Why do mountain bike seats hurt

Prevent back pain while mountain biking

Back pain is the most common “non-traumatic” health problem when mountain biking - it just doesn't have to be. A few simple measures can solve the problem and you no longer have to groan in pain while tying your shoes. Phil Mack of Peebles Physiotherapy in Scotland shares his insider knowledge in this article.

As I myself am a mountain biker and sports physiotherapist in Peebles, Scotland - arguably the most popular mountain bike destination in Great Britain - I regularly come across riders who have various different injuries and complaints. And our statistics show that back pain is becoming more and more common.

What is the main cause of back pain while mountain biking?

There are several reasons for back pain associated with mountain biking. But the main cause is the heavy backpacks you see everywhere these days - and they still seem to be getting heavier!

When you go on day trips in the mountains or on the home trails, often in very remote areas, it is also important for safety to be prepared in case you have to repair something on the bike or if the weather changes. Of course you also need enough to eat and drink, first aid kit and sometimes even a rescue blanket. The backpack can easily weigh over 10 kg.

The position of the backpack when driving should also be considered. The middle back bears the majority of the load of the backpack, whereby the lower back acts as a kind of suspension between the strong, stable pelvic and hip area and the backpack. Therefore, the lower back has to work incredibly hard to maintain a neutral position, and the soft tissue structures (muscles, tendons, and ligaments) are easily overloaded in the process, causing pain.

It is not unusual to have back pain after a long tour. But if the pain doesn't go away after a few days, or if you're in constant pain while driving, then it's time to do something about it.

Other causes

Weak core muscles are a very common cause of lower back pain. When biking, your back forms a kind of suspension bridge, with the shoulders and pelvis forming the pillars. The middle back is still supported by the rib cage and the lower back is the vulnerable weak point. And when you add a heavy backpack, it's not surprising that so many drivers have back problems. Having strong core muscles will help protect your lower back and make it easier to maintain a strong, stable position.

Poor hip mobility is also on the list of causes of back pain. Some drivers have tense hip muscles, especially the hip flexors, glutes and piriformis muscles. When these muscles are permanently tight, it leads to increased lateral pelvic movement, and then the lower back has to work harder to compensate - which in turn leads to back pain. Poor hip mobility can also lead to other problems, such as ilio-tibial ligament syndrome ("runner's knee") or knee pain.

An incorrect position on the bike is also a common problem. The wrong bike size (especially a frame that is too big, which leads to hyperextension) and the wrong saddle height are two common mistakes that can lead to back pain and other ailments such as hip pain. Less obvious mistakes such as stem and crank length or the horizontal saddle position can also contribute to back pain.

How can you prevent back pain while mountain biking?

Reconsider your backpack strategy

Finds ways to reduce the overall weight of the backpack. Water weighs 1 kg per liter. So if you have a bottle holder, pack it for example. B. Put in two full 750 ml bottles, from which you either drink directly or which you transfer into the hydration bladder during the tour. This can potentially reduce the load on your back by 1.5 kg.

Backpacks with hip pockets help to reduce the load on the back, hip pockets such as the SOURCE Hipster Hydration Belt or the EVOC HIP PACK RACE ensure that the weight is concentrated further down, which is good. Also consider using a small saddlebag for your tools to save weight on your back.
Bike manufacturers like Specialized have recently been developing original solutions for storing objects on the bike instead of on the back - a good thing!

There are a lot of new products that allow you to carry the really important things without a backpack. The racing biker-like jerseys with back pockets may not look too cool on a mountain bike, but because the pockets are lower than a backpack, the weight is better distributed. There are now also special tops with storage space such as the Race Face Tank - also a way to have everything you need with you without a backpack!

Change your technique uphill

Many of us were once taught that we should climb inclines sitting down. If you have a heavy backpack on, it puts even more strain on your lower back. Riding normally while standing reduces the strain on the lower back because the spine is in a more neutral position. What also helps to reduce the strain on the lower back is climbing uphill in a slightly lower gear and with a higher cadence.

Improve your core strength

Strong core muscles help protect your back while driving by keeping it in a neutral (natural) position. It also strengthens the “bridge” between the thoracic spine and the pelvis, the area where back pain occurs most frequently. Three exercises that will help strengthen your core are the Plank, Shoulder Bridge, and Side Plank Star. However, it is crucial that you do it correctly if you are to achieve anything with it. It is therefore worth consulting an experienced (sports) physiotherapist or Pilates trainer who will show you how to do it correctly.

Improve your hip mobility
More flexible hips can improve your performance and reduce the risk of injury. The following exercises are great for doing this: deep, supported squats, lunges, stretches for glutes, hip flexors, and piriformis muscles.

Check your position on the bike
That goes without saying: Making sure that the bike fits you well is essential for performance and to avoid health problems. Find a good bike shop that has experience with mountain bike fitting. Always make small adjustments and get used to them before you make any further changes.

Physiotherapy, myofascial release and massage
If things are not going as they should and you cannot get rid of your back pain or other complaints, then experienced sports physiotherapists can find out the cause of your problem and provide you with targeted help. They can give you hands-on treatment with methods such as myofascial release, mobilization, or deep tissue massage to help you return to normal, pain-free function. They can also help you to do something for your back yourself or show you exercises that will help relieve general stiffness or other ailments. Regular sports massage also helps prevent back pain and help you recover from it faster.

My final advice is: don't just accept the pain of mountain biking as a normal condition. All drivers who came to our clinic with back pain have recovered and are now pain free. For some it takes longer to solve the problem because it has several causes and is therefore more complicated - but there is still a remedy! You just need the right advice and treatment and you have to be smart with backpacks.

About Phil Mack

Phil has over 17 years experience in physical therapy and sports science and has worked with professional international sports teams in the UK, Australia and South Africa including the South African Springboks, Leicester Tigers and Ulster Rugby and the South African Triathlon team. He himself has represented both South Africa and Great Britain in triathlon and duathlon and is a passionate mountain biker and climber.

Text: Phil Mack Photos: Catherine Smith, Trev Worsey