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Beating Back Pain On the Bike

Dr. Kelsey Bellanca PT, DPT, NASM-CPT, USATF-1

Many of us, if not all of us, know that ache. The one that settles in right above and sometimes even right on either side of the sacrum. The dreaded back pain that can take a ride from enjoyable, to challenging back pain with riding, to downright miserable in a matter of moments.

Why does it happen? Is there really any way to prevent it? What if you’re on the bike and it starts?

The good news is, even if you have experienced or do experience back pain with riding, there are ways to prevent, manage, and reduce it so you can ride happy!

What Causes Back Pain While Riding? Many times, back pain with riding can be boiled down to two causes: improper fit and improper strength

Improper Fit

When it comes to fit, two aspects can affect the low back: saddle height and reach.

When it comes to saddle weight, having your seat too high causes the hips to rock while pedaling, placing increased stress on the low back. Conversely, a saddle that is too low can result in excessive pelvic motion at the top of the pedal stroke.

While a professional fit is always best, there is a quick test to check saddle height. If you are sitting on your bike, pedal backwards until one foot stops at 6:00. At this point, drop your heel down towards the ground until your knee is straight. In this position, your heel should be below your toes. This results in a knee bend of about 30 degrees at the bottom of your pedal stroke while on the bike.

When it comes to reach, stem length can play a large role, and can be checked by looking at your spine while on the bike. If your spine is largely rounded, it is possible that your reach is too short. If you have a large arch in your back, it could be that your reach is too far. A happy medium is the optimal place to be.

Improper Strength

Improper strength in the core and glutes can also result in back pain on the bike. Since the abdominal musculature partially originates in the thoracolumbar fascia, the core, when active, provides 360 degree support for the torso. This support, paired with pelvic stabilization provided by the gluteus medius, and power output from the gluteus maximus, create a stable, supported environment for the low back.

Here are some ways to strengthen the muscles mentioned above:

Please note: if you have a history of injury, please consult with your physician regarding safety of exercise.

Core Activation

We have all heard the cue “pull your belly button to your spine.” Forget that. Rather than pulling the belly button to the spine, think of pulling the spot 2 inches below your belly button towards the spine. When you do this, it will feel like your abdominals are pulling your hip bones together. Do this 10 times, holding each engagement for 3 breaths in order to understand what is meant by the cue, “engage the core.”

Dead Bug

Now that we are on the same page when it comes to core activation, start laying on your back with arms reaching towards the ceiling and hips and knees both bent to 90 degrees. From here, extend opposite arm and leg without allowing the low back to arch beyond neutral, then return to starting position, then extend the other side. Do 1-3 sets of 10 reps with an alternating pattern.


We have all bridged before not understanding what it actually does. This exercise is amazing when performed correctly. Lay on your back with knees bent so feet are flat. Squeeze your glutes and maintain that squeeze as you slowly raise and lower the hips. Maintain that squeeze until your hips touch the floor and re-engage between each rep. Do 3 sets of 5 reps holding each 5th rep at the top for 3 breaths.

Side-lying hip Abduction

Lay on your side with the bottom leg bent and top leg straight and slightly behind you. If you need help finding this position, lay on your side against a wall with your top heel in contact with the wall. Slowly raise and lower the leg. Do 30 unbroken on each side. It should feel like your hip is on fire after each side!

Happy riding!

Dr. Kelsey Bellanca PT, DPT, NASM-CPT, USATF-1 is a physical therapist in the Denver area and owner of Human Power PLLC. She provides concierge physical therapy, personal training, and run coaching on in-person and virtual bases. In her spare time, you can find her biking, running, or skiing! Feel free to reach out to with any questions!

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