Along with neck pain, back pain is one of the most common side effects e-Bike riders can suffer from, and unfortunately can affect riders of all ages.
However, this type of pain should not be ignored, as it often is linked to factors like improper posture, e-Bike fit, and sometimes, can even be related to a lack of flexibility and range of motion in certain muscles.
This article will outline the various causes of back pain related to riding an electric bicycle and the methods by which you can manage and even solve this type of soreness.
The main causes of back pain when riding an e-bike
Typically, back pain associated with riding an e-bike (and cycling in general) is linked to a rider’s posture, their e-Bike fit, and sometimes weak or unstable muscles in the core area.
The core muscles include the torso area, particularly the stomach, mid and lower back, and sides (source). While it may not seem obvious, the core is relied on for the majority of your body’s functional movements. Your core is made up of a series of powerhouse muscles that help you balance, steer, and control your movement while you ride.
So, it’s in your best interests to keep your core strong, as strengthening this area is imperative not only to avoid back pain but to maximize riding power. A weak core often results in riders getting fatigued more quickly, thus straining the back more easily which can result in pain in the lumbar (lower spinal – source) area.
However, a weak core is not always to blame. If you are using improper posture (such as hunching over) or your e-Bike is not fitted properly (such as improper leg length), these can be the main culprits as well. Bending too far over on your e-Bike can result in strain on the lower and upper back/shoulders and neck area. Riding on uneven or rough terrain can also be extremely jarring to the body, and can lead to back pain caused by compression of the spine.
The strain on one’s hips and pelvis, as well, can be a contributor to back pain. Experts recommend sitting on your saddle with a slightly forward tilt to have a balanced and neutral positioning, which is optimal for the spine.
Another reason for back pain can be building up the intensity too quickly while riding an e-bike. Though cycling, and particularly riding an electric bicycle, is a low-impact exercise, make sure to not get too carried away with the mileage and intensity. Your muscles may not be used to such long and hard rides, even if you feel good while doing so – you might feel the back and muscle pain later, thus making it harder to get back on your e-Bike as frequently.
Experts recommend building up gradually and increasing weekly distance by 20-25% at a time. E-Bike riders should also be sure to make use of the pedal-assist feature (which you can increase and decrease accordingly), especially if you start to feel tired during your ride, as this can ease the strain off your back muscles.
When cycling, pay attention to your posture
Bad posture, as well as a lack of flexibility, is a major cause of back pain in riders. Lack of flexibility means a limited range of motion, and since the forward-bending stance riders must take on when riding an e-bike forces a person to stretch certain muscles more than they may be used to, and for extended periods of time, bad posture and limited range of motion will likely result in overstraining muscles and exacerbating back pain.
Experts note that this issue often extends beyond riding positions: the posture that those take on when working desk jobs or who drive often tends to contribute as well. If one has poor posture during these sitting-heavy periods of time, this can put pressure on the spinal disks that protect one’s spine (source). This can then potentially lead to disc injury or sciatic nerve pain. A spinal imbalance can also result in the overuse of the lower back, which can then lead to lower back pain.
If you are someone who works at a desk all day, try to use an ergonomic workspace, ie. a desk, chair, and keyboard positioning that is ergonomically customized and fitted for you.
It is also recommended that while riding one’s e-Bike, riders should change their positioning often to avoid cumulative stress on one area, which tends to happen to the back as it mainly stays in a static position for the duration of rides.
Try to move your hand positioning (such as shifting from the tops to the drops of your handlebars) and seating position whenever you can while riding (during break or rest periods) in order to keep your circulation flowing, and to avoid overuse of one specific muscle area.
Make sure you have a proper e-bike fit
Many times, riders experience back pain because their e-Bikes are not properly fitted. Something as simple as handlebar, saddle, and stem positioning can contribute to back pain in a major way.
For example, overstretching or reaching to steer your e-Bike can result in unnecessary strain on the back. One way to fix this is to take a look at your stem length and consider a shorter stem if you find you are overstretching. A shorter stem will allow you to ride in a more upright position, therefore bettering your posture.
You should also ensure that your handlebars are adjusted so that you are leaning forward as little as possible, which can often be solved by raising the height (since, if they are too low, you will arch your back to reach them). It is commonly suggested that you keep your handlebars more or less in line with your saddle height. And if your seat is too far back, try bringing it forward slightly. One good way to measure your posture is that you should have your elbows only slightly bent while riding your e-Bike.
Experts have noted that some e-bike riders are more comfortable with a forward-leaning position on their seat, whereas some feel more comfortable with a reclining position (these tend to be riders with lower back issues since the reclining position puts less strain on the lower back area).
If you are experiencing back pain, it is worth experimenting to see if a more forward or reclined position works best for you. And if you are not able to fit your e-Bike in a way that feels optimal and comfortable for you, consider a professional e-Bike fit.
Keep your weight properly distributed when riding, as well, to avoid muscle imbalance (muscle imbalance often leads to certain muscles overcompensating for others, thus getting fatigued and prone to soreness faster). Try to distribute your weight between the arms and chest, and be sure to keep your chest up while riding.
Consider investing in shock-absorbing accessories, as well, such as gloves, seat and handlebar covers, and front fork shock absorbers.
Don’t forget to stretch prior and post ride
As mentioned earlier, it’s imperative to stretch the back muscles and strengthen the core muscles to avoid stiffness, and to decrease the risk of injury and further back pain. Regular conditioning of these muscles will also help to improve flexibility and range of motion, thus creating a positive chain effect in improving your back pain.
Especially when it comes to the core muscles, flexibility is key. Some examples of good core stretch are the “Cobra Pose” ab stretch, “chest opener”, and “Cat-Cow” stretch. Here are some step-by-step guides for stretching your core effectively by Healthline (source) and Harvard Health (source).
Read also: Most common pains when riding an electric bicycle, and how to prevent and cure them – in this article.
Other muscles that should be strengthened are the hamstring muscles (source), as hamstring tightness can also lead to lower back pain. A common stretch for these muscles is a “standing hamstring stretch”, wherein you stand straight and bend at the waist, reaching for your toes without overstraining yourself. Here are some more hamstring stretches you can incorporate into your routine (source).
One example of a back stretch that helps with improved posture is the “reach for the sky” stretch. This simple stretch involves lacing one’s fingers together and stretching the arms up towards the ceiling. Riders should inhale deeply and use this to stretch as high as possible. When exhaling, open the arms and sweep them back widely until you bring them back down. Refer to this Healthline article (source) to learn more back stretches that will help with flexibility.
A few words in conclusion
As you can see, back pain while on your e-bike can be mitigated by considering three main factors: posture, e-Bike fit, and regular strengthening and conditioning when off the e-Bike. Once you have made the proper adjustments to your e-Bike and your routine, you should be able to ward off that pesky back pain in no time!
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