Are Exercise Bikes Bad for Your Back?

Women on Stationary Bikes

If you’re looking for an exercise that can help your back, you might be concerned that exercise bikes will hurt you rather than help you. There seems to be plenty of testimony that exercise bikes will not only alleviate your back pain but also help you get into impeccable shape. Despite that, bike riding, be it stationary or otherwise, is a personal experience, and how it affects each person can vary.

Exercise bikes generally aren’t bad for your back. They’re designed to be low impact exercise machines that actually strengthen your lower back. However, it’s not impossible to experience back pain while using them.

Back pain on exercise bikes can be caused by a combination of poor posture or using the wrong bike for your particular back pain.

How Can Exercise Bikes Help Your Back?

Senior Couple on Exercise Bikes

Exercise bikes have become an increasingly popular medium of exercise partly because of the flexibility and consistency of exercise that the bikes provide. With the introduction of “spinning classes,” or team-based classes that involve groups of students being pushed to their cardiovascular limits, exercise bikes have become an increasingly efficient way to socialize and get exercise in.

Exercise bikes are known for the quality of aerobic exercise they give. It’s low impact, meaning that there isn’t typically much pressure being exerted on the joints, and it releases endorphins. This improves cardiovascular health and circulation, thus reducing the time it takes for muscles and tissues in the lower back to heal.

In other words, riding exercise bikes can result in improved muscular flexibility and reduced lower back pain. Because muscles and ligaments aren’t being consistently used because of a culture of constantly sitting down, they can be susceptible to contracting and spasming, thus increasing the feeling of stiffness people feel in their backs. Riding an exercise bike improves flexibility in your hamstrings, further reducing pain in the back.

The fact that exercise bikes are stationary typically provides the benefit of minimal stress to the lower back region. However, there are situations in which lower back pain can be experienced on an exercise bike.

What Causes Back Pain on an Exercise Bike?

Back Pain during Exercise

Experiencing lower back pain when cycling isn’t necessarily uncommon. It can happen on regular bikes, but it’s also a reasonable occurrence on an exercise bike. However, for the most part, the pain is in your control.

Tight Hip Flexors from Sitting

Today, the majority of people find themselves sitting for extended periods or developing a sedentary lifestyle; this can result in the hip flexors shortening and tightening. When people then get on exercise bikes, the tight hip flexors from always sitting can contribute to the lower back pain felt during cycling.

Poor Posture

There are also anatomical reasons why you can experience lower back pain when cycling, but it’s rarely the fault of the bike itself.

There’s a phenomenon with the lumbar (lower spine) being pulled up when riding that can cause severe lower back pain. Being in the wrong position while riding can easily trigger this. You can avoid this by riding with the correct posture; this applies to not just stationary bikes but actual cycling as well.

Additionally, by getting through a session of cycling, we sometimes tend to slump and crunch down. If you end up bending your lower back in the process of riding, chances are you’ll feel the majority of the strain in your lower back as well.

To prevent self-inflicted back pain, make sure to push your chest forward, pull your shoulders back, and keep your arms extended and straight. You should also try to keep a straight line from your hips to your head.

Do Exercise Bikes Help with Pre-Existing Back Pain?

Fit Woman using Exercise Bike

If chronic back pain is something you’re already familiar with, you know that finding the right aerobic exercise that you can do without triggering any of that discomfort can be a challenge.

Ultimately, people who are suffering from lower back pain can benefit from some form of activity. Inactivity certainly won’t help the back pain, and biking is generally a good choice for people with these kinds of afflictions as it can help strengthen the back and alleviate the pain.

Anyone interested in riding exercise bikes, but especially those who are already suffering from back pain, have two options for exercise bikes: recumbent bikes or upright bikes. Upright bikes and recumbent bikes are typically stationary. Choosing between the two is a matter of personal choice; however, depending on any prior back pain you already experience, one choice might be better than the other.

Ultimately the position of your back can generate or alleviate back pain. Since both bikes offer different positions for your back, one bike might exacerbate your pain, while the other may aid it, so it’s essential to choose a bike wisely.

Recumbent Bikes

Recumbent bikes specifically are designed in mind for the comfort of your back. Recumbent bikes provide various benefits to the rider:

  • Better spinal position is encouraged on the bike because of how the bike is hunched over, thus mitigating potential back pain.
  • Besides being good for your back, it also supports your ankles from potential injuries or impacts while riding.
  • Recumbent bikes are just generally easier on the lumbar spine. You won’t be hunched over to grab the handlebars, which supports a healthier posture for those with back pain.
  • The seat is generally larger in recumbent bikes, especially when compared to upright bikes. Its low impact provides a safe workout for anyone with neurological issues while maintaining their ability to build strength.
  • If you have rheumatoid arthritis, then this bike is especially beneficial to you. Your entire body weight is spread across evenly; therefore, there isn’t excessive pressure being placed on your back.
  • Recumbent bikes are a great way to get the benefit of riding even after you’ve gone through a back-related surgery.
  • Another back-related disease that’s mitigated by a recumbent bike is Degenerative Disc Disease. It occurs when the spinal discs become damaged because of age or injury. The sharp pains associated with the disease make normal movement and flexibility exceedingly difficult. A bike with back support, such as a recumbent bike, helps maintain physical activity while being safe.                                                                                                                                  

Upright Bikes

Upright bikes, like the name suggests, gives you the ability to ride in an upright, almost standing position. This type of bike is inherently more strenuous and, therefore, targets more muscles, providing a greater, more meaningful workout. The pedals are positioned under the body, further supporting the posture required to use it. It’s more akin to a traditional bike.

The correct posture is to sit slightly hunched over, only with a slight bend in the neck and back.

People who experience osteoarthritis or spinal stenosis tend to find that the upright exercises this kind of bike offers is beneficial and largely more comfortable because leaning forward offers them relief from their conditions.

Final Thoughts

Exercise bikes are a great way to strengthen the back of someone suffering from back pains. Riding a stationary bike, whether it’s recumbent or upright, can diminish back pain over time and make the spine healthier.

However, they can exacerbate back pain if you’re riding the wrong bike for your particular back pain, so know yourself and your pain and choose a bike accordingly.

Back pain can also be caused by bad positioning while on the bike, so be sure to always be properly positioned. Pay attention to how you feel while riding, and if there’s any pain in front of your knees or the back, don’t be afraid to readjust your posture.

Benny Laker

I am the owner of High Tech Fitness. I love testing any kind of exercise equipment and enjoy sharing my insights with you.

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