Modifying a bike for lower back problems

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KingOfTheTailwind
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Modifying a bike for lower back problems

Postby KingOfTheTailwind » Mon Nov 05, 2012 11:37 am

Hi,

I'm going to be buying a road bike in the next week or two. I currently commute on a crappy mountain bike. Looking for a bike to commute on, but mainly for longer rides at the weekend.

I have lower back issues from weight training. So I've been looking at getting a Specialized Secteur. The problem is there seem to be very few second hand Secteurs for sale. There haven't been any in N Ireland on Gumtree/eBay in the past few months in my size.

So I was thinking I could get a second hand Allez Sport instead. There's one on Gumtree my size at the minute. What ways could I modify an Allez to give it a more upright back-friendly position? Would changing the stem to an adjustable one with a high angle be enough? Can the bars be raised easily?

My back problems aren't severe at the minute. I've had to stop deadlifting altogether, which seems to have helped. But the pain can flare up occasionally in any exercise, even running. I can do Spin classes and commute on my MTB without any pain.

Any advice appreciated. :)

ajb72
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Re: Modifying a bike for lower back problems

Postby ajb72 » Mon Nov 05, 2012 13:23 pm

You will be able to adapt the height of the bars by either reversing the stem (flipping it over) so that it has a positive, not negative angle. That has quite a effect and may be enough, but just be aware that this has makes changes to the reach of the bike, so a longer stem might be required. You can also buy the micro adjustable stems to achieve the desired effect. The handling of the bike will potentially be affected by any dramatic raising of the bar height, feeling a tad more sluggish. Better that than a bad back that keeps you off the bike though!

As someone who has suffered from lower back pain it is vital to get your saddle position right. I had a bike fit and realised my saddle was 10mm odd too far forward. It doesn't sound much but the result was that my hips were rotated forward increasing pressure on my back. So, if possible get yourself a bike fit and prevent further problems, all being well.

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KingOfTheTailwind
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Re: Modifying a bike for lower back problems

Postby KingOfTheTailwind » Mon Nov 05, 2012 16:35 pm

Thanks for your reply.

Yeah I'll definitely get it fitted properly.

If a Secteur doesn't come up soon I'll look for an Allez or a Defy, and then modify the stem as needed. From what I read they both have compact geometry and a slightly more upright position than a bike with a straight top tube?

bing gordon
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Re: Modifying a bike for lower back problems

Postby bing gordon » Mon Nov 05, 2012 20:21 pm

If you can afford it go for a specialized roubaix. I have suffered from back problems for 20 years and had numerous ops .
I have tried a few different makes but always ended up with the back kicking off till i got a roubaix. the roubaix is designed with a more upright seating position.I'm 6ft 1" and i was recommended a 56cm frame but a friend said go for the 58cm as it will keep the saddle nr level with the bars so your not in a stooped over position.
Someone might correct me but It worked for me. I spent endless rides tweaking the seat position till i could ride back pain free.

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Re: Modifying a bike for lower back problems

Postby FSR_XC » Mon Nov 05, 2012 21:45 pm

A few of the Allez come with the adjustable stem like this

This will offer quite a difference to the bar height
Stumpjumper FSR 09/10 Pro Carbon, Rockhopper 03 + mods, Ribble Sportive '11

http://www.dogcamsport.co.uk

on-yer-bike
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Re: Modifying a bike for lower back problems

Postby on-yer-bike » Tue Nov 06, 2012 09:40 am

I have a history of lower back problems and I have found sitting more upright doesnt necessarily mean more comfort. When I had a Retul bike fit my saddle was lowered and my bars were lowered even more. Core strength is important to support the lower back. Before I started cycling my back went into severe spasm on a regular basis. The Allez is racing geometry like the Tarmac the Roubaix is more upright. So much for weight lifting!
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KingOfTheTailwind
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Re: Modifying a bike for lower back problems

Postby KingOfTheTailwind » Tue Nov 06, 2012 12:49 pm

My boss has a Roubaix, way out of my price range unfortunately. Unless he gives me a substantial raise!

I think the Secteur has the same geometry? Just aluminium rather than carbon, and more basic components.

I have a love/hate relationship with weight training! I do loads of core strength work. I've cut down lifting from 4 days a week to two and do more cardio instead. Don't seem to be losing any strength either.

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Re: Modifying a bike for lower back problems

Postby bobinski » Tue Nov 06, 2012 13:15 pm

on-yer-bike wrote:I have a history of lower back problems and I have found sitting more upright doesnt necessarily mean more comfort. When I had a Retul bike fit my saddle was lowered and my bars were lowered even more. Core strength is important to support the lower back. Before I started cycling my back went into severe spasm on a regular basis. The Allez is racing geometry like the Tarmac the Roubaix is more upright. So much for weight lifting!


I had a similar experience. 2 prolapsed discs in past. If i sit upright on a bike then i get back and leg pain because the lower spine is compressed. They key was a bike fit at the bike whisperer and the stretching out of my position on the bike. I can ride 70-80 miles now with no back pain at all. :D

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KingOfTheTailwind
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Re: Modifying a bike for lower back problems

Postby KingOfTheTailwind » Tue Nov 06, 2012 15:38 pm

Think I'll go for a proper fitting before making any stem changes then. There's a company in Belfast called NI Biomechanics who seem to have good reviews.

Also going to give up waiting on a used Allez/Defy etc and go for a new £300 Triban 3 from Decathlon, and then upgrade parts as necessary. The spec is the same as the entry level Allez. Can the Allez's frame be that much better to justify £250 more? Would a beginner notice the difference? Plus the Allez has aluminium forks vs the Triban's carbon.

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Re: Modifying a bike for lower back problems

Postby careful » Tue Nov 06, 2012 15:40 pm

As on yer bike and bobinski said
upright doesnt necessarily mean more comfort.


I too have lower lumbar disc problems and worn vertebral facets (also from weight training and rowing). I find that a moderately stretched out position is best for me. On the other hand, the upright position on a mountain bike causes considerable pain. When I get problems eg from lifting/carrying things, a bike ride usually sorts it. I agree that a bike fit helps, but trial and error will also help you to find out what suits your particular problem.

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KingOfTheTailwind
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Re: Modifying a bike for lower back problems

Postby KingOfTheTailwind » Sun Nov 11, 2012 18:10 pm

Had my first ride on my new Triban 3 today. Ouch. Back is very sore, even after a short run. (12 miles)

So when I got home I flipped the stem and rotated the handlebars up a tiny bit.

I also moved the seat forward 5mm as I was finding myself constantly slipping forward.

Overall very impressed with the bike. Feels like you're going lightspeed compared to a MTB.

Also had pain on the outside of my foot, so need to look at my SPDs. Thankfully they didn't cause me to fall over at any point though.

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Re: Modifying a bike for lower back problems

Postby northpole » Sun Nov 11, 2012 20:34 pm

Just to be clear, is your back pain due to muscle problems aggravated by the weight lifting, or is it from lumbar/ disc problems?

Peter

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KingOfTheTailwind
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Re: Modifying a bike for lower back problems

Postby KingOfTheTailwind » Sun Nov 11, 2012 22:22 pm

Disc problems, I think. Not a pulled muscle.

Been to the doc about it but he wouldn't send me for a scan. He agreed it seemed like a bulging/herniated disc.

When my back has gone in the past it has been at the gym, usually deadlifting, and there's is a "pop" in my lumber spine followed a minute or two later by fairly extreme pain and inability to stand up straight. That hasn't happened in over a year though. It's just sore/stiff occasionally.

It feels pretty much normal now.

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Re: Modifying a bike for lower back problems

Postby ALIHISGREAT » Sun Nov 11, 2012 22:30 pm

Stupot101 wrote:Disc problems, I think. Not a pulled muscle.

Been to the doc about it but he wouldn't send me for a scan. He agreed it seemed like a bulging/herniated disc.

When my back has gone in the past it has been at the gym, usually deadlifting, and there's is a "pop" in my lumber spine followed a minute or two later by fairly extreme pain and inability to stand up straight. That hasn't happened in over a year though. It's just sore/stiff occasionally.

It feels pretty much normal now.


Your GP should be able to refer you to a physio on the NHS... they might be able to help you out.


As far as the bike goes.. I'd steer clear until you've sorted you back out.

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Re: Modifying a bike for lower back problems

Postby northpole » Mon Nov 12, 2012 14:10 pm

I'm no back expert but I have experienced a seriously out of sorts lower lumbar region. The NHS were extremely unhelpful, no doubt for budgetry reasons. An MRI scan will be extremely useful for you - especially if your intention is to return to either weight lifting or running. You will have to keep pestering your doctor to get this on the NHS and I suspect there will be a number of physio referrals required before the doctor will be permitted to tick the MRI box.

In the meantime, I suggest you arrange a session with an osteopath who should be able to feel the extent of muscle guarding which will be a crude but fairly reliable indicator as to how your back is currently recovering and, more importantly, what sort of exercise you are capable of undertaking.

My favourite sporting activity was running. The strong advice my osteo gave me was to abandon it as the impact forces will work against me and ultimately impose recurrence of lumbar problems. I cannot imagine you should even be considering going anywhere near a gym for weight lifting. If your back is still in spasm mode, you may find it helpful to wear a support belt - available from chemists. This is a very short term solution as it weakens your core strength.

Cycling started in earnest for me as a recovery programme for my back - but only after the muscle guarding had eased off sufficiently.

Core strength is really important and I note you have addressed this as part of your gymn regime - I wish I had applied myself with greater vigour to this aspect!

You will need to concentrate on posture on the bike, ensuring your hip angle and back straightness are optimised to reduce loadings on the lumbar area. As part of recovery I would also suggest you have a bike fit to ensure you are not over stretching - something which isn't always obvious. Final point when you get out on the bike is to avoid pulling high gears at low speeds, especially when accelerating - this loads up the lower back unnecessarily and will do you no good whatsoever.

Hope there is something useful in the above - strongest recommendations - get an MRI, even if you have to pay for it; and see an osteopath who should be able to point you in the right direction.

Peter

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KingOfTheTailwind
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Re: Modifying a bike for lower back problems

Postby KingOfTheTailwind » Mon Nov 12, 2012 15:40 pm

Yes I agree the NHS can be unhelpful with things like this. Unless you crawl into the surgery on your hands and knees then you don't get a scan! I'll maybe make another appointment and start pestering them. I've never really considered an osteopath before. I've equated them with chiropracters, who I have no faith in. Maybe worth a look though.

My lower back problems have been ongoing for 3 years or so. However with being careful about what weight lifting exercises I do I'm able to manage it quite well. It's not in spasm and hasn't been since early last year, when I decided it would be a good idea to start deadlifting again a few weeks before the marathon relay. Bad idea! I'm pain free pretty much all the time, as long as I'm careful.

Definitely felt very over-stretched on the bike yesterday. Hopefully after a proper fitting I'll get my position right.

Thanks for the input.

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KingOfTheTailwind
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Re: Modifying a bike for lower back problems

Postby KingOfTheTailwind » Fri Nov 16, 2012 20:59 pm

Had a bike fit tonight. Bit of an eye opener. Saddle raised and moved back, stem flipped back the way it originally was to lower the bars, two spacers moved above the stem to lower further. Basically to stretch my position. The before and after video analysis made it so obvious what I was doing wrong. Everything!

He said while my core was very strong the way I was riding meant I wasn't using any of it. He talked about how to engage the core, posture, pedalling style, arm position. I'd thoroughly recommend it for beginners.

If you're from Northern Ireland the guy is called Leo Neenan from NI Biomechanics.

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Re: Modifying a bike for lower back problems

Postby Hoopdriver » Sat Nov 17, 2012 07:04 am

I suffered a ruptured disc a few years ago and so am reasonably cautious. A good bike fit is crucial. Something else I found helpful is getting drop bars with bends better designed for touring. I havve the Nitto Noodle on my bikes. More comfortable on your wrists when riding n an upright position, I find.

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Re: Modifying a bike for lower back problems

Postby CTC » Sat Nov 17, 2012 09:13 am

Lot's of back problems - most of my thoracic spine has been fused with a large rod to stop my curvature getting worse (scoliosis). I've still got a small compensatory curve in my lumbar.
Tried lot's of different forms of exercise from martial arts (full contact was not so good for the back, surprisingly) through various types of weightlifting and running. I had a lot of problems with bar work because of differences between right side and left side of body in terms of structure and mobility.
Kettlebells were good, but I found the bar deadlifts and squats ended up giving me pain and because my muscles around the lower spine were so tight I lost a lot of range of motion
Longer distance running also ended causing me problems, due to crap running technique and heavy landing on the heel. I found sprint intervals were good, as then when running I was up on my toes which was far better
Been seeing a good osteopath. It's now once every 2 months. She also said to stop the distance running
With the bike, I found the fit was the most important. I've also found a moderately stretched position best, but also getting cleat position was important for comfort, as was how the pelvis was rotating on the seat (mix of seat height/forward backwards position)
The resistance training I now do is Calisthenics/bodyweight exercise. Best I've found is the excellently name 'Convict Conditioning'. Feel much better than I did weight training (I always seemed to be aching) and my flexibility is back. It mostly concentrates on core strength, but also hits the major muscle groups with 6 compound exercises


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