by Alan Bragman, D.C.
Question: I am a 55-year-old, 5’ 4” cyclist who has bouts of neck pain on the left side and lower back pain on the right side. I ride about 200 miles per week and when hill climbing I can’t always straighten out my body to get the full push up the climb. Would shorter cranks or a stem riser buy me anything? I try to ride at a cadence of 90 to 105. I would appreciate any thoughts. — Edward H.
Alan Bragman, D.C., Replies: Cycling places the body in a very unnatural position biomechanically. This awkward position commonly causes neck and lower back pain, especially as we age, Edward. At 55 years old, riding around 200 miles a week translates to a lot of hours spent in the saddle.
Aging causes numerous changes in the musculoskeletal system, including a loss of muscle mass, muscle and joint flexibility, elasticity with stiffening of joint capsules, ligaments, fascia, tendons and surrounding soft tissue. While these changes cannot be eliminated, they can be minimized with proper strength and resistance training, flexibility and stretching workouts, combined with core training.
Activities such as yoga and pilates can also be very beneficial. Devoting adequate time to these other activities should help make your time spent on the bike more comfortable and enjoyable.
You should also consider having your position on the bike checked by an expert at your local bike shop. The position on the bike should be modified by being less extreme as we age. This generally involves raising the bar and stem, and possibly changing the saddle position and stem length.
Alan Bragman is a chiropractor living in Atlanta, Georgia. He is a former Cat 3 cyclist and nationally ranked inline speed skater. He was on the medical advisory board at Bicycling magazine for 10 years and has written for other sports publications.