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  1. #1
    Senior Member 5kdad's Avatar
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    Lower Back Pain....Time To Consider a Recumbent?

    I've biked some for the past 12 years or so, but really got into it this summer. Bought a good road bike (Felt Z-100), have ridden over 2,000 miles this year, including RAGBRAI.
    The past couple months, I've developed some lower back pain. Doc says he thinks it's an L5 vertebrae. Not had an MRI to confirm.
    I"ve always been intrigued by recumbents. Just wondering, is this the kind of problem that would be solved if I bought a recumbent? I've read where the average recumbent rider is over 50, overweight, and has a beard. That's me!
    2011 Ride Across Arkansas:
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    A crank forward like a RANS Street or Citi can also provide relief from back pain. You're not sitting bolt upright and lower to to the ground than on a traditional DF bike and you can go nearly as fast because the crank is rotated forward on the frame. If you like it, you may want to consider a 'bent if that's your ticket.

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    Several back pain sufferers over on the www.bentrideronline.com site claim recumbentcy cleared theirs up. They say that a winter layoff causes their back pain to return in about six weeks. This has been my experience also. IMHO I advize to leave the crank forward models alone, you need a full backrest. Start with a used Sun EZ-1 or better yet, choose one of the 2010 Rans lineup, as just detailed on their site.

  4. #4
    Senior Member gcottay's Avatar
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    Let the test rides begin! Between rides, you might want to invest a few minutes at BentRider Online.

    My guess is that given your current riding ability you may want to go beyond some of the typical "starter" bents.
    George
    Laissez les bon temps rouler

  5. #5
    Senior Member BlazingPedals's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 5kdad View Post
    ... I've read where the average recumbent rider is over 50, overweight, and has a beard. That's me!
    Yes, but we're trying to break that image, so we're only accepting applications from fuzz-chinned, skinny 20 year olds

    Back problems are very individual. Some recumbents may help, some may make the condition worse. The only way to tell is to try some out. Same advice as always applies: try out as many different styles and models as you can, then do it again.

  6. #6
    Senior Member late's Avatar
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    Raise Dat Stem!

    by Bob Gordon

    A flat back is one of the hallmarks of an experienced cyclist, particularly a racer, and over the years I have seen the prevailing attitudes towards rider positioning devolve to the point where if you don't cycle with your back parallel to the ground, you're cast off as a beginner.

    But like many other concepts recreational riders adopt, the low back originated in the professional ranks after extensive research in aerodynamics proved this would help the fast go faster. Competitive athletes routinely sacrifice both their short and long term health for the express purpose of winning, but you may have a different agenda.

    Lower back disc problems peak the ages of 30 and 50. There are many causes, but if your back pain is exacerbated by riding, it's a good bet the cause is bouncing around on your bike while your lower spine is extensively flexed (loss of lower back arch). A low, forward torso causes the inner portion of the disc (the nucleus purposes) to press back against the outer restraining fibers (the annulus fibroses). This pressure eventually causes the disc to bulge or herniate. The nearby nerves get squeezed, and the next thing you know, someone like me is telling you you have sciatica.

    Cycling mitigates some of the problems of a habitually flexed lumbar spine because of the "bridge effect" that's created by resting some of your weight on your hands. But the lumbar region and its soft tissues are still at risk just by being continuously hyper flexed, and if you sit all day at your job, the danger is compounded.

    On the flip side, cycling entirely upright does not solve the problem either. True, the inter-vertebral discs and spinal ligaments are in a more neutral position and absorb shock better, but the load is now transmitted axially, which is fatiguing and jarring. Also, in a bolt-upright position you can't use your gluteus or hamstrings to great advantage, which means your thighs (quadriceps) get overworked, you lose a lot of power, the unused hamstrings and gluteal muscles go flabby, and you catch all that wind. It's hard to be happy about all that, racer or no.

    There is, however, a position that allows good performance while minimizing risk of lower back injury. I like a stem height and length that puts your back about 50 degrees from horizontal, while your arms and legs
    bend slightly at the elbows, as shown in figure 2 up there. To achieve this, you'll probably have to raise your bars, and assuming you want to keep the same bar style (as opposed to riding with stingray bars or something), that usually means getting another stem, one with a taller quill or a steep rise to it. If you hit the sweet spot, a photo of you from the side will reveal a nice pyramid composed of top tube, torso and arms.'

    In addition, you need to make your back stronger with core exercises. It's just something old farts need to do.
    We are as gods, we might as well get good at it.
    Stewart Brand

  7. #7
    Quirky Grifter LesterOfPuppets's Avatar
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    I used to get lower back pain. Now I do 200 twisting crunches per day, during commercials in the evening news.
    1980ish Free Spirit Sunbird fixed * 1996 Mongoose IBOC Zero-G * 1997 KHS Comp * 1990-ish Scapin * Lemond Buenos Aires Triple

  8. #8
    blissful
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    Quote Originally Posted by 5kdad View Post
    I've developed some lower back pain. Doc says he thinks it's an L5 vertebrae.
    YMMV, but my experience is that recumbents can help heal a
    bad back (consult with your medical advisor, of course).

    Mine was L5-S1 degenerated/herniated disc with nerve damage. Doctor
    said surgery was indicated. Physical therapy helped enough to avoid
    surgery. MD and PT said road bike body position would not be good for
    my disc condition.

    I bought a BikeE and within 6 months of when my MD said I'd need surgery
    to recover, I was riding 30-40 miles at a time. No surgery! The rear shock
    on the BikeE helped reduce road bump impact transfered to my lower back,
    and the upright seating and (added) lumbar support allowed me to prevent
    disc pressure on the nerve that an DF road biking position would aggravate.

    That was 1998. Since then, my BikeE has company, a Tour Easy, and
    a Volae Sport. The advice to try as many different models as possible
    is good. However, I've bought all of mine without the benefit of long
    test rides. In fact, I bought the Tour Easy sight unseen and seat
    unridden.

    I'm just sad that it took a back problem to learn about recumbents.
    I have more than 16,000 recumbent miles and less than 1 mile on
    upright bikes ridden since...

    Good luck with your recovery.

    Jon M

  9. #9
    Senior Member charly17201's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 5kdad View Post
    ......The past couple months, I've developed some lower back pain. Doc says he thinks it's an L5 vertebrae. Not had an MRI to confirm.
    .....I've read where the average recumbent rider is over 50, overweight, and has a beard. That's me!
    I move to a bent because of shoulder and neck pain and haven't looked back at DFs. Pain free when I ride now. One thing you'll want to do is really look at the seat structure as there are different kinds and materials - foam padded or not, molded and not, mesh, etc. see what works best. some you can mix and match, others you can't so easily wihout doing mods.

    Over 50? close but no cigar; bearded - I can't make it more than a month without shaving; overweigth - well, not technically, just not all where it is supposed to be.
    Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm.

    In response to bicycling being so dangerous: "We could all died today from any number of accidents. I'm not going to stop living to keep from dying." The Northern Tier by Lief Carlsen

  10. #10
    Senior Member Dchiefransom's Avatar
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    I'd find a shop with recumbents and try them out. I would definitely raise my stem like in late's post. New bikes are always great. See if changing your postion on the Felt solves the problem. A more upright position might require a different seat.
    Silver Eagle Pilot

  11. #11
    Who has a good sense of humor for going along with my little April Fool Gag (The Admin) Mr. Markets's Avatar
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    49 now, bought one of these two years ago or so and would never go back to DF. I might add a
    Big Dummy to my collection of pretty much one at some point (I have a few DF's I may sell but I
    am waiting to see if the kids want them).

    I went bent because my back was getting stiff (some arthritis but not bad), neck was getting stiff,
    and hands were getting numb. All of that is gone on the bent! Yeah, you won't find me in any pace
    lines, but aI am a rec rider anyway, so I might as well enjoy what I am riding...

    BTW, Greg Peek @ Longbikes is great to work with, and I ended up ordering direct from them to
    get an extra-long frame plus custom color, beefier wheels, etc.

  12. #12
    Senior Member Dchiefransom's Avatar
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    There's a recumbent dealer in Springdale, Ar.

    http://www.springdalebicycle.com/
    Silver Eagle Pilot

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    Quote Originally Posted by 5kdad View Post
    I've biked some for the past 12 years or so, but really got into it this summer. Bought a good road bike (Felt Z-100), have ridden over 2,000 miles this year, including RAGBRAI.
    The past couple months, I've developed some lower back pain. Doc says he thinks it's an L5 vertebrae. Not had an MRI to confirm.
    I"ve always been intrigued by recumbents. Just wondering, is this the kind of problem that would be solved if I bought a recumbent? I've read where the average recumbent rider is over 50, overweight, and has a beard. That's me!
    If I remember correctly it was L5 in lower back which caused me to go under the knife 20 years ago. Probably should get the MRI to confirm, especially if you have the shooting pains into hip, leg etc. By the time I had my surgery I had atrophy in muscles of my right leg. Your condition may differ.

    I do ride a recumbent toay at age of 62 and can testify of it's comfort for me. Don't know if it would solve your problem but in general it is my belief it puts a lot less stress on the body.

  14. #14
    Senior Member BlazingPedals's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by late View Post
    Raise Dat Stem!
    ...
    I don't know about everyone else on this forum, but I find it condescending when someone starts telling me that discomfort on an upright *must* be caused by either a fit problem or weakness in my 'core.' I expect it on an upright forum; but 5kdad came here to ask if a recumbent would help. If he'd wanted fitting advice, he could have gone to another forum.

  15. #15
    Quirky Grifter LesterOfPuppets's Avatar
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    "late" posted an article and I was just sharing my experience about crunches, how is that condescending? It certainly seemed apropos to the subject line. The crux of the OPs post, "Just wondering, is this the kind of problem that would be solved if I bought a recumbent?" is a question that can only be answered, and even then would garner guesses at best, by a specialized PHd.

    The only proper answer is "Maybe". Judging from your first post, I'm sure you already knew that, however.

    Two years ago, I was just about to sell all my bikes so I could get into a recumbent. I had just moved and tweaked my back during the move. I have a birth defect that left me with one incompletely formed spinal segment, so it's really touchy.

    Anyways, I had to live through about a month solid of back pain, but eventually lots of crunches and stretching overcame it. Back on the road bike for another 10 years or so, knock on wood. I'd still love to have a recumbent for easy rides on roads with mellow traffic and wide shoulders - maybe after I pay off my loan.
    Last edited by LesterOfPuppets; 10-13-09 at 07:49 AM.
    1980ish Free Spirit Sunbird fixed * 1996 Mongoose IBOC Zero-G * 1997 KHS Comp * 1990-ish Scapin * Lemond Buenos Aires Triple

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    Works for me

    I have some pretty serious back issues that cause a lot of pain and once caused partial right leg numbness and weakness. I can't say that riding my bent has cured me but it has greatly relieved my symptoms. I ride a Rans Tailwind and V2 (just re-released as a Formula for 2010). I find that my seat and position on my bikes are the most comfortable place for me. While I am riding I experience no pain even in the midst of a painful flare-up in my back pain. The Rans seat for me is ideal. You have to find the bike you can say that about for yourself, though, because I am sure your shape and size differ from mine.

  17. #17
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    Talk to your doctor, but recumbent riding (both stationary and not) have helped my back a lot. I've got a Stratus XP, picked after trying a number of different bikes and styles.

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    A Rans CF doesn't have a seatback but it does have the recumbent seat and when you sit down, you sit down in a relaxed posture so you don't stress the spine and back. And pedaling forward is easier on the body than pedaling up and down. Some people cannot ride a DF at all and may not be into a recumbent so its a good compromise choice for them.

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    We all agree on the need to strengthen the core muscles. I've had off and on sciatica sometimes to the point of excruciating pain since I turned 40. Crunches and superman (as in flying) excercises and chiropractic care got me thru it. Now when I have a flare up, I ride can ride my bike and it gets better. I think a lot of my back problems was from stress. Since I retired Nov. 08, I've not had any pain and Doc took me off Lipitor also. Could be my biking helped me with the stress from being a PWD. Last couple of years I worked, I commuted by bike and had no back problems. I do ride a diamond frame but really love my Giant Revivo semi recumbent. Another sugestion would be an adjustable stem.
    Good luck.
    Tony

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    A DF can still be safely ridden if people would just raise dat stem! There is no need to ape fashion when you can be comfortable. If you like to ride upright and other people don't care for it, well its their bear to deal with. Your happiness is more important than any need you feel to look "cool" to them.

  21. #21
    Senior Member BlazingPedals's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tony N. View Post
    We all agree on the need to strengthen the core muscles.
    Since we're on the recumbent forum, I'll answer that in recumbent-ese. 5kdad's doctor may decide that core exercises may help; in which case he'll prescribe some sort of PT. Otherwise, the "need to strengthen the core muscles" doesn't exist here.

  22. #22
    Quirky Grifter LesterOfPuppets's Avatar
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    The bike that felt the best on my back and neck was a SWB USS with a mesh seat and back. Don't recall the make. I guess with my current commute I could ride that. Perhaps I should start perusing the CL.

    I wouldn't want to take it downtown, however. Train tracks and potholes wouldn't seem fun.
    1980ish Free Spirit Sunbird fixed * 1996 Mongoose IBOC Zero-G * 1997 KHS Comp * 1990-ish Scapin * Lemond Buenos Aires Triple

  23. #23
    blissful
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    Quote Originally Posted by LesterOfPuppets View Post
    The bike that felt the best on my back and neck was a SWB USS with a mesh seat and back. Don't recall the make. I guess with my current commute I could ride that. Perhaps I should start perusing the CL.

    I wouldn't want to take it downtown, however. Train tracks and potholes wouldn't seem fun.
    Tracks and potholes may not be as big an issue you might project.

    I ride only recumbent and the roads around here are far
    from perfect.

    My BikeE has rear air shock suspension that soaks up bumps
    for a very smooth ride. My Tour Easy LWB frame and medium
    width tires handle rough surfaces and RR tracks very well, too,
    My Volae SWB with stiff frame and high pressure tires transfers
    more of the road shock, but I don't have a problem negotiating
    RR tracks on it.

    CLWB or SWB seems to be preferable by many as recumbent
    commuter bikes. Something like the Challenge Mistral that
    I rented for our Netherlands bike tour last year could be just
    the ticket.

    Someone mentioned "wide shoulders"... The road width
    requirements for recumbents are no different in my
    experience than for DF bikes. I certainly prefer riding
    wide smooth shoulders, but most places I ride don't
    have these.

    Jon

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by BlazingPedals View Post
    but I find it condescending
    What Late posted from Mr. Gordon is one of the smartest posts I've ever read on this entire site. I agree 1,000% and would go further to add than many a recumbent rider, thinking they were too "something" to ride an upright any longer, could have stayed on an upright had they set up a higher stem. I'm referring to a Rivendell type (or you may call retrogrouch) fit where the higher older quill type stem brings the bars to or above a classic leather saddle height.

    I know there are many exceptions that involve back issues well beyond my scope. But recumbent riders (and all riders) seem to think there's only a mountain bike option or a racer wannabe with your chin on the front tire. There's an in-between many have missed that's still light, cheaper than a bent, and easy to transport. And if you can't drop $2,800 on a Rivendell it can be accomplished for under $300 on an older steel road bike.

    Before the flames roar I ended up at this point after riding upright, then bent, a Rans crank forward, and now old road steel. I've never been more comfortable and my core seems to have strengthened itself, something I never gained from 2,000 miles on a long wheelbase bent.

  25. #25
    Senior Member 5kdad's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by late View Post
    Raise Dat Stem!

    by Bob Gordon

    A flat back is one of the hallmarks of an experienced cyclist, particularly a racer, and over the years I have seen the prevailing attitudes towards rider positioning devolve to the point where if you don't cycle with your back parallel to the ground, you're cast off as a beginner.

    But like many other concepts recreational riders adopt, the low back originated in the professional ranks after extensive research in aerodynamics proved this would help the fast go faster. Competitive athletes routinely sacrifice both their short and long term health for the express purpose of winning, but you may have a different agenda.

    Lower back disc problems peak the ages of 30 and 50. There are many causes, but if your back pain is exacerbated by riding, it's a good bet the cause is bouncing around on your bike while your lower spine is extensively flexed (loss of lower back arch). A low, forward torso causes the inner portion of the disc (the nucleus purposes) to press back against the outer restraining fibers (the annulus fibroses). This pressure eventually causes the disc to bulge or herniate. The nearby nerves get squeezed, and the next thing you know, someone like me is telling you you have sciatica.

    Cycling mitigates some of the problems of a habitually flexed lumbar spine because of the "bridge effect" that's created by resting some of your weight on your hands. But the lumbar region and its soft tissues are still at risk just by being continuously hyper flexed, and if you sit all day at your job, the danger is compounded.

    On the flip side, cycling entirely upright does not solve the problem either. True, the inter-vertebral discs and spinal ligaments are in a more neutral position and absorb shock better, but the load is now transmitted axially, which is fatiguing and jarring. Also, in a bolt-upright position you can't use your gluteus or hamstrings to great advantage, which means your thighs (quadriceps) get overworked, you lose a lot of power, the unused hamstrings and gluteal muscles go flabby, and you catch all that wind. It's hard to be happy about all that, racer or no.

    There is, however, a position that allows good performance while minimizing risk of lower back injury. I like a stem height and length that puts your back about 50 degrees from horizontal, while your arms and legs
    bend slightly at the elbows, as shown in figure 2 up there. To achieve this, you'll probably have to raise your bars, and assuming you want to keep the same bar style (as opposed to riding with stingray bars or something), that usually means getting another stem, one with a taller quill or a steep rise to it. If you hit the sweet spot, a photo of you from the side will reveal a nice pyramid composed of top tube, torso and arms.'

    In addition, you need to make your back stronger with core exercises. It's just something old farts need to do.

    Thanks for your extensive post, all good information. I'm currently not doing any core exercises, but did recently run across an article in a Bicycling magazine on back pain, and they showed many core exercises.
    My bike, the Felt Z100 is more upright than a regular road bike, but I'll try raising the stem and see if that helps.
    2011 Ride Across Arkansas:
    http://ozarkcyclingphotographer.blog...-arkansas.html

    RAGBRAI 2009-Photos and narrative:
    http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/5329

    My seven days on the Katy Trail in Missouri:
    http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/2094

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