How I fixed my back pain so I could cycle to Paris
This article is by Sam D a patient at the Angel Chiropractic Clinic and describes the run up to his bike ride to Paris and the onset of his low back pain.
As his chiropractor for a few years previous I was skeptical about how Sam was going to manage with the trip once his low back problem reared its ugly head again!
I was also skeptical about how any change to his bike would take the pressure off his disc enough for him to carry on training and complete the trip.
Sam went to see a man at ‘On Your Bike’ at London Bridge and it made a massive difference to his ability to ride his bike long distances. So much so I went to see ‘the man at the bike shop’, Denver Collins and asked him to share his expertise with me.
London to Paris bike ride
This event is organised annually by Scope, which is a charity supporting cerebral palsy. Scope has the mission statement ‘Our vision is a world where disabled people have the same opportunities to fulfil their life ambitions as non-disabled people’ so raising money via a bike ride to Paris seemed very appropriate.
I entered the London2paris cycle as a team of four, with two pairs to complete the 300 mile distance in relay. None of us had any serious cycling background prior to entering and to successfully complete the trip we would each pair would have to cycle about 180 miles.
There was good support by the event organizers and they organised the transportation of the non-riding relay partner to each checkpoint. Apart from the channel crossing by ferry, the task is to cycle the entire distance within 24 hours, leaving from Greenwich and arriving at the Eiffel Tower.
My preparation involved an aggressive 12-week training schedule as supplied to us by the event organizers, with the last half of the regime featuring a minimum of 80-mile rides every weekend.
My family has a history of bad backs and I had developed disc problems several years back which prompted me to start seeing Brian at the Angel Chiropractic Clinic. I have always seen chiropractors since becoming an adult and from an early age have recognised the benefits both from a general wellbeing perspective and to manage acute episodes of chronic conditions.
The increased training brought my disc issues out of hiding and I found myself in a difficult position of managing back pain while needing to increase the amount of training. I knew that during the race I would have to get to a level of fitness and manage the pain to sustain my back for the entire 24-hour period.
Cycling, particularly on a race configured road bike, is not a natural position for the body to be in. The 'crouch' position, when the hands are on the drop of the handlebars, causes the back to arch forward. Whilst not painful in itself, after hours at a stretch and with the leg muscles working hard, I would find that this position would be contributing to back muscle strain.
To deal with the strain I found that I would need to straighten out by lying on my back periodically. As an endurance event this was going to be difficult even though it would be manageable for sprints but more difficult on the longer distances.
Brian was able to help the inflammation with chiropractic and acupuncture and in recommending stretching. Some stretches worked better than others - particularly lying on my back against a wall so that my feet were flat at 90 degrees to my body.
Pre and post training warm ups were also essential and this was in line with my philosophy of managing my health rather than take the easy option and use pain killers or ant inflammatory medication.
Brian suggested that if necessary during intensive pain anti-inflammatory medication shouldn't be ignored. Brian suggested that these be taken the night before to allow the active agents to be residual in the bloodstream.
There was immediate improvement after two visits a week to the Angel Chiropractic Clinic. The pain was less intense and the guidance to ice my back afterwards (instead of the long hot baths I had preferred - doing more harm than good!), stretch effecttively all contributed to less painful training.
I had found that later in the more aggressive stages of the training schedule, I was getting numbness in my feet. Posture is important in cycling and I though I had not recognised it, my bicycle was not as well set to my dimensions and riding style as it could have been. I went and saw Denver at ‘On Your Bike’ and for a very reasonably priced fitting he carried out an assessment.
Taking all my measurements and setting a camera to film my cycing motion, he
adjusted my handlebars, seat, and cleats as well as providing some invaluable advice on technique. I imediately felt more comfortable on the bike and was noticably faster on my usual routes.
Between Brian and Denver, I noted a conflict between optimum cycling
technique and disc pain management. To manage the disc bulge, riding
upright with the back vertically straight reduces the bulge aggravation
and is more comfortable, however to reduce drag and optimise efficiency, a crouch position is recommended. I opted to do both - as long as I varied my posture, I would get a balance of the two.
My team finished within 24 hours - with 6 minutes to spare! Travelling
at breakneck speed through Paris to finish in time was definitely a
highlight. Being well informed and prepared for the race meant that I
had little back pain to deal with and was able to enjoy the experience.
My advice for others:
• Keeping the cadence, or pedal revolutions, high when you feel the back starting to twinge. Dropping a gear to take some of the muscle strain away from pushing too hard on the pedals often meant that I could keep a pace without the strain.
• Lots of ice! I love a hot bath, but my disc hates it – especially after exercise.
• Vary your cycling position. Movement will help avoid aggravating the same pain points
• Get your bike fitted as early as possible. The measurements will help you cycle better and more healthily for the rest of your cycling life.
• On Your Bike does a basic service for a reasonable fee.
• Go easy on the anti-inflammatory medication. They are helpful, but pain is your body trying to communicate to you - try and address the root cause.
Denver Collins from On Your Bike
If you are a triathlete wanting to improve your performance or if you are looking to buy a bike for commuting to work you can benefit from his experience.
If like Sam you already have a bike and you want to make your bike fit you 'On Your Bike' can provide this service to.
Denver gives you his Top 10 tips for making cycling more comfortable.
What service does On Your Bike offer customers?
Denver talks about cycling and low back pain and neck pain.
Denver talks about cycling and hand and foot pain.