Mal di schiena in bici: cause e rimedi

Back pain while cycling: causes and remedies

Back pain is a very common annoyance among cyclists, both on and off the bike, for hours or even days after training. The temptation to solve the problem with a painkiller is strong, but especially if the problem occurs often, it is advisable to give up temporary remedies, investigate the possible causes, go to the root of the problem and solve it permanently.

Back pain: symptoms and how it manifests itself

Talking generically about back pain is vague and unscientific: it can refer to different types of problems, which affect different areas of the back itself and correspond to different types of pain. The most common types are pain in the lumbar area (lower back), in the form of acute lower back pain, and pain in the cervical area (in the neck). Less common is back pain (middle back). The location varies depending on the overload, pain symptoms and muscle tension.

Pains of this type are usually intermittent and self-limiting: they appear after physical efforts (like a bike ride, but also something less intense like lifting a weight) and disappear in the following hours, one or two days at most. Chronic back pain is different, which may be due to alterations of the muscles and skeleton and which must be treated under strict observance: it is advisable to consult a doctor, who may possibly request an MRI.

Back pain and cycling: is there a correlation?

Recent scientific research reports that 69% of those who regularly practice cycling have suffered from low back pain at least once. 44% of those examined complained of back pain while cycling (acute low back pain), especially in the form of lumbar pain when climbing uphill, attenuated if the hours of training per week increased. Despite the high prevalence of low back pain, less than a third of those who suffer from it resort to some form of therapy: the consequent risk is a form of chronic low back pain.

What causes back pain in cycling?

Back pain in cycling, better known as dorsopathy, can be due to muscular imbalances affecting the skeleton and can have various pathological causes: osteoporosis, trauma and accidents, overweight or excessive weight loss. More often it is linked to a set of factors that act in combination, especially when the lumbar area is subjected to stress, such as in the case of a bike ride or significant physical effort.

In most cases there is a problem of wrong posture at the base, which creates muscle imbalances and inflammation. The aspects related to the cycling posture that most affect the well-being of the back are the reach (saddle-handlebar distance) and the drop (saddle-handlebar difference). These in turn are linked to various triggering factors: any excessive effort, too intense physical activity, heavy work or, on the contrary, sedentary lifestyle and overweight.

Lumbar pain: remedies for back pain from cycling

The most frequent solutions for solving bicycle back pain are ultrasound and massage, but there are others that are more effective because they are aimed at solving the root causes of the problem:

  • Choose the right size bike. A bike of the wrong size forces the body to assume incorrect and unnatural postures, which cause discomfort and pain over time. The most important element to evaluate is the size of the frame and the diameter of the wheel, to be chosen based on your height;
  • Adjust the bike correctly. To adjust the position of the saddle, the reference is the knee: when the pedal is at its lowest point, the knee should be bent at 15-20°. When adjusting the handlebars, pay attention to the height with respect to the saddle: the correct saddle-handlebar distance prevents lumbar pain;
  • Keep the correct posture. Your back should be straight and stable, your shoulders relaxed and never hunched over, and your head and chest slightly elevated. Also avoid maintaining an aerodynamic position for too long;
  • Train your core. On a bike, the lower back, pectoral and abdominal muscles are essential to support the back. To strengthen them, five weeks with 2-3 training sessions per week in the style of circuit training are enough;
  • Stretch regularly. Never neglect stretching: muscle stretching exercises after each bike ride and even in moments not strictly connected to a workout, to keep the muscles elastic.

Biomechanics and postural re-education: preparing for the long term

Although it is possible to intervene in various areas to remedy back pain, an optimal adjustment of the bike's parameters is always up to an expert: the biomechanic. Exist different types of biomechanical tests, performed by analyzing the position on the bike with special software. By modifying the measurements of the saddle, handlebar, crank, pedals and cleats, the biomechanic identifies the correct position for pedaling in comfort, exploiting the maximum potential on the pedals and avoiding pain and stress. This test should be performed both when buying a new bike and annually, with a view to prevention.

An alternative, recommended especially in the event that posture problems and/or back pain have already occurred, is postural re-education. Postural re-education, better known as postural gymnastics, is a specific method which consists of a series of exercises aimed at rebalancing the body's muscle-ligament tensions, improving posture. The exercises are indicated by a professional during a specialist visit.


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