Lower back issues

I’ve been riding for about 18 months and I still have lower back muscle fatigue issues which force me to stop on rides or at least spoil the fun. I have asked the more experienced local riders what they though but it seems that the issue isn’t as universal as I had hoped. That said I thought I would appeal to the broader community for answers. Not sure why I didn’t join here sooner duh:D

So, I ride a mix of trials and mucking about on my 20 (nothing that would impress but relevant to the topic) Muni on my 26’er and road riding on my 36’er (less than 4 hours thus far but enough of a go to be relevant here).

On my 20, there is no problem at all and I could ride till “bell bottoms” came back into fashion without any back trouble (posture is best on the 20, maybe rolling resistance???)

On my Muni 26 I am ok on the mountain because imo of the fact that I am usually changing direction rapidly, descending or climbing or running out bails so my back issues are less apparent. That said, the moment I hit the road for short fun rides or travel any distance on gravel smooth or otherwise then the pain sets in. The frustrating thing is that cardio is not an issue and were I to get on top of the back problem only saddle soreness would cause me to stop. My posture on the 26 is better when I let go of the handle but the back pain comes regardless.

On my 36’er, there is discomfort but less so than with the 26’er and I feel this is because of what I call the “flywheel” effect caused by the big wheel taking itself between deadspot to power stroke and the reduced rolling resistance of the smooth wheel allowing me to sit up nicely. I havent fitted a touring bar yet because I would rather get some ride time under my belt before destroying it with upd’s. I wonder if it will help. My posture on the big wheel is better than it is on the 26 but not perfect.

I have tried to tilt the saddle back to force my posture to correct itself but this has not worked.


Thank you in advance, I apologise that my first post is a request of sorts but I shall endeavor to give back where I have had experience to offer.


For trials make sure to keep your back straight

I have had low back problems for years. The uni doesn’t bother it, but that could be because I also kayak, which develops core muscles. I would start some core exercises-crunches, etc. to add to good posture.

How old are you?

Did you have back problems before learning to ride?

Does your back hurt more during the ride or after the ride/between rides?

Do you do anything differently when you ride the larger wheels, such as hold the grab handle more or less, ride a higher or lower seat, etc…

Do you have any leg pains not associated with muscle use, so shooting pains, numbness, etc…

How is your posture when you ride, ie are you erect or hunched over?

Things to try:

Raise or lower your seat
Swap grab hands
Cross train
Do core building exercises
Change uni set ups, so longer cranks if you run short now, vice versa if you run long cranks
Change up your riding routine to let your body rest, so a rest day between rides, avoid hard rides back to back
Consider a different seat and/or padded shorts (if not already using them).
Consider adding a T Bar to the muni and 36er to raise your grab position which will change your posture.

Thanks for these suggestions. To answer your questions:

  1. I had nasty back problems before learning. I had a mild case of scoliosis to boot but unicycling cleared it up. I used to be in pain when driving. That is a thing of the past since I have gotten some mileage under my belt on one wheel.

  2. My back (muscles only) only begins to hurt after half an hour or so on the road particularly on my Muni 26. The second I stop the pain goes away and after a minute break I’m good for a bit more saddle time. To try and explain what I feel in my lower lumbar region, imagine holding a large bad filled with sand up with an outstretched arm. the discomfort I experience is exactly like the burn that you would feel in your shoulder near failure. Another comparison would be like bicep curls at the point where your arm is so sore that you drop the weight. You start off fine and strong but deteriorate as the rep count rises. I get more and more of a burn till I step off the uni. I am left with no ill effects afterward.

  3. On larger wheels I do tend to lean further forward. I had a friend take some pics of me riding past to check on all 3 uni’s and I was absolutely straight on the 20 but curved forward on the other 2 bigger wheel sets.

  4. Leg pain, zero! No shooting pains or anything, no complaints there.

As for your list of things to try:

I have tried only 2 of your suggestions which leaves plenty to experiment with.

Thanks for your input and the input of the other blokes too:)

Oh, I’m 36 years old and I am in the normal weight range:D

I was having morning lower back pain every day. Once I started putting 2-3 hours per week on the Unicycle, that has disappeared!

A more upright posture is clearly going to help, so get a T Bar for the muni and 36er.

Also take some NSAID’s an hour before riding as a prophylactic against inflammation.

It’s possible your seat is causing a problem, pain can radiate, though usually seat related issues radiate downward to the hips and legs.

Consider taking regular breaks and stretching lightly, also get up off the seat often when riding to reduce pressure related pain.

Sadly at 36yo you already to have same use/age related degeneration. Core building exercises can help, beware overstretching as that can aggravate the back problems.

If you have shooting pains, numbness, bowel or urinary issues, you need to see someone pronto!

First, pain is an output of your brain 100% of the time. Your brain outputs pain for a number of different reasons. Very little pain that people feel due to activity (and not be specific, traumatic incident) is due to inflammation and tissue damage is not directly related to pain (think about how much paper cuts can hurt but how little tissue is damaged).

I’m not telling you why your brain is outputting pain, just a little about pain in general because too many people have ideas about pain that can actually increase the sensation. (Pain is also, always contextual).

Even if, at 36, you have signs of degeneration, this is probably not an automatic sentence of pain. It might lead to your brain outputting pain a bit more, but this can be changed. Chances are, this will get better with time. What else do you do, activity-wise? What do you do when your back hurts or feels fatigued?

A lot of the seat height changes, riding straight, using a handle bar suggestions are great, it may tweak the mechanics of what you’re ding while riding to decrease the detection of threat and therefore decrease you pain. Also, try gong to rides that are shorter but intense so you don’t get this feeling but have fun, this can change your brain’s impression of the activity so longer rides might not be detected as a threat (that’s really why we feel pain).

Could there be tissue damage? Sure, but unlikely, given what you’ve reported here. Could there be inflammation? Sure, but inflammation does not equal pain. If you search on YouTube for “novel back movements” you’ll find a video from a PT in my area that instructs you how to do daily novel movements of your low back to help change your nervous system’s impression about low back movement. Many of us have spent a fair but of time worrying ant our low backs and this may have lead to a great deal of threat detection and pain from very innocuous and non-harmful activities. I had low back pain for 20+ years that had been blamed on the fact that I broke my femur and tore apart my knee in a bad car accident and had multiple surgeries on those parts and low back degeneration when really, I just needed to move “normally” without fear. Now I am 38, still have the scars and degeneration but play 10 times harder than I used to without pain at all. Brazilian jiu jitsu, rock climbing, kayaking and unicycling.

Do I ever get sore? …sure, but it doesn’t last anymore.

I just read more, it sounds like it’s more of an endurance issue. This is really common because we often over use our low back muscles and need to learn to be more efficient. Can you idle? I fund that learning to idle helped me sit on the saddle more and rely less on my low back muscles to control fore and aft movements. This may help to decrease this feeling of fatigue and help you build endurance and muscle efficiently.

Man do you have to start stretching, go on google and find stretching for low back pain, and then make it part of your life. Also do sit ups, start out with just a few of them and work your way up. Stretch before and after riding, maybe even during, just stop and do it. This will help.

I think that you need to sit into the saddle more and let your butt take ALL of your weight. This will help you to sit more upright and cycle with a smoother pedal action.

Hope this helps

Endurance issue for sure. My back gives no trouble outside of longer rides and returns to a comfortable state almost the second I stop riding. I cannot idle competently yet but will make the time to practice this essential but overlooked skill. The t-bar option is doable and will be my very next “mod” I have hurt my back in the past but this pain is different and seems purely muscular. I need to try some things but have taken note of all that has been said here:)

+1 on the core exercises, & the “swimming” backe exercise.

I like roll ups. I do them w/ my arms horizontal the whole time. 30 roll ups, 30 sreight leg twists (DO NOT PUSH DOWN W/ oppodite arm), 20 double leg lift w/ hip thrust, & 60 swimming, repeat 5Xs w/o rest ~ 30 min. If I can do all this I have no issues, & I ride better (spin the pedals more daster & mee smoothly, climb better, UPD less often & severely esp when getting tired.

I only do the leg twists when I can already do 30 min of the rest, & work up to streight legs. If not its easy to worsen your back w/ this exercise.

Like this but slower & pause before the thrust.

I sometimes get pain in the lower back if I am wearing a tight belt and stoop or lean over for extended periods.

Do you have any article of clothing or protective gear that might be inhibiting your range of movement, cutting into your circulation, or pressing into your body while you’re riding?

Is it possible the differences in the seats between the unicycles could somehow be a factor (perhaps you can swap seats and note any change)?

No more back pain

I had chronic back pain for years before I ever rode a uni. My body took alot of abuse during the many years I studied acrobatics. I wasn’t surprised that my back started to bother me when I started to ride the uni. I bought an elastic back support at Models and took an occasional Advil if I was going to ride for hours. My body was conditioned to be strong and flexible from a young age so I do not think I developed any more strength or flexibility while riding, but my back pain is pretty much gone. I think the uni helped me get ride of my older back problems. My turning point from back pain started once I changed the tire. I had a tire that was terrible on road crown and I was always fighting to keep the uni on the rode. I bought the Apple Marathon Supreme for my 29" and it solved my problem. I don’t need the back support or Advil any longer and my back has not felt this good since I was a kid. This is just my experience, good luck.

Pilates is great for lower back pain. Take a few classes, then you can do a lot of the stretches at home if you are disciplined. I have a 10 minute routine I do every day. If I miss more than a day, my back starts hurting. I also have a yoga strap to help me to hamstring stretches and a foam roller which helps too.

Good luck.

Thanks chaps, all very useful stuff to consider!

I also have some lower back problems, but I do some exercises that will help strengthen my lower back. When I ride my unicycle, I totally forget about the pain because I enjoy what I do :slight_smile: