgery just took away my pain. Granted it did work for about seven or eight years, but the pain came back.
So, over the years I have had different back injuries, and of course, I am to blame for this. No one ever spoke to me about the source of the pain and how to change my activities, so that I could prevent injuring myself in the future. Again, my problem, but some sound advice from a medical professional would have been nice.
I have always been a very active person, but the problem for me was that I was going about it all wrong. I continued to lift heavy weight without proper form. I kept playing golf and generally doing everything I had done when I was younger. Nobody ever told me to stop or alter my activities, so I kept going.
Anyway, in 2015 I had a pretty significant back injury. I ended up with a sprained pelvis, a blown disc and eventually, spinal stenosis. I could not stand up straight for about 5 months. That was a pretty low point in my life. I was working with a chiropractor, something I had never done before, and this was an excellent first step.
When the injury first started, I had to ice about 5 times per day to relieve the swelling in my pelvis. I was a mess.
Riding a bike was a big step
I started to understand the importance of changing my physical activities and the value exercise plays in building and maintaining a healthy back. Riding my bike was one thing I could do to get out of the house during those frustrating months of being in pain.
The great thing for me, with riding a bike, was that with spinal stenosis, I was bent over at about a 30-degree angle, maybe more, so that was already the natural position of riding a bike. I could adjust my handlebars up or down to get the right fit.
Oh, I loved getting out for a spin around the neighborhood! It was the one thing I could do, that not only got me out of the house but also provided some exercise. This gave me a little bit of freedom and that was something I absolutely cherished.
I did spend most of my time on the bike standing on my pedals (to not put excessive pressure on my low back), hunched over the handlebars, but again, this was the best position for my body to be in at that time. I could not ride very long at first, but as I gained more confidence, I could ride farther and farther.
Later on, I was able to sit down on the bike seat, but again, the natural position of riding my bike was more of a bent over position. I have a mountain bike, so the geometry of the bike lent itself to me being in the right position for my back. I definitely would not have been able to ride a beach cruiser, which is a more upright riding position.
This was a great time to connect with my wife as well. We would go out for rides in the evenings and on weekends. I think she got sick of my asking her all the time to go for a bike ride, I was like a little kid!
Risk of biking with back pain
Now, there, of course, was some risk with me riding a bike when I was still recovering from my injury. The risk of falling off my bike and re-injuring myself, or even hurting myself worse. But this was a risk I was willing to take. I am a firm believer that your mental state can go a long way toward helping with recovery. A positive mental outlook can really improve overall wellbeing. Okay, enough on that let’s move on.
Suggestions for bike riding with back pain
I do have some suggestions for biking with back pain. First off, I would start on flat, level ground. Let me explain. A smooth, level surface will hopefully provide for a way to ease into your bike ride. Riding off the road, or on gravel leaves room for an accident to happen, so I recommend finding a mostly smooth, level surface to start with. Plus jarring your body, or bouncing up and down may not be good for your back pain.
Avoid hills initially if at all possible. If you live on a hill or halfway up a hill, this may be a challenge for you. Riding up a steep hill may require more effort and strength than you are ready for. Of course, if you ride down the hill, you have to get back up it.
Avoid potholes or other bumps in the road. Any excessive pounding that your body takes is probably not the best thing for your back pain. You want to find movements and exercise that will not cause you more pain, but rather help your pain. So riding off of curbs, or taking to mountain trail may not the best thing in supporting your back pain.
It all depends on you
So much of this will depend on your current condition. My experience is based on my situation when I was dealing with spinal stenosis. In my neighborhood, there are no hills, and the streets are all paved and well maintained. This worked great for me. You may have different circumstances.
Check your seat. Some bikes come with tiny, hard saddles, which may not be a good idea for people with back pain. Currently, I am dealing with pain in my tailbone when I sit down. I have had to find a good seat for my bike that will help to keep pressure from directly hitting my tailbone.
So if your seat is causing you problems, it may be worth looking into other options. Try not to put excessive strain on your lower back.
There are so many different types and causes of back pain. Your pain might be caused by tight muscles, in which case a good bike ride may help to loosen up those tight muscles and provide you with some pain relief.
Riding a bike can also help to build core strength, which is much needed in the fight against back pain.
So, as you can see, there are a lot of benefits to biking with back pain, you might even decide this is one exercise that works wonders for you.
Different kinds of bikes to choose from
People who own bicycles, typically own what I think of as more of a standard bike, like a mountain bike type, or road bike. There are some more what I like to call “exotic” bikes out there too, including recumbent, where you sit down, lean back with your legs out in front of you.
There are also elliptical bikes, you are probably used to seeing an elliptical at the gym, but they actually make an elliptical you can ride around town. These are just some other options if a standard bike doesn’t work for you.
Conclusion: Biking with back pain
So, there you have it, biking is one thing that has been near and dear to me in my battle with chronic back pain. This was one of the only things I was able to do, to get outside and exercise when I was recovering from spinal stenosis.
Maybe your situation is different, but either way, if you are looking for a low impact way to get some exercise if you experience back pain, you may want to take a look at the old bike that is gathering dust.
What types of exercise do you perform when you are experiencing back pain?
Do you own a bike, or ride if often to help with back pain?