Best way to climb with low back issues? Stand or sit?

Dec 23, 2021
4
2
15
Hi, I'm looking for information/advice on the best climbing technique for riders dealing with low back issues (I have herniated disc at L4/L5). When climbing, what's best way to reduce pressure on the low back? I have read that sitting and spinning an easy gear is the right way to do it, but standing (at least for short periods) seems to leave your back in a more neutral/extended/less bent over position. Does anyone have experience, is there any published research on how different pedaling techniques affect the back? THANKS FOR ANY INPUT
 
Hi, I'm looking for information/advice on the best climbing technique for riders dealing with low back issues (I have herniated disc at L4/L5). When climbing, what's best way to reduce pressure on the low back? I have read that sitting and spinning an easy gear is the right way to do it, but standing (at least for short periods) seems to leave your back in a more neutral/extended/less bent over position. Does anyone have experience, is there any published research on how different pedaling techniques affect the back? THANKS FOR ANY INPUT
My gosh, that's exactly what I suffered 3 years ago! In my case I was doing lots of hill repeats sitting in the saddle to build my strength. I was progressing well until one morning I had an excruciating pain in my hips and had to get a lift home. The following day my back let go completely at home and I had to call an ambulance as I couldn't even walk to the front door let alone get in a car to get to hospital. I rated that at 10/10 on my pain scale. I subsequently had an operation to remove disc fragments then rehab over two weeks with physiotherapists.

So far I haven' had any more issues but I've made some changes to my training routine:
  1. Don't ride too many hills day after day. Intersperse hilly rides with flat rides.
  2. Don't grind up hills in the saddle.
  3. Sitting and spinning an easy gear but standing for short periods. Yes the bent over position puts more strain on the L4/L5.
  4. Strengthen your core. A stronger core stabilizes the lower back and puts less pressure on the L4 area.
Hope this helps?
 
Dec 23, 2021
4
2
15
Definitely helpful, thanks! I think I blew out my back the same way, by trying to push bigger gears and generally go faster uphill. Your program all makes sense to me, plus I flipped the stem on my bike and got the bars basically level with the seat, which helps quite a bit.
 
Reactions: Cookster15
Dec 23, 2021
4
2
15
Yes, for sure, I'm actually in process of having a new frame built, so am being very careful about fit ...
 
Definitely helpful, thanks! I think I blew out my back the same way, by trying to push bigger gears and generally go faster uphill. Your program all makes sense to me, plus I flipped the stem on my bike and got the bars basically level with the seat, which helps quite a bit.
You are welcome. The other thing I didn't mention was age. I was following a training regimen which had worked for me up to 8 years ago. But that led to near disaster as my muscular-skeletal system didn't adapt. I also didn't mention that I never got full function back. I think I did some permanent nerve damage which means I can't really run any more (am am an ex triathlete from the 90s).
 
A universal fits-all answer isn’t possible because it depends if you’re trying to avoid general pain or minimize nerve issues. It also may depend on which direction the disc is bulging or ruptured, since the nerves shoot out in different directions and more compression may occur on one side than the other. For my old (30 yes ago) L5-S1 ruptured/herniated disc, which now only creates sciatic nerve pain/numbness (but not pain at the site), sitting is still more comfortable but inching forward on the saddle puts less pressure on that part of my spine. That doesn’t feel as natural for me but it helps some. Spinning very light gears does not always help because you’re bearing more of your weight on your butt than in your legs.
In the last 10 yrs I’ve developed bulging or partial herniations at C-3 through C-7 (degenerative disc disease) which kept me off the bike for at least a year. The physical medicine doc who has done my epidural injections said I should never ride a bike again, but if I’m going to still try I should ride out of the saddle virtually all the time. We all know That’s not practical, but her point is that when producing power from your legs while sitting fixed on the seat, it keeps your spine more locked in place and leverages more stress on the entire spinal column. So I try to mix standing/sitting while climbing and also ride no-hands for long stretches on flat roads to take more pressure off my neck.
I can’t say for sure that also applies to low back disc issues—someone with an engineering background can probably talk more about weight bearing spots and stress displacement. All of that to say that there are some medical/ structural issues to figure out, not just changes in training routines.
 
Last edited:
Reactions: Cookster15
I forgot to mention that finding a good PT to help you develop more flexibility in your pelvis and hips and keeping hamstrings loose almost always helps reduce some of the pressure on your low back.
I’ve always had well above average flexibility - including my hamstrings. Strengthening my core is the best thing PTs guided me on that has so far prevented reoccurrence.
 
Reactions: Sciatic
Dec 23, 2021
4
2
15
Thanks for all the good feedback. I'm doing PT and picking up many of the same ideas. Hamstring and hip flexor stretching, core strengthening, all the things I never did regularly before I injured myself ... oh well, live and learn they say. New era, hopefully with lots of biking, just with a lot of maintenance and deliberation and recognition of limits.
 
Reactions: Cookster15

ASK THE COMMUNITY