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Low back pain in cycling

Cyclists with low-back pain should now adjust their saddles

As many as 70% of regular cyclists suffer from cervical, dorsal, or lumbar back pain, suggesting that there is something about cycling which is not good for backs. To find out whether adjustments in biking posture might reduce the incidence of back problems in cyclists, researchers at The Chaim Sheba Medical Centre in Tel Hashomer, Israel, performed serial fluoroscopic studies of cyclists sitting on different types of bicycles (sports, mountain, and city). Pelvic/spine angles were measured at different seat angles, and the related force vectors acting on the back were analysed.

The researchers found that on almost all bikes there was a tendency towards hyperextension of the pelvic/spine angle, which resulted in an increase in tensile forces acting on the spine. They noted that these forces could easily be reduced by adjusting the seat angle so that the back was higher than the front.

Members of a cycling club who complained of low-back pain then trained systematically with the adjusted seats. Most of these athletes (more than 70%) reported major improvements in the incidence and magnitude of their back pain. The researchers concluded: ‘The incidence and magnitude of back pain in cyclists can be reduced by appropriate adjustment of the angle of the saddle. It is important that these findings be conveyed to cyclists, bicycle salesmen, trainers, and members of the general public who engage in cycling, in order to decrease the prevalence of back pain.’

Br J Sports Med, Dec, vol 33(6), pp 398-400, 1999

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