Last Updated on January 25, 2023 by Igor Karni
Sciatica is a pesky back condition, the definition of which encompasses any pain that goes through the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is located in the lower spine and travels through the pelvis and down each leg (Mayoclinic link). Sciatic pain can even, in some cases, travel to your feet. So, naturally, sciatica affects many parts of your body if you are dealing with this condition.
This pain often becomes aggravated when a nerve gets moved into an improper spot between your muscles. This means that both the pain and severity vary per person.
When dealing with this condition, it is important to know when to listen to your body, as pain can be onset at any time. If you have sciatica you may deal with moments of frustration, and many patients feel that they are restricted in their physical exercise due to the condition.
Knowing that, the question may come up: can you ride an e-bike when dealing with sciatica? The answer is multilayered, with various factors coming into play such as the severity of your condition and the type of e-Bike you are using. The simple answer, however, is yes: riding an e-bike is one of the top forms of exercise for people dealing with back pain and sciatica.
Take e-bike riding easy – but not too easy
Before you start to e-Bike, remember that you should not be pushing yourself too hard. Sciatica, and the pain associated with it, varies from mild to severe, so remember that it’s entirely dependent on a case-by-case basis.
One of the main pieces of advice for sciatica patients is that sitting for long periods of time is not ideal. In fact, living a sedentary lifestyle and not actively exercising can be one of the causes of sciatica, so it’s important to be as active as possible to both strengthen your muscles and relieve your back pain.
E-bike riding, because of its pedal-assist feature, makes it easier to be active while also not putting too much stress or strain on your back. Cycling is a great way to get in your aerobic exercise, strengthening not only your muscles but giving your heart and lungs a workout as well.
The factor regarding whether sciatica pain is lessened or exacerbated by e-bike riding varies. Some sciatica patients say that using their e-Bike helps relieve their pain, whereas some note that they tend to feel more pain after periods of cycling.
However, many that note pain afterward, also state that their pain lasts for a shorter amount of time when they are active as opposed to when they are being sedentary.
Easy Tip: Before you start to ride an e-bike, consult your doctor and/or any other medical professional who knows your condition.
As mentioned before, sciatica and the levels of pain you deal with vary on a personal basis, so be sure to exercise caution and calculate the risks before you begin riding. It’s also important to take the time to research and explore your e-Bike options to find out what exercise regime is best for you and your pain.
Choose the right electric bicycle for you
Common causes for back pain are poor posture, arching your neck while cycling (which can lead to upper back strain), and uneven or rough landscape which can cause compression to the spine.
So, choosing the right e-Bike that will make it as easy and strain-free as possible is important before you embark on riding.
Factors such as the frame and even the type of e-bike come into play. There are many options, and there’s no one right answer: depending on where your pain is located and what positions you’re most comfortable in, the answer differs. For example, some prefer a forward-leaning e-bike while others prefer the recumbent structure.
A step-through frame
For those who would prefer not to bend or lift themselves up too often, consider a step-through e-Bike. A step-through frame allows you to literally step through your bicycle rather than bend or hop to mount and dismount, which lessens the amount of strain on your lower back.
A comfort cruiser e-bike
An e-bike that demonstrates the benefits of a step-through frame, and is particularly recommended for riders with back pain, is the “comfort cruiser” (sample model link).
These e-bikes have a considerably lower seat from its handlebars, cushioned seating, a comfortable upright position, and relaxed handlebars.
An electric tricycle
For those struggling with more severe pain, consider riding an electric tricycle (which is a three-wheeler as opposed to two) if you are worried about your balance and need more assistance when riding. Here is a sample model to take a look at (Amazon link).
Recumbent e-bikes are the other aforementioned option worth looking into: the recumbent position means that you are in a reclining (leaned back) stance, which for some can be more comfortable than sitting upright or leaning forward and ensures that you are taking the pressure off your lower and upper back.
On a recumbent e-bike, your weight is more evenly distributed, meaning less pressure and stress on your lower back, hands, and feet.
Electric mountain bike
Another piece of advice is to look into the electric mountain bike (eMTB) with full suspension (also known as dual-suspension – Wikipedia link).
Full suspension e-bikes have both front and rear suspensions which allow you to more easily ride and keep you more balanced when riding on rough terrain, which is particularly good for riders who live in landscapes with a lot of hills, forested areas, and greenery.
A wider seat is also advised in order to better distribute your weight and take the strain off your lower back and tailbone.
City-style electric bicycle
One of the elements of an electric city bike that may not be suitable for some sciatica patients is that they require you to be more upright than you would be on an eMTB.
Sitting on an electric city bike is equated to sitting on a chair, which can be tougher to ride when you are braving more uneven terrain. However, for those who ride more casually or who ride on predominantly flat landscapes, this isn’t as much of an issue.
Ultimately, there will always be different pros and cons to each type of e-bike. The best way to figure out which one is best for you is to feel it out for yourself: consider renting e-Bikes before purchasing to see which posture, fit and frame feels best for you.
Other e-bike selection tips
A common suggestion from riders is that you should stretch extensively before you ride, particularly your lower back, glutes, quads, and hamstrings. This will help to prevent tightness, which will help to prevent triggering or further aggravating your sciatica.
It’s highly advised to make proper adjustments to your e-bike’s positioning and follow “proper form” (Spine-health site link) when riding your e-bike.
This means keeping your weight distributed evenly between arms and chest and shifting your position every once in a while, to avoid concentrated pressure in your lower back and spine. There are also e-bikes you can purchase that have an adjustable upright body positioning.
Easy Fact: Overall, the consensus is that e-bike riding does not typically aggravate or worsen most patients’ sciatica.
In fact, many patients have also noted improvements in their range of motion, flexibility and have even felt that their back is stronger after introducing e-Bikes into their lives.
E-bike riding is also a great way to introduce cardio exercise that is significantly less harsh on the spine than other forms of exercise.
It’s also an ideal option for those looking to lose weight, as obesity can be a contributing factor to sciatica.
The wonderful thing about e-bike riding is that it’s an accessible option for people that feel restricted by other physical activities, which even includes traditional cycling. Traditional cycling can be harder on the joints and back, whereas an e-bike is a lower impact sport.
One of the major perks of e-bikes is the ability to adjust the level of assistance that best suits your needs, making e-bikes an easily customizable option no matter what or where your pain is.
You can adjust your assist at any time or day according to how you feel, meaning that you can do a light workout on days where you need more assistance and more intense workouts on days you choose a lower assist.
Though sciatica can be frustratingly sporadic, the assist feature and accessibility of e-bikes ensure that you can cycle and strengthen your body despite your physical condition.
Don’t let your sciatica deter you from being active: with the right e-bike, you’ll be living a more active lifestyle, getting consistent cardio workouts, be burning calories, and will keep your body fit and healthy.
As long as you listen to your body and consult your healthcare professionals as needed, e-bike riding can be a fun way for you to get back into an active lifestyle!
Read also: Guidance for riding an electric bicycle with certain health conditions. And, Most common e-bike riding pains, how to prevent and cure.