Indoors or out, bicycling can be great for an individual’s back with proper preparation. With everything that is going on, many individuals are getting creative with their workouts. Many are turning to home or outdoor exercise. Bicycling is considered a safe activity. According to the NPD Group, bicycle sales have tripled in sales since March.
However, back pain could be affected by a biking routine. Whether a newfound hobby or regular activity, individuals need to prepare and plan ahead before getting out on the trails or on a stationary exercise bike and avoid developing or aggravating back pain. Here are a few essential tips to create a safe and back-healthy bicycling experience.
Understanding back pain
Bicycling is a type of aerobic exercise that can help with overall health. Done regularly it can improve the heart and lungs’ performance. Other areas of the body like the spine along with the musculoskeletal system, also benefit. For some, it is an even better form of exercise than jogging or aerobics, as it can be less jolting on the body and spine.
Back pain during cycling is rare except when individuals try to push the intensity level beyond their normal workout. If there is back pain from an unknown cause it should be looked into by a doctor, physical therapist, or chiropractor before beginning a regular bicycling regimen.
There are certain spinal conditions where bicycling can benefit. Individuals that bike ride with conditions like degenerative disc disease and lumbar spinal stenosis can experience relief in the back and legs, as it’s an exercise in which flexes the back. But there are spinal instability conditions like spondylolisthesis, that create forward flexion and can worsen back and leg pain. Therefore it is essential to attain a diagnosis before committing to regular bicycling.
Talk to a Doctor
Before starting any exercise program, talk with your doctor to find out if you are healthy enough for this type of therapeutic workout. Those with present back pain issues also need to be cleared by their doctors. But more than likely if they are already following a treatment plan, their doctor would have them doing some form of stretching/exercise as part of their plan, and they just need to find out if riding a bicycle is OK. Once cleared, even with chronic mild back pain an individual can initiate bicycling into their regimen.
In addition to safety basics individuals need to:
- Wear a helmet
- Wear highly-visible clothing
- Get their bike serviced for optimal performance
- Add reflectors
- Add lighting
- Have a workout/training plan
As with any exercise, there should be a training plan that will be sustainable and help to avoid injury. Set small goals, especially when beginning. Go for an achievable distance or workout time. Then gradually build up and don’t rush. Allow yourself to go through the experience, learning as much as you can.
Both indoor and outdoor biking require a thorough warm-up and stretching of the body. This definitely includes the spine, that needs some time to loosen up, properly. A healthy comfortable bike seat or saddle with the proper height for body type and inseam is vital. Being uncomfortable while trying to perform therapeutic exercises plus the added possibility of worsening the injury or creating a new one from a stock seat is not worth the risk. At the end of the ride, cooling down is strongly advised.
Pay attention to form/mechanics
When it comes to biking technique, there is no particular form that is ideal or the best. Always try to be in a position where the spine is comfortable. This type of bicycling is low-impact and should be fluid in motion. Poor posture, jerking motions of the spine, neck, or not using the proper equipment can cause poor mechanics and increase the risk of injury.
Cycling indoors could be safer for individuals that do not have access to safe bicycling areas or are older. Options include spin class or stationary bike. Both are set in a controlled environment with accidents being a rare occurrence. Outdoor biking happens on the road, bike path, sidewalk, or terrain where there is potential for an accident. With the machine or class, individuals can:
- Choose the workout type
- Fitness level
- Workout duration
- Heart rate
Spin classes also follow the pattern with a warmup, a specific workout, and a cool down. However, there are the mental health benefits of being outdoors. Whatever is best for the individual, it is up to them to ride the bike outdoors, indoors, or a combination of both. It is an excellent form of exercise, as it:
- Promotes cardiorespiratory health
- Is low impact
- Promotes blood flow
- Strengthens the body’s core
- Increases range of motion to the joints
- Improves spinal health
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