My back hurts when I ride my bike!

Are you experiencing back pain while riding your bike?  Not cool!  Lets talk about it. 

I've never met a cyclist who had appropriate anterior hip mobility.  When I talk about the anterior hip I am referring to the hip flexor group of psoas and iliacus.  These muscle live deep in the pelvis and have attachments to the spine as well as your femur.  The picture below shows the muscles themselves as well as their referral patterns.  The red dots respresent where you may actually feel a dysfunctional muscle.  The muscle may be deep in your anterior hip but as you can see the sensation may actually show itself in your low back.

The root cause of your pain may be in your psoas muscle but you may actually feel it in your back. 

The root cause of your pain may be in your psoas muscle but you may actually feel it in your back. 

This type of muscular pain is quite common as we all sit too much and as a cyclist we are spending way too much time in hip flexion.  To address this issue we need to stretch the anterior hip.  Our thought process here is a low load, long duration type stretch so we actually create change in the hip extension range of motion.  Tuck your tail, keep your trunk tall and try to move your hips forward for 2 minutes at a time.  The more you sit the more you need to do this stretch. Keep it a gentle stretch!

Muscular restriction or trigger points could be causing your symptoms but the way in which we move is most likely playing a part as well.  The most common fault we see is over extension in the lumbar spine. This movement is characterized by an anterior pelvic tilt and an arching or your low back. This not only feeds into the restriction at the fron of your hip but it also compresses the facet joints in your spine.  These joints do not like to have lots of pressure on them during an entire ride.  Give them a break!

At home you can test yourself with a simple functional squat.  An over extended spine may look like this...

Notice the arch in the low back and the whole pelvis rolling forward.  Not sweet for your back.

Notice the arch in the low back and the whole pelvis rolling forward.  Not sweet for your back.

A squat with a neutral hip and spine position should look like this...

Neutral hip and spine position.  That looks so comfy!

Neutral hip and spine position.  That looks so comfy!

Now you may be wondering why a functional squat matters when we are talking about pain on the bike.  We certainly see this pattern translate to your seated position in the saddle.  It may not be as exaggerated as the squat above but small faults performed for long periods of time can equal big time pain.  On the mountain bike especially we see the over extension problem show its face while descending.  10,000 small impacts, add in a few big drops while you are over extending the lumbar spine is not going to be fun! 

For example, a mint attack position...

Looks very similar to a good squat

Looks very similar to a good squat

Now the over extended position...

Back in arched, knees are translating forward, lame!

Back in arched, knees are translating forward, lame!

So, what do we do about this other than stretching the front of the hip?

Retrain the glutes of course! If you stand up and actively arch your low back or rotate your pelvis forward you will be able to correct this position by squeezing your butt.  Try it! Step one is always nailing down the squat.  Think about moving the hips backward first, moving your knees out, keeping your knees above your ankles and maintaining an active glute group throughout the movement.  A band above your knees can help you keep the glutes turned on during a squat.  


Stop the back pain!


Side note, here is a cool video about RevoPT, enjoy!