Upper back pain from hopping?

A month or so back I started to experience upper back issues that appear to be related to my hopping. It all started when I was learning to hop up stairs. I was definitely getting the hang of it practicing on one staircase, however after a short break I noticed a sharp pain in my back when I bent down to pick up my uni. Knowing better than to keep practicing I went home and took a few days off of unicycling and even longer from doing stairs.

I found that if I don’t do any stairs (but still some other hopping) I’m usually fine unicycling once or twice a week, but every now and then my back acts up again, often a day after I was actually out. I saw a physical therapist who gave me some exercises to do and I took an even longer break from unicycling. When I’m not unicycling everything is perfectly fine, but I’m worried things will keep acting up every time I go out and really push myself.

Has anyone else had problems like this? Any suggestions on how to avoid injuring my back while still hopping? I’m hoping there’s something off with my posture that I can correct and then have my problems disappear.

Hi there

I also had a similar problem after a couple of bad falls/twists. Months after my last ‘injury’ each time I went unicycling (specially if hopping with the Trials Uni) I would get very acute pains either in my lower back or at the base of my neck (which would afterwards turn into terrible headaches). Despite not having any apparent damage on my back the crippling pain would not get away. After many months of misery I went to the physiotherapist: he thought whatever my injury was (pulled muscle/ligament…) it should have healed completely. He was convinced it was my nerve pain system and my constant awareness of it. He noticed my posture was quite bad and that could also be part of my problem. Therefore he gave me some very simple exercises to target the pain at the base of my neck and also to strengthen it: so when I land a hop my upper back/base of my neck can hold my head properly without straining those muscles too much. Also he gave me some exercises to strengthen my lower back (like the ‘plank’ ).

I have to say that after few weeks my back improved quite a lot : I stopped getting those paralysing pains on my back after a unicycling session. Despite my neck still bothering me now and then (I try to ignore it) I am doing really well (I stopped getting those terrible headaches) and my hopping (rolling hops, drops, etc…) have improved a lot: I am now able to do it for long periods of time without affecting my neck/back that much.

For most unicycling skills, our technique can be pretty ragged at the beginning. I just about killed myself hopping up my first curb. Later on, we become more efficient. So, the question, in my mind is, how do we make it from ragged to efficient without injuring ourselves?

I hop up stairs SIF with both hands on the seat. I apply significant downward pressure on the seat prior to hopping. If you’re hopping seat-in, there may be less clearance in your legs, and you may be relying more on your back muscles to jump. I suggest two things: 1. If you don’t have any SIF skills, start learning, and 2. Practice hopping up something much smaller than a stair, focusing on using less energy, making the hopping motion more fluid and slowing down your motions.

Most of my unicycle related back pain results from sudden, spastic motions in my back. For example, I recently spent a lot of time practicing still stands; I was flailing my arms around for balance, and I over-stressed the muscle in my back opposite where I was reaching out with my left hand.

Good luck!

I had soreness in my wrist and shoulder when I learned to hop, and I realized eventually that I wasn’t pulling my feet up enough to unweight the pedals. Instead, I was lifting the unicycle by pulling the handle up against the weight of my legs, which takes a lot of force. What helped was to practice hopping with just one finger hooked under the handle, and also of course to make a conscious effort to lift my feet. One finger is plenty to hold just the unicycle and keep the pedals against my shoes if that’s all I’m doing with it and it took away a lot of strain. You might try that and see how hard you’re actually pulling.

Huh, I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m pulling too hard. When I was learning to hop one of my main issues was my feet slipping off the pedals so I may have learned to overcompensate up on the saddle. Hopping with one finger sounds like a great way to work on this! I’ll definitely give it a try next time I’m out.

I can ride SIF and do tiny hops, but I’m nowhere close to what I can do seat-in yet. That’s definitely something I’m working on, but I feel like they each have their own place and I don’t want to have to stop my seat-in hopping.

I’ll definitely try focusing on making my hops more fluid, but concrete steps (like the suggestion to practice with one finger) on how to do that are very much appreciated.

Sorry to be vague. Here’s a more concrete suggestion: Practice still stands. Hold them as long as possible, then at the moment you are definitely tipping over, that is when you hop. Perform this on a flat surface. Don’t worry about which way you’re tipping, but hop in that direction. Then, later on, you can think of jumping up stairs as a series of still stands, each one ending with you leaning toward the next stair.

LargeEddie’s recommendation to practice with one finger, specific as it is, is only useful if you are able to steady the seat mostly with your feet. Otherwise, you need something stronger than a finger to hold the seat.

I am currently in a holding pattern regarding two skills I want to learn: Backwards one-foot riding and wheel-walking. My attitude is that learning these two techniques, like learning other techniques from the past, is going to take two approaches. One, brute force, mind-numbing, beat-your-head-against the wall repetition, and two, a degree of mastery over the component skills of these techniques. In the case of stair hopping, still-stands were a major component skill for me. As I improved in the still-stands, my stair hopping was less rushed, I had fewer corrective hops and I conserved energy, allowing me to clear more stairs.

It’s good to have goals, but in my humble opinion, we should avoid linear thinking, to the detriment of a more holistic strategy, about skill acquisition. Maybe you’re feeling pain because you’re overdoing it on stair hopping, and you just need a break, to try other stuff.

Good luck and keep practicing!

I have had mystery neck pain after practicing skills involving hopping, probably from tension rather than the exertion itself.

What has helped me recently is riding very slowly for extended periods. Riding a 26 slowly alongside my wife while she pushes the baby in a pram hurt like hell at first but now it’s easy. The corrective movements I am making to stay upright are much smaller and less jerky.
It’s really helped reduce the tension I felt while riding skinnies or setting up for accurate hops.

I definitely recommend still stands too. Relaxing into a deliberate still stand stops me from rushing and hopping too early because of fear of toppling, making the whole thing calmer and more efficient.

Hmm, sounds like something I should try. My hopping ability seems to partly vanish whenever I stop working at it.

For you, as you get better at wheel walking, and try to walk slower and slower, you may find that your still-stand ability helps you. My own ability to return to the pedals from wheel walking seems to be based partly on being able to come pretty much to a halt, or at least that’s my impression right now. From what you say, the still-stand seems to potentially be a building block for a lot of different skills.

One-footed backward riding sounds ambitious to me- not scary, though, just difficult. I learned to ride (forward) one-footed about the same time you did, PuebloUNIdo, but I only learned with my left foot. Recently I have been trying to learn it with my right foot, but it seems absolutely impossible…

song, you’re right about still stands helping with wheel walking. I’m finding that, while I can’t wheel walk for too many steps, my improvement in still stands allows me to slow down the transition into the wheel walk. Unlike you, though, I am far from the stage of returning to the pedals; I wheel walk until I UPD (and that is not very far). Maybe, if I work hard, I’ll get to that stage by the end of this summer.

Regarding one-footed riding with the other foot … I learned to one-foot ride by transitioning out of a one-foot idle (with the other foot on the crown). I waited a moment until my one-foot-idle straightened out, became less erratic … before transitioning to riding forward. You might try this with the other foot. Someone on the forum described this method of one-foot riding as more difficult. Maybe, but once I learned this method, I was able to transition in the normal fashion, from forward riding to one-foot riding, without much practice.

And, since the thread is about back pain, I found practicing backward one-footed riding a pain in my knees (not in the back), because during my frequent dismounts, I stepped back and landed firmly, without being able to see the ground, on one foot.

I need to spend more time hopping, and less time pretending to school others on hopping. It’s great exercise. It reminds me that I’m in okay shape, but not in amazing shape. Earlier in my mUni experience, I spent a lot of time hopping to avoid UPDing. As time progressed, I was able to more effectively roll through certain conditions. Hopping wears me out. If I’m riding up a steep hill, then have to hop, that amount of extra effort might push me over the edge. I used to do corrective hops more often. Now, I’m able to stay in control with only occasional hops. I weigh over 200 lbs, and I have had to replace all the spokes on my 26" muni and my 20" trials uni. That is likely a result of my period of intense, sideways hopping. The replacement spokes are better quality, and should last much longer, particularly because I’m putting less stress on them. My muni tire is a 2.4" Maxxis Ardent, without much side-wall support; hopping on muni involves some tire folding. I’ve improved at hopping in the direction I’m riding, rather than sideways.

Probably the best advice I read on the forum about hopping was: Don’t worry about the height/distance, just work on the timing. I sense I have a lot of improvement ahead of me in the timing department.

It is, but in this case, since I already know how to ride one-footed with the other foot, and can idle one-footed on either side, I will definitely give your method a try.

This is a little odd. Until recently, I weighed over 200 as well, and sometimes I do a lot of hopping, but the only time I had trouble with spokes breaking was after a shitty wheelbuild. Since I fixed it, no spokes have broken- it has barely even gone out of true.

That does sound like valuable advice. I did notice that making fewer corrective hops is often simply a matter of belief! If you just will yourself to make only one hop per step, half the battle is already won. Unless you suffer from back pain, of course!

Another thread hijacked. Sorry to the OP. Just wanted to follow up on a few things I discussed with song…

Spokes breaking: Someone mentioned that UDC doesn’t use the best spokes. Also, When I first learned to hop, I experimented with large, sideways hops; this, I think, put a lot of stress on the wheel.

Wheel walking: I’ve found a skill which gets me off to a good start… the one-footed still-stand. If I can do it, I’m ready to put my other foot on the wheel and start the wheel walk. The one-footed-still-stand, as well, can only be performed if I’m leaning back. A big bit of advice about wheel-walking is to make sure we’re not too far forward. The one-footed-still-stand takes care of this automatically. The last few days I practiced idling, then transitioning into a one-footed-still-stand, then placing my other foot on the wheel. Though my distance wheel-walking still sucks, I more consistently get at least a few foot-over-foot motions while using this method.

Stair hopping: I agree that corrective hops are often unnecessary; they inhibit us from performing a longer still-stand between hops. I frequently perform the beginning of a set of stairs without corrective hops, but when I get tired, near the end, I do a few of them. It is a wonderful feeling to get in a groove hopping up stairs.