Cycling has seen a sharp growth in popularity in recent years with a variety of formats and an increase in events attracting enthusiastic participants.

When you first consider the injury risks associated with cycling you would be forgiven for thinking of falls and crashes as being the most obvious. If I told you that these types of injuries are not the most frequent and that you should consider injuries that could occur on the bike then naming the knees and lower limb muscles is very reasonable when you think how hard your legs work on the bike. You would however, be wrong. Low back pain is the most common complaint amongst high level, European, road cyclists (the only group studied in any depth), with 58% of those questioned experiencing low back pain at least once in the previous 12 months. This is a surprising statistic as we often hear cycling described as “low impact”, and I have often heard it recommended to low back pain suffers for precisely this reason.

Why do cyclists experience these levels of low back pain? Research studies have suggested that muscle fatigue, especially of the hamstring and calf muscles causes “altered muscle movement patterns” that stress the low back muscles thus affecting their normal posture and control. The impact of these posture and control changes was exacerbated by how “bent forward” the cyclists were and how “splayed” their knees were while riding. Further studies compared a group of cyclists doing specific “core conditioning” exercises against a group doing general exercise (not cycling). While neither group evidenced an improvement in cycling performance the “core conditioning” group reported reduced episodes of low back pain.

What does this all mean for recreational cyclists? If you are serious about your cycling and want to reduce your risk of injury as you progress then attending to a correct bike set-up should be your first step. You should then incorporate a weekly/twice weekly, simple, efficient “core conditioning” session to your exercise routine while at the same time including some exercises specifically targeted to improving the strength and stamina of your hamstring and calf muscles.

If your low back pain persists despite initial rest from the bike and incorporation of the suggested changes or continues to worsen then you should go and see a suitable, medical professional.