Back Attack

Back pain.

I’ve struggled with periods of back pain throughout most of my adult life. But usually the episodes are fairly brief. A few days of very tight back muscles that gradually release and then things get back to normal.

I miss normal.

A few weeks ago, I began to experience a different kind of back pain. Lower right. More like at the hip. The fun part of this back pain is that it travels down my right leg. Oh, and I cannot sit for any period of time without experiencing significant pain. And, for most of the day, my work involves sitting.

Yesterday, I drove to Ottawa. Although only two hours each way, it was sheer torture. For now, I cannot drive any longer than 30 minutes without the onset of significant pain.

So. Did cycling cause this condition?

Knee and hip pain are the most common cycling injuries. The most common cause of knee and hip pain in cyclists is iliotibial band syndrome. The iliotibal band is a thick fibrous band of tissue, which runs on the outside of the leg from the hip to the knee. Pain is caused when the band becomes tight and rubs over the bony prominences of the hip and/or the knee. Tight inflexible lower extremity muscles may worsen the condition.

The most common causes are:

  • Faulty saddle height or position
  • Crank too long
  • Pushing excessively high gears (slow cadence in cold weather)
  • Too much leg work
  • Cleat alignment
  • Individual cyclist anatomy

But this condition may well be lower back pain. And muscle imbalance. If there is little development of the mid-section, trouble will emerge. Riding with undeveloped abs is something like riding a bike with a cracked frame – all the energy gets dissipated in flexion, and doesn’t get you down the road. Low-back pain can result from a lack or imbalance of mid-section strength.

I was riding pretty hard this season — although I have been off the bike for almost two weeks now. How much time was I spending stretching and building the core? Uh, that would be zero. I know better but I wasn’t taking the time to stretch and crunch.

I am now doing 200 plus crunches a day and a variety of stretching exercises. At this point, it is hard to say whether things are improving. The condition eases at night and I can sleep without any discomfort.

The mornings are tough.

I also went back to get re-fitted on the bike last week. My cleats were definitely out of alignment. Way out. I had changed them the end of last season and I did not bother to check alignment. Oops. We also changed saddles and brought the angles of the hoods up a few degrees. Position on the machine looks good.

Should I get back on the bike? I might try an easy spin today and see what happens. I have signed up a trainer to help me build out my core. And, if the condition does not improve, I might well have to seek out medical attention.

For now, I continue to hobble along.

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