Cycling and Low Back Pain

Are you a cyclist?  If so, the odds are extremely high that you have low back pain because of the aerodynamic position you assume for hours at a time.

Cycling in the aerodynamic position brings the two ends of your iliopsoas muscle (actually it’s two muscles, the psoas and the iliacus) very close together. In fact, the only time the muscle is shorter is when you bring your thigh all the way to your abdomen and then hold it there.  You may be stretching the muscles of your posterior low back, but you are totally shortening the muscles of your anterior low back.

As you may have read in previous posts, when your psoas contracts it brings your lumbar spine forward so you can bend over. Plus, in combination with your iliacus muscle (on the inside curve of your pelvis) it lifts your leg up so you can take a step or sit down.

The problem happens when the muscle is held in the shortened position for a length of time and actually shortens due to a phenomenon called muscle memory.  Then you try to stand up and the muscle is too short so it pulls your lumbar vertebrae forward and down, which then causes pressure on your disks and also impinges on the nerves that come out of the vertebrae.

The forward rotation of your pelvis also causes your thigh muscles, your quadriceps, to have to shorten or they are too long to straighten your leg when you go to stand up.

I’ve spoken about this so many times that I won’t go into the full story, but you can read about it on my forum if you haven’t already heard the full explanation.

While you’re riding you can do a few things to help prevent the muscles from totally tightening up.  Every now and then, sit all the way up in your saddle and even try to lean back just a little. That will help to loosen your psoas muscle. When you stop, before you even try to get off your bike,  use the heel of your hands to press down on your thighs, flushing down toward your knee.  Then when you do stand up don’t stop at being straight, instead stretch backward from your waist, doing your best to not move your pelvis at all. This is a very effective stretch for your iliopsoas/psoas/iliacus.

It makes a big difference and is well worth the effort.

Wishing you well,



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