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Cycling and Back Pain; My Experience and Why I Wish it would be Looked at Scientifically

May 2018
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I can’t explain why my back likes cycling so much, but the results of 47,000 miles in the saddle are in, and they’re good.

First, I have a confession to make; if you guessed that I ride the bike I do, set up as it is, for reasons connected partly to vanity, you’re not wrong.

No doubt about it, my bike is sleek and awesome. So is my other one. And my other one. Oh, and let’s not forget my mountain bike…

Variations on a theme…

Anyway, getting back to the point, I ride in an aggressive posture. There’s a lot of drop from the saddle to the handlebar on my bikes. The mountain bike is the only one where the drop is a bit closer to normal.

Where this becomes important is that I have a really bad back. I have suffered physical back pain for most of the last three decades, unless I’m riding a bike. I used to define good weeks and bad weeks by how many Aleve I had to eat (because of my being an addict, I never accepted narcotic pain meds even though they could have been justified – I’d end up eating them like candy, it’s my nature). Two or three pain relievers a day for six days of the week was a really bad week. Two a day for three or four days in a week was average. One or two days a week was a good week. Before cycling, there was no such thing as a week without an Aleve (before 1994 it was Advil or Tylenol but I didn’t want to have to go through the pill amount conversion).

Today, after seven years of cycling regularly, my back isn’t cured but it certainly is manageable. My Aleve habit has dropped from as many as 20 pills a week down to one or two – or even none most weeks. On my recent mountain climbing cycling sabbatical I didn’t take a pain reliever. Three days, 160+ miles, climbing hills I’m not used to climbing, and I didn’t need anything for pain. My last day off the bike was April 14th, it’s currently May 20th.

I don’t do sit-ups, I don’t do core exercises, I don’t stretch… I just ride my bike with a smile stretched across my face, and it’s all good.

I’m sure there are contributing factors that explain my results, but I don’t know how to explain the fact I’m not all that flexible (I’ve never been able to touch my toes) but I can ride my bike comfortably with the aggressive set-up I’ve got, and doing so actually makes my back feel better.

In the end, I’m sure the lack of belly fat has something to do with it, as does the fact that I still get a great core workout riding. I think there’s one other thing at work here. It’s more a law; A body in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force. Conversely, a body at rest tends to stay at rest…

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1 Comment

  1. theandyclark says:

    As seems to often happen, I’ve had a similar experience. I feel foolhardy saying this ,but other than an occasional cramp, I haven’t had any back pain since I started riding regularly. I can’t claim a biking miracle here – oddly I had way more trouble in my 20s than in my later decades anyway, but still better in the biking years. Pretty sure a trim belly helps. Back pain can start in the head, and biking makes people happy for a pretty long stretch of time (that piece of chocolate is gone in about 5 seconds – bike rides go quite a bit longer). I’d also note that while your sitting on a bike, you’re not sitting still. Blood is definitely flowing, your body is producing the really good drugs and you may be adjusting your posture a little bit with a ride. Your definitely not in a slouch – you see a biker doing that, get a picture and post it, because I’m not even sure it’s possible.

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