Lower Back Pain

Sit up straight, and a few other things

Feb 27, 2012
Outside Magazine

The injury:
Lower back pain is the most common cause of work related disability in the U.S., according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Every year, Americans spend more than $50 billion on the problem. Athletes with day jobs might get lower back pain from sitting with poor posture at a desk all day. Pain in the lower back is the most common injury in among cyclists, affecting up to 60 percent of participants, potentially because prolonged flexed posture in the saddle can strain the lumbar spine.

How to prevent it:
Two words: core strengthening. Cyclists with weak core muscles are more likely to experience lower back pain because weak muscles allow the back to overextend, putting pressure on the lower back instead of distributing pressure throughout the core. Back extensions and abdominal exercises, like planks and sit-ups, help strengthen core muscles, which help keep the spine in a more neutral, supported position. So strengthen up, or risk being forced out of the saddle; in one study, 22 percent of cyclists with lower back pain lost valuable training time because of the pain.

Improper bike fit may also cause pain. If handlebars are too low, or the top tube is too long, riders will hyperextend their backs, putting excess pressure on the lumbar spine. A 2010 study found that incorrect saddle angle likely contributes to lower back pain in cyclists. Riding too much can also hurt. Cyclists who ride more than 100 miles per week are 3.6 times more likely to experience lower back pain than cyclists who ride less, according to a 2010 study published in the International Journal of Exercise Science.

Tight hip flexors—a result of prolonged sitting, or playing sports in which the thigh is raised toward the chest, like running or cycling—may also be to blame. “When hip flexors get too tight they pull on the back, causing a lot of the back problems in runners,” said Dr. Carolyn Smith a sports medicine physician at Marquette University, and a 2010 U.S. record holder in the 12-hour ultramarathon event. Stretch them out with a cobra yoga pose.  Lie on your stomach, press down with your palms beneath the shoulders to lift your chest off of the ground as you extend your arms until the elbows are as straight as possible.

A job that requires sitting at a desk all day should be filled with stretching breaks every 15 minutes. A chair with a lumbar support will help ensure that the lower back does not get hyper extended. Roll up a towel and place it behind your lower back if a new chair isn’t a possibility. Doctors at the Mayo Clinic also recommend adjusting chair height so both feet touch the ground and knees stay level with hips.

Filed To: Injury Prevention