The truth about cycling and back pain: Q&A with a myth-busting physio

Finding himself immobilised by lower back pain, CW magazine fitness editor David Bradford goes in urgent search of expert advice to quell his fears and get him back on his bike

David Bradford with back pain
(Image credit: Daniel Gould)

It’s an uncomfortable truth that lower back pain is common among cyclists. But are we really more prone to back issues than people who do other sports and activities? And if so, is it caused directly by our position on the bike, being leant over to varying degrees, or other less obvious factors? In other words, how can we separate the truths from the presumptions, the researched facts from the pseudo-science-spun myths? In doing so, maybe at least some of us can avoid falling victim to back pain in the first place. 

My interest in this topic piqued very suddenly one Sunday morning a few weeks ago when, having dipped into a squat in my home gym, I began to push up and… Aaargh! A paroxysm of pain shot through my torso with such intensity that instinct took over and hurled me onto the adjacent sofa as the dumbbells hitherto at my shoulders clattered to the floor. For a few hours, I wasn’t sure what to do: my back was completely seized and any significant movement, e.g. getting up, felt not just too painful but literally impossible. I’m in serious trouble here, was all I could think. I called 111 but couldn’t get through, so eventually – having satisfied myself that I had no sinister symptoms such as loss of feeling – I very tentatively hauled myself to my feet. A few agonising steps later, I prostrated myself on my bed and lay motionless, fearing the next spasm. 

Thank you for reading 20 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

David Bradford
Features editor

David Bradford is features editor of Cycling Weekly (print edition). He has been writing and editing professionally for more than 15 years, and has published work in national newspapers and magazines including the Independent, the Guardian, the Times, the Irish Times, and Runner’s World. Alongside his love of cycling, David is a long-distance runner with a marathon PB of two hours 28 minutes. Having been diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) in 2006, he also writes about sight loss and hosts the podcast Ways of Not Seeing.