Cycling is well known for its health benefits, providing excellent cardiovascular exercise and strengthening all of the major muscles of the legs. However, spending hours hunched over a bicycle can lead to pain in vulnerable areas such as the lower back as well as in the arms. Locating the source of the discomfort and correcting it is necessary to prevent pain.
Many new riders have their saddles too low, a bad habit left over from childhood, when a lower saddle meant more stability. A saddle that is too low can cause back pain because it creates excessive upward movement in the knees that tilts the pelvis, which leads to a shortening and tightening of the muscles in the lower back. When riding, your lumbar spine and pelvis should be aligned smoothly. Cyclist Sheldon Brown recommends gradually raising your saddle about half an inch at a time. If you feel you're stretching and reaching with your leg to push the pedals through their rotation, you've adjusted too high.
Hips Don't Lie
Poor posture off the bike can affect your comfort on the bike. Tight hip flexors can cause a forward tilt of the pelvis that affects the lower back. The psoas hip flexor muscles, which support the lumbar spine, can be particularly problematic when tight, causing other stabilizing muscles to become fatigued and stress the spine. To stretch your psoas, lie flat on your back with your legs bent and knees toward the ceiling. Hug your right knee into your chest, and gradually straighten your left leg until you feel the stretch. Hold for about 30 seconds, and then switch sides.
If you experience tingling, numbness or pain in the wrists or arms, you may be suffering from handlebar palsy, also known ulnar neuropathy. The condition results from an inflamed ulnar nerve, which generally flares up around the elbow or wrist. Handlebar palsy can be serious if left untreated, as compression on the ulnar nerve may result in a loss of strength in the hands. "Sports Injury Bulletin" recommends that a cyclist experiencing handlebar palsy visit a physician and refrain from cycling until the pain goes away. A physician may prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and recommend padded gloves.
Strengthen for Success
Strengthening your forearm and back muscles may help reduce pain. To do wrist extensors, place your forearm flat on a table with your palm facing down, wrist at the edge of the table. Hold a 2- or 3-pound dumbbell, and lift the weight by straightening your wrist until it is level with the table. Hold for five to 10 seconds, and then relax your hand for 10 seconds. Repeat eight times and switch hands, performing the exercises three times a day. To do foundation squats, which support the back, stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width, your arms raised to shoulder height. Lower into a squat, as if you were sitting in a chair. Rise back up, and repeat 10 times.