Training & Nutrition - Back pain
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Can stem length cause back pain?
07-25-01, 10:25 PM
I'm sure it could. My first MTB had straight handlebars on it and my back always hurt toward the last of a ride and some after. Put 1" risers on it and no more pain. Just that slight change of position did it. DG
Remember, you can sit up at about 45 degrees even on a road bike--there's no reason to stay tucked all the time just because it has dropped bars....
But I agree that a small difference in bar height might result in a big difference in comfort.
The back--take it from one who knows the hard way--is something you don't want to injure or stress unnecessarily if you can possibly avoid it.
If you think your stem is the wrong length, do the following test (road bikes).
While sitting comfortably in the saddle, place your hands on the hoods, and look at the handlebar. If you see the front hub axle in front of the handlebar, the stem is too short. If you see the hub axle behind the handlebar, the stem is too long. If the axle is "hidden" behind the handlebar, the stem is the right length.
As with everything else in cycling, this is not a hard and fast rule.
You might also want to get the opinion of the service manager at your LBS.
A young body like yours shouldn't be having back problems unless something is wrong. If it doesn't get better perhaps you should see a doctor.
Let us know what you do to resolve the problem.
I think my stem is to long.The first time I saw it I thought,"Whoa, that is long". So I'm going to replace it. If that doesn't work I am going to go to Riser bars, but I think the shorter stem will do the trick.
Originally posted by RonH
If you see the front hub axle in front of the handlebar, the stem is too short. If you see the hub axle behind the handlebar, the stem is too long. If the axle is "hidden" behind the handlebar, the stem is the right length.
That is an interesting test, Ron. I'm not sure if I agree with it, though, because I have had so many different bikes with different rakes on the fork, different head tube angles, etecera that the axles can be positioned at various views and I still have a good body position.
I always respect your advice, Ron, and won't argue this one loudly, but don't you think bike design would have some influence on the test you describe above?
The only time I noticed back pain from something other than road shock through the saddle (on a road bike) was if the distance from the seat to the handlebars was too SHORT.
When the bike is too long, your arms get tired/sore. When the bike is to short, your back gets sore.
You can fiddle with the stem height, but that isn't the real solution. If there is a solution with the stem, it is in getting one with a length that adds up to correct overall saddle to handlebar distance.
Here is a description of proper length fit from Edward Dolan in his book Bicycle Touring and Camping "Lean forward and grasp the lower hooks (drops) on the handlebar. You should be able to hold the hooks with your elbows slightly flexed, just short of being locked. Your backbone should be straight and your bottom should rest comfortably on the saddle.
Hope this helps.
The other thing is that you are new to road bikes, Fubar. Assuming you have the proper fit and adjustment, the rest is getting used to it and strengthening those muscles you have not yet developed for road biking. Is your neck sore yet? If not, that's next.
07-27-01, 01:02 AM
I believe the "hub" test described above is problematic as there can definitely be exceptions ie: someone with along torso who needs a long stem to "lay out " on the bike on a bike with a shorter, ( "stock") top tube than needed, like myself. Top tube length can vary on the same size frame as much as 2 to 3 cm on stock bikes from different makers. (Some day I'll get around to getting a custom frame.)
Stem length is very personal and largely depends on how many years you've been riding, how flexible you are, what type of riding you are doing, how long you top tube is in relation to your torso and arm length, your thigh length, what your saddle "set back" is, (where you position your tibial tuberosity in relation to your pedal axle in the forward (3 o'clock) positon). The "pros" tend use a stem that positions the back edge of their elbows,(with forearms level), from the front edge to the center of their knees when they're "in the drops", for maximum power, aerodynamic efficiency and lung capacity.
You can also have back pain from:
riding harder of climbing more than you're used to
not doing enough sit-ups or crunches to keep your back and stomach muscle strength balanced
not stretching enough
Ride with "Elan"
As I said, this is not a hard and fast rule.
I'm just going by what the service managers at two different bike shops told me.
Fubar, if this is a mountain bike you probably will need a shorter stem.
My problem is with my MTB, The road bike is fine, I don't have any problem with that.
07-27-01, 09:21 PM
I'm no genius about these things. But something popped up in my head which may or may not matter: is the upright position too hard on your back? I often find myself bending forward on climbs.
Did you go back to the shop that sold the bike to you and ask them for some help?
Originally posted by Pete Clark
Did you go back to the shop that sold the bike to you and ask them for some help?
No, actually I got it used from a guy at Charleston AFB. I am going to move my seat forward just a little to see if that helps, but I am becoming more and more certain that the culprit is the stem. I think Pat has a point about sit-ups and crunches, I 'm going to do more crunches and see if that helps,but crunches is more of a long-term experiment.
05-06-10, 03:51 AM
If your low back pain has lasted longer than 3 months, you will probably benefit from more intensive treatment.Back pain can have many underlying reasons, but often no specific cause will be found and the pain will stop. Your back pain may be so severe that you need to have some time off work. However, if this is the case, you should aim to return to work as soon as possible.
05-08-10, 11:13 AM
cycling shouldn't hurt like that.
05-12-10, 08:27 PM
I used to have back problems while I was cycling. I got a bike fit which resulted in shortening my stem, however this didn't really solve the problem. I started doing core workouts specifically focusing on my lower back (where my pain was) and after about 6 months the back pain was gone (not completely, but a whole lot better).
I still have back pain from time to time but doing core strength and getting a bike fit made a huge difference
05-18-10, 08:35 AM
Please excuse my interuption, as this is my first post. I have a background in ultra-marathon cycling from the '80s. I dropped out of the cycling scene about 20 years ago, but have recently returned. This is my take on Fubar's back pain:
I remember reading about the method to use the hub sighting many years ago in bike books and magazines, but even then I was suspicious of it. Mike mentioned something that I recently discovered myself. I am now riding a bike that has a longer reach from saddle to handlebar than my old bike. But the longer reach is due to a longer top tube, rather than a longer stem. I'm not sure if that matters though when addressing this issue, other than the end result is a longer reach overall. I used to have a LOT of lower back pain 20 years ago with that shorter reach, and I never considered that more reach might actually help. But here I am with a body that's 20 years older and not as flexible. But having been on this new bike for about 2 months, I am convinced that the longer reach is allowing me a better position for my back. Last weekend I rode an old VERY HILLY route I haven't been on for 20 years, in addition to fighting a 30 mph headwind, and I experienced minimal back discomfort.
Of course, it's important to have strong core muscles too, and to balance them out. Climbing in the saddle can put a lot of stress on your back, and I have always tried to emphasize climbing OUT of the saddle as much as IN the saddle. As far as making a decision to how long your stem should be, this too can change over time, as you become more/less flexible and more/less strong. Just keep talking to people who have had a lot of time in the saddle, and make sure to listen to your own body. Above all, take your time, as the back is something you don't want to test to harshly. Best of luck! :)
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