Lower back pain from cycling could be due to bike posture, muscle imbalances, or biking too much. Conservative treatments might be enough to manage existing pain, but bike adjustments and core exercises could help prevent it.

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Biking is a great way for people of all fitness levels to stay in shape. It can help you strengthen the muscles in your legs and improve your cardiovascular fitness. It also has a relatively low risk of injury compared with many other forms of exercise.

Lower back pain is the most frequent overuse injury affecting cyclists. In a 2021 survey of 1,274 amateur Italian cyclists, researchers reported that 55.1% of athletes experienced lower back pain in the past year.

A combination of factors can contribute to the development of back pain, including an improper-fitting bicycle and too many weekly miles.

Read on to learn more about why biking can cause lower back pain, how you can treat it, and how you can prevent it.

Lower back pain is a common complaint among cyclists. Muscle weakness, poor bike positioning, and muscle imbalances may all play a role.

Here are some of the factors that might contribute to back pain when biking.

Spinal flexion

Spinal flexion is when your spine is bent too far forward. Sustained and repeated spinal flexion is linked to lower back pain in cyclists.

A handlebar position that’s too low may put you into excessive spinal flexion that contributes to back pain.

Muscle imbalances and weakness

In a 2017 research review, researchers found evidence that muscle imbalances in the core and spinal muscles are risk factors for lower back pain in cyclists.

In the same study, researchers also found a link between back pain in cyclists and decreased thickness in the transverse abdominis muscle and muscles in the back around the spine. Your transverse abdominis is the deepest layer of muscle in your belly.

Too many weekly miles

Your chances of developing back pain seem to increase as your number of weekly miles increases. It’s generally a good idea to slowly increase your weekly miles over time as opposed to suddenly increasing your training volume.

Fatigue from high training volume can alter your position while cycling and make you more prone to injury. In a 2021 study, researchers linked fatigue to several changes that could predispose you to injury, such as:

  • greater spinal flexion
  • greater pelvic and mid-back tilt
  • greater hip adduction, bringing your thighs closer together

In an older 2010 study, researchers found that recreational cyclists who cycled more than 160 kilometers (about 100 miles) a week were 3.6 times more likely to experience back pain than those who biked fewer than 160 kilometers per week.

In a 2017 Polish study, researchers reported spinal pain in 41% of 167 cyclists in an amateur cycling competition. Spinal pain was more common among people who:

  • were older
  • have more weight
  • spent more time training per week

Whole-body vibration

Cycling can expose your body to whole-body vibration, especially if your bike is on uneven surfaces. These vibrations may increase your risk of lower back pain and injury.

There’s limited research available on how much vibration cyclists are exposed to. In a 2021 study, researchers found that two types of seats designed to reduce vibrations were inefficient at doing so.

Is it OK to ride a bike with lower pain?

It can be difficult to know when it’s safe to exercise when you’re feeling pain. Some soreness after working out is typical, but pain can also be a sign that you need to take a break.

You might want to avoid riding your bike if you answer “yes” to any of the following questions:

  • Does my back feel worse after exercising?
  • Is my pain sharp and severe?
  • Am I changing the way I’m cycling to avoid pain?
  • Is my pain getting worse over time?
  • Do I feel any numbness, tingling, or other potential signs of a neurological problem?
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The best way to treat lower back pain depends on the underlying cause. Try the following to reduce lower back pain:

  • Reduce your weekly miles.
  • Have an expert assess your cycling posture and the fit of your bike.
  • Apply ice and heat.
  • Use over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen.
  • Visit a physiotherapist who can assess you for muscular imbalances.

The following tips may help you prevent lower back pain when biking:

  • Check to make sure your handlebars and seat are set properly for your body proportions or have a professional help you.
  • Strengthen your core and lower back muscles and address muscular imbalances.
  • Slowly increase your weekly volume each week and reduce your volume if you develop pain.

Research also suggests that supervision by a coach or following scheduled training may help prevent back pain in cyclists.

Lower back pain is one of the most common injuries among cyclists. It may be due to a combination of muscular imbalances, an improperly fitting bike, and cycling too many miles per week.

You may be able to minimize your chances of developing back pain when cycling by having an expert assess your bike’s fit. You can also try strengthening your core and lower back muscles.

If you develop pain, a physical therapist or other trained professional can address muscular imbalances that may be contributing to your injury.