Low back tightness and pain can and has plagued so many of us riders. There are many different types of low back pain. This article is going to go over a type of back pain that comes on slowly during or after riding. It is centrally in your back not extending down into your buttock or legs. This type is typically from tighter larger muscles in your low back and lack of use of stability muscles in your back and in your abdomen. A study performed on cyclists, with low back pain, showed an altered motor control of the lower lumbar spine.(1) These altered motor control patterns begin to restrict all lumbar (low back) movement including bending over and bending backward by an over activation of larger muscles not designed for a stability job.
The exercises below are going to show you how to use the stability muscles and how to re-learn the motor control that you need. These are base exercises and you will need to increase them as you get better and back to feeling great.
Your back has several muscles that support the spine, your stability muscles. Some are located in the back and some surround your body, these muscles are otherwise known as your "core". These muscles include but are not limited to:
Your Multifidus – Your Obliques and Transverse Abdominus – Your Pelvic Floor – Your Diaphragm
Your Trunk Cylinder
All of these muscles come together to form a cylinder, your trunk. If we do not use all of these muscles, then your body will use mostly all larger back muscles. This can lead to that over activation mentioned above.
Another thing that can lead to over activation is pain coming from your spine joints. This will cause your muscles around it to guard, or aka activate in a no-functional manor. This guarding also limits movement and can make the tightness that you feel.
This leads us into the main exercises that I would recommend for muscle tightness pain in the low back. These exercises relax your back muscles and activate your other muscles in the cylinder, listed above.
***Another aspect to low back tightness/pain can be the type, size, and geometry of your bike***Exercise #1: Base Core ExerciseObjective
- To understand how to use your core and to relax your low back muscles Perform:
- Directly before performing the following exercises
- When you feel tightness in your low back during the day
- To understand how to move your pelvis separate from your upper trunkThings to Note:
- Do not use your butt during this exercise or draw your knees inward Exercise #2: Hands and knees Arm lifts Objective:
- To stabilize against rotational forces for trunk control and to activate obliques and multifidusPerform:
- 2 times a day
- 2 sets 20 reps
- As needed to reduce low back tightnessThings to Note:
- To make harder move more into a plank, but make sure that you don't raise your feet or use your butt Exercise #3: Bent Knee Fall Out Objective:
- Trunk Control with Hip MobilityPerform:
- 2-4 times a day
- 2 sets 10-30 reps each sideThings to Note:
- When this becomes easy, you can add a band around your knees and perform the exercise the same. It will then activate the butt muscles once the band is added.About the Author:
Liz Koch, PT, DPT is a physical therapist that knows exactly what it is like to have pain. She has been to many PTs over her life, which directed her to becoming one. She has been a mountain biker since she was a kid and has recently opened up her own clinic in Western North Carolina, Blue Ridge BioMechanics
. She wants to share the knowledge that you don’t have to be in pain when riding and you don’t have to stop riding to get out of pain. She has focused this mission to Rad Mountain Biking Ladies
on Facebook and through her online business, The Ride Life
Let me know if you have questions in the comments.*If you have pain please consult with a doctor or physical therapist for further evaluation, Liz Koch and companies are without liability if you injure yourself while performing these exercises*
1. Burnett AF, Cornelius MW, Dankaerts W. O’Sullivan PB. Spinal kinematics and trunk muscle activity in cyclists: a comparison between healthy controls and non-specific chronic low back pain subjects-a pilot investigation. Man Ther. 2004;9:211-9.