Biking is an excellent form of exercise that can increase the strength and flexibility of many of the muscle groups that provide some type of support for the backbone. It can also be an effective way to enhance posture and maintain a healthy weight, two other things that are good for the spine. However, it’s just as important to take some precautions when riding any type of bike to reduce the risk of experiencing back and neck injuries from an accidental impact or tumble.
Choose a Comfortable, Supportive Bike
If you have existing spine issues that make bumps along a road or path risky, be extra choosy when picking your bike. For instance, large tires and more shock absorption can ease stress on the spine. Also, before you hop on for a ride, be mindful of:
• Seat position
• Handlebar height
• Tension on the rear derailleur*
*This part moves the chain and helps the bike change gears. If it’s too tight, you may end up overworking your hamstrings and other spine-supporting muscles.
Keep Your Skill Level and Surroundings in Mind
It’s often said that once you learn how to ride a bike, you never forget. While you may recall the basic technique, you might still need to brush up on your actual abilities if it’s been a while since you’ve biked. Start slowly and stick to smooth, flat surfaces.
Even if you’re an experienced cyclist, it’s important to keep an eye on your surroundings as you ride, especially if you’ll be biking when on vacation. If you’ll be biking on an unfamiliar path or trail, either check it out online to see what other riders are saying or, if possible, go for a walk along your intended bike path to get an idea of what to look out for. It may also be wise to avoid:
• Paths with excessive turns or twists
• Steep hills or roads
• Trails that are excessively uneven or wet
Don’t Mix Alcohol and Bike Riding
In many states, it’s illegal to ride a bike on a public road while intoxicated. However, even if you plan to ride on paths, trails, or private property, it’s never smart to ride a bike while impaired because doing so greatly increases the risk of sustaining a spine injury from an impact or fall. It’s also best to stay off of a bike if you’re impaired by over-the-counter or prescription medication that makes you drowsy or slows your reaction time.
Always Wear a Helmet
There are no universal helmet laws in any state for bicycle riders. However, it’s a good idea to get into the habit of wearing one to minimize injuries in case you fall. This also applies to motorcycles. While there has been some debate over whether or not motorcycle helmets increase accident risks or contribute to neck injuries, newer research suggests helmets actually lower neck injury risk.
Further reduce the odds of experiencing spine pain during or after riding by working your core muscles with other forms of exercise. Changing positions can also minimize issues with repetitive stress injuries. If you experience any unusual back, neck, or radiating nerve pain, take a break and see a Santa Monica spine surgeon.
Get in touch with The Spine Institute today if you’ve experienced a back or neck injury related to bicycling or another form of physical activity. We offer a wide variety of procedures, from traditional fusion surgery to spinal fusion alternatives. Santa Monica patients can call 310-828-7757 to schedule an in-person evaluation.