Lower Back Pain After Cycling: Exercises and Tips from Physical Therapists

If your back hurts while you ride a bike, try these tips and exercises from physical therapists to help reduce low back pain during or after cycling.

man-pain-lower-back

Lower Back Pain After Cycling: Exercises and Tips from Physical Therapists

If your back hurts while you ride a bike, try these tips and exercises from physical therapists to help reduce low back pain during or after cycling.

man-pain-lower-back

Lower Back Pain After Cycling: Exercises and Tips from Physical Therapists

If your back hurts while you ride a bike, try these tips and exercises from physical therapists to help reduce low back pain during or after cycling.

man-pain-lower-back

Lower Back Pain After Cycling: Exercises and Tips from Physical Therapists

If your back hurts while you ride a bike, try these tips and exercises from physical therapists to help reduce low back pain during or after cycling.

man-pain-lower-back
Table of Contents

Whether you like to go out for a leisurely pedal, or are an indoor cycling class devotee, you may notice that your lower back hurts after you’ve been in the saddle for a bit. About half of people who bike report lower back pain from cycling, according to a 2017 review published in the journal Sports Health. “It’s a common complaint we see, not just in avid cyclists, but among people who are also new to cycling, or even those who go for a family bike ride on the weekend,” says Samantha Stewart, PT, DPT, a physical therapist with Hinge Health.

If you experience lower back pain during or after biking, you may wonder if you should back off. But the truth is there’s a lot you can do to address back pain related to cycling so that you can keep pedaling away, reassures Dr. Stewart. 

Here’s what physical therapists recommend to reduce back pain related to bike riding so you can continue to do an activity that you love.

Our Hinge Health Experts

Samantha Stewart, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. Stewart is a Hinge Health physical therapist with over 8 years of experience. She is certified in myofascial trigger point therapy.
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Orthopedic Surgeon and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Lee is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and an Associate Medical Director at Hinge Health.
Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Peterson is a Hinge Health physical therapist who focuses on developing clinical exercise therapy programs and member education.

What Causes Lower Back Pain When Cycling?

There are a few things that can cause cycling-related back pain. Most issues can be addressed with some tweaks to your bike setup or simple exercises to help your body build resilience to biking.

A new bike. If you’ve traded in your regular road bike for a different one, for example, you may notice some lower back pain as you get used to it. “If there’s a different setup, you may maintain a position that’s different from what you’re used to,” explains Dr. Stewart. That doesn’t mean that you need to stop cold turkey or switch back to your old bike. But you may have to gradually build up your time on your new bike, so your body can adjust.

Your setup. “A lot of patients come to me with new low back pain, and I find out that it started when they began a cycling class and didn’t realize they needed to adjust their seat,” says Dr. Stewart. “It’s like starting a new desk job with a chair that doesn’t allow you to put your feet on the floor.” This often happens with outdoor bikes, especially if you buy them online (without getting them fitted in a store). “If you don’t get properly fitted for it, or shown how to adjust it, it can affect how you sit and move when you’re on it,” explains Dr. Stewart.

Tight or weak back and butt muscles. If the muscles that interact with your lower back — like your glutes, core, or hamstrings — are tight or not strong enough, that can add some pressure on your back area to compensate. “We see it a lot with weak core muscles, or tight hamstrings or hip flexors,” says Dr. Stewart.

Cycling and Back Pain: A Hinge Health Perspective

When our Hinge Health physical therapists hear that members are biking despite having some back pain, it’s great news. That’s because one of our key messages is “the doing is the fixing.” In other words, doing the activity you love, even despite some discomfort, will actually help your body get stronger and more resilient and ultimately have less pain. 

It’s a common misconception that you should wait until you’re completely “better” to resume doing hobbies and activities you love. When you have back pain (especially persistent back pain), continuing or resuming activities is a key part of your treatment. Not only does it help your body get stronger and better able to tolerate the activity, it also teaches an oversensitive pain system that your body is safe and capable. Biking and doing other pleasurable activities also help address other factors that can influence pain, such as stress and anxiety.

If you have lower back pain when you bike, you don’t have to hop off the saddle. There are many good stretching and strengthening exercises you can do regularly to strengthen your lower back, core, and glutes. “I never counsel members to bike less, especially if they love it,” says Dr. Stewart. “I work with them to set them up for success.” Some things you can do include:

Take breaks. Just as you stand up from your desk occasionally to adjust from sitting, try doing the same when you cycle. “I encourage people to hop off their bike occasionally and break it up with some exercises and stretches,” advises Dr. Stewart. (See the next section for some Hinge Health-approved ones.) This will help to loosen up key cycling muscles and help you be able to cycle for longer stretches

Check in with a professional. When you bring your bike in for a tune-up, ask the technician for some hands-on help. “You don’t need bells and whistles like fancy bike seats or handlebars — these tend to make very little difference when it comes to low back pain,” says Dr. Stewart. What does help, however, is making sure that your seat is at the proper height and the handlebars are positioned correctly — usually a few inches higher than your saddle. A 2019 study published in the European Journal of Sport Science found that professional bike fitting helped to increase comfort, and reduce lower back pain, while biking.

Do some physical therapy. A physical therapist can review your bike setup and develop a tailored strength conditioning and stretching plan to keep you mobile, says Dr. Stewart. They can also teach you ways to move on your bike to minimize pain so that you can continue to cycle. A 2021 review of 249 studies published in the Cochrane Library found that exercise therapy was an effective way to treat lower back pain, including lower back pain from cycling. 

You can see a physical therapist in person or use a program like Hinge Health to access a PT via telehealth/video visit.

Best Stretches and Exercises for Cyclists

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“Your hip flexor muscles connect your thigh to your pelvis and low back,” says Dr. Stewart. “When your hip flexors are tight, it can add strain to your lower back.” The result?

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The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

How to Prevent Back Pain From Cycling

There are things you can do before you hop on your bike to lessen the chances of an aching back. Here’s how to avoid back pain while riding your bike.

  • Warm up. “It’s like any other activity — you want to ease your muscles into it before you engage in a hard-core workout,” says Dr. Stewart. “You automatically jog before you break into a run. It’s the same principle with your bike.” She recommends that you do the above stretches and exercises, both before you hit the road (or cycling class) and after. This will help your muscles both warm up, and cool down.

  • Build up slowly. Like any activity, doing more than what your body is ready to do can contribute to back pain. “You don’t want to push your body into doing more than it’s initially capable of,” advises Dr. Stewart. A good rule of thumb is to increase training mileage by 10% or less per week.

  • Practice body awareness. “I recommend patients check in with themselves periodically — usually every mile, or every five to 10 minutes,” says Dr. Stewart. “Oftentimes, as our body fatigues, we shift into positions that might irritate your back.” It’s a little reminder to be mindful of your body and change positions on the bike so you can stay strong and healthy as you ride.

  • Stop and stretch. If you’re going on a long ride, Dr. Stewart recommends that you stop every 30 minutes or so to do a few stretches (like those above or those in the Hinge Health app). 

PT Tip: Use That Core

Building strong core muscles is important to help prevent lower back pain as you bike. If you adopt a plank-like position as you ride, it can help take pressure off lower back muscles too, points out Dr. Stewart. Try this: Simply tense your abdominal muscles every so often as you ride.

How Hinge Health Can Help You

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program. 

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you. 

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you. 

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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References 

  1. Priego Quesada, J. I., Kerr, Z. Y., Bertucci, W. M., & Carpes, F. P. (2018). The Association of Bike Fitting with Injury, Comfort, and Pain During Cycling: An International Retrospective Survey. European Journal of Sport Science, 19(6), 842–849. doi:10.1080/17461391.2018.1556738

  2. Streisfeld, G. M., Bartoszek, C., Creran, E., Inge, B., McShane, M. D., & Johnston, T. (2016). Relationship Between Body Positioning, Muscle Activity, and Spinal Kinematics in Cyclists With and Without Low Back Pain. Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach, 9(1), 75–79. doi:10.1177/1941738116676260

  3. Hayden, J. A., Ellis, J., Ogilvie, R., Malmivaara, A., & van Tulder, M. W. (2021). Exercise Therapy for Chronic Low Back Pain. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2021(10). doi:10.1002/14651858.cd009790.pub

Table of Contents
What Causes Lower Back Pain When Cycling?Cycling and Back Pain: A Hinge Health PerspectiveHow to Help Treat Back Pain Related to CyclingHow to Prevent Back Pain From CyclingPT Tip: Use That CoreHow Hinge Health Can Help YouReferences