Body and the bike: Why cyclists get lower back overuse injuries

Cyclist like many other endurance athletes are extremely prone to over-use injuries due to the long and often monotonous training routine. Whenever you hear about overuse injuries in cycling, it doesn’t take long for someone to bring up bike set up.

It is true; there have been countless studies about the effect of seat position and heights, seat-bar ratios, cleat position and knee angles. However, can the bike position actually mean you’ll actually end up with an injury?

The latest research suggests, that there is a moderate risk of getting an overuse injury from your lower back being held in flexion (the movement of bending forwards) for long periods of time.

The additional time being partly bent forwards can lead to pins and needles, numbness and tingling feelings changes in the hands, feet, lower back, and gluteal areas.

Therefore this post will explain what happens when you bend forwards and why if you are partly bent over for long periods of time you are more at risk of becoming injured.


What happens to the joints when you bend forward?

The lower back is responsible for first 50-60 degrees when you bend forward (flex) before it passes the responsibility on to the pelvis.

75% of the movement will come from the lowest joint in your lower back where it meets the pelvis; this is called the lumbosacral joint.



What role do your muscles and ligaments play when you bend forward?

1. Believe it or not, the movement to bend forward doesn’t start in your lower back at all, it actually starts in your abdominals! Your abdominal muscles increase the pressure within the intra-abdominals relaxing off the muscles in your back by your spine that help you stand up.
2. Your hip flexors (Iliopsoas) work to bend your back and tilt your pelvis forwards.
3. The overall movement is controlled by the muscles in your lower back either side of your spine, which slowly lowers you down.
4. The muscles that stabilise your hips (glutes and hamstrings) take over.
5. The final structures that help when you bend forwards are the ligaments. The role of the ligaments is to control the end of the range and act as the breaks.



So why does being in a partly bent forwards position for long times cause injury?

When you have more flexion (party bent forwards) than normal it can cause your pelvis to tilt more and increase the curve in your lower back. This, in turn, will put more pressure on the joints and the discs between the joints in your lower back. This will put them at risk of being overstrained.

Unfortunately for cyclists, movement of sitting unsupported will actually put a higher load of your back than simply bending forwards.

You put more pressure on the joints and discs when your pelvis is tilted forwards when sitting than bending forwards. This all leads to an increased risk of injury.


What can you do to prevent this?

Don’t worry; there are ways to reduce the risk of overuse without having to stop or cutting your rides short. However, it is essential to work to strengthen your lower back and core for cycling in order to prevent injury.

Many cyclists also regular see an Osteopath or a Physiotherapist to keep their bodies in top form, enabling them to train and compete to their best ability.

See a manual therapist can help in many ways but especially to keep the joints moving smoothly and prevent the muscles from becoming too tight.


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