Is Cycling Good For SI Joint Pain?

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There is no greater feeling than cruising down a country lane on your bicycle; cycling is one of the most popular recreational activities enjoyed by many people worldwide.

However, a common problem faced by cyclists is SI joint pain.

Sacroiliac (SI) joint pain can be a real pain in the backside, leaving you possibly unable to cycle for weeks – or, in some cases, months.

But that leaves many cyclists wondering: Is cycling good for SI joint pain?

SI-related issues may be related to cycling for riders; in others, cycling may help alleviate or heal symptoms. So, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as it varies from rider to rider.

To help you get to grips with this issue, we will explore what the sacroiliac joint is, why cyclists experience sacroiliac joint pain, whether cycling is beneficial for sacroiliac joint pain management, and how specific exercises can help alleviate and prevent discomfort.

In this article, we will look at:

  • Sacroiliac (SI) Joint Anatomy
  • Is Cycling Good For SI Joint Pain?
  • 3 Common Causes of SI Joint Pain
  • 4 Effective Exercises To Relieve SI Joint Pain

Let’s dive in!

Is Cycling Good For SI Joint Pain: Title Image

Sacroiliac (SI) Joint Anatomy

Understanding the anatomy of the SI joint is essential in analyzing why it may be causing you pain.

The SI joint supports the pelvis and facilitates movement.

It is located between the sacrum and the ilium in the pelvis, providing stability and shock absorption while allowing for slight motion necessary for normal biomechanics.

The SI joint is supported by ligaments that provide stability and limit excessive movement.

A doctor points out the sacroiliac (SI) joint on a model skeleton.
A doctor points out the sacroiliac (SI) joint on a model skeleton.

Is Cycling Good for SI Joint Pain?

The question, “Is cycling good for SI joint pain?” isn’t that straightforward.

In my clinic as a sports therapist, I would first try and figure out the root cause of SI joint pain.

If it is clinically indicated that cycling may be causing the pain in the SI joint, then activity modification is probably necessary, alongside an initial abstention from cycling.

It is vital for individuals with SI joint pain to approach cycling mindfully.

If cycling exacerbates your SI joint pain, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional or a physical therapist to identify the underlying cause and receive personalized advice and treatment.

That said, cycling can be extremely beneficial for SI joint pain for a number of reasons.

Here’s why:

#1. Cycling is a Low-Impact Exercise

Cycling is considered a low-impact exercise, which means it typically reduces the jarring impacts on joints, including the sacroiliac joint.

Due to its low-impact nature, cycling is an excellent choice for individuals with joint pain or those who wish to steer clear of high-impact workouts.

A cyclist climbs a steep forested hill on a white road bike.

#2. Cycling Engages Large Muscle Groups

Cycling actively involves the legs, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteal muscles. These muscles play a pivotal role in stabilizing both the pelvis and the SI joint.

By strengthening these muscles, individuals can enhance the support around the joint, leading to improved joint stability.

#3. Cycling Promotes Joint Mobility

Joint mobility is enhanced through cycling due to the continuous movement of the legs. This aspect of cycling promotes greater joint flexibility, which can be especially advantageous for individuals experiencing SI joint pain.

Improved joint mobility can help alleviate stiffness and discomfort, providing relief and promoting better overall joint health.

A cyclist turns a hairpin bend on a steep climb while riding a road bike.

#4. Cycling Improves Cardiovascular Fitness

Engaging in cycling helps to indirectly support joint health while promoting overall cardiovascular health.

Additionally, maintaining a healthy weight through cycling can reduce the burden on the SI joint, effectively alleviating pressure and potentially mitigating discomfort.

To experience the maximum possible benefit, and to reduce the chances of aggravating joint pain, getting your bike fitted by a qualified bike fitter is crucial to ensuring that the body is in the correct alignment during the activity.

So, is cycling good for SI joint pain? For most riders, the answer is yes.

Cycling can be a great exercise for individuals with SI joint pain, as it offers a low-impact option that strengthens and stabilizes the muscles around the joint while promoting joint mobility and cardiovascular fitness.

That said, if you find that cycling is exacerbating pain in the SI joint, stop. If cycling doesn’t elicit any pain, however, then it is a fantastic form of low-impact exercise that will likely improve your SI pain.

A cyclist lies on a massage table with a physical therapist performing exercises to improve her SI joint pain.

3 Common Causes of SI Joint Pain

So, if cycling is generally good for SI joint pain, what else might be causing the pain?

Below we’ll detail 3 common causes:

#1: Overuse Injuries

Overuse injuries also pose a significant risk when it comes to SI joint pain.

A sudden increase in load managed by the SI joint can potentially trigger SI joint symptoms.

It doesn’t necessarily need to be too much cycling; overuse is the mechanism in which any activity, be it running, the gym, or cycling, can become too much for the body’s capabilities.

That said, cyclists often push their bodies to the limit, seeking the rush of physical wellness and endorphins that come with an exhilarating ride.

It’s easy to get carried away, ignoring the signs of overtraining and not giving our bodies enough time to recover and adapt to the demands of training.

A cyclist on an exercise bike suffers from the effects of overtraining syndrome, which can cause SI joint pain.

Much like with running, sudden increases in cycling volume, intensity, or frequency can lead to overtraining syndrome, where the body becomes overwhelmed by the constant strain without adequate time to heal and recover.

The human body is an incredible machine capable of remarkable feats, but it needs a balanced approach to training.

Just as we need to nourish ourselves with proper nutrition, our bodies require an appropriate balance of stimuli, rest, and recovery to perform optimally.

To avoid SI joint pain, it is crucial for cyclists to emphasize regular riding at a low to moderate intensity and maintain a consistent training routine.

You can keep track of training intensity through various methods like the rate of perceived exertion (RPE) or by using a heart rate monitor.

Allowing ample recovery time, listening to our bodies, and avoiding drastic training changes are essential to prevent overuse injuries.

Incorporating cross-training activities can also be beneficial to give the cycling-specific muscles a break while still staying active.

A cyclist on a black road bike competes in a race.

#2: Muscle Weakness

The muscles surrounding the sacroiliac joint play a crucial role in stabilizing the joint and maintaining proper alignment.

When these muscles are weak, the SI joint may become more susceptible to misalignment and excessive movement, leading to pain and discomfort.

#4: Arthritis

The sacroiliac joint, just like any joint in the body, is susceptible to degenerative changes and conditions such as osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis of the sacroiliac joint typically occurs as a result of joint wear and tear over time, especially with age and overuse.

In osteoarthritis, the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of bones within the sacroiliac joint starts to break down.

As a consequence, the bones may begin to rub against each other, causing friction and discomfort.

This deterioration of cartilage can lead to reduced flexibility and limited movement in the joint, resulting in pain and restricted mobility.

A cyclist admires the view over grassy hills, having relieved his SI joint pain.

4 effective exercises to relieve SI Joint pain

If you are suffering from SI Joint pain, participation in exercises that strengthen the surrounding muscles will help alleviate pressure and subsequent pain in the joint.

As mentioned earlier, the best option is always to consult with a physical therapist; they will be able to provide a personal plan of rehabilitation for you.

If any of the exercises cause excessive pain, stop.

#1: Glute Bridge Exercise

A glute bridge exercise primarily targets the gluteal muscles and the muscles around the pelvis, providing stability and support to the sacroiliac joint.

  1. Begin by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart.
  2. Engage your core and gluteal muscles.
  3. Lift your hips off the floor until your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees.
  4. Hold the position for a few seconds, then lower your hips back to the floor.
  5. Repeat for 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions.

#2: Clamshell Exercise

The clamshell exercise focuses on the gluteus medius, which plays a crucial role in pelvic stability and reducing strain on the sacroiliac joint.

  1. Lie on your side with your knees bent and your feet together.
  2. Keeping your feet together, open your knees like a clamshell while maintaining a neutral spine.
  3. Hold the position for a few seconds, then return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions on each side.

#3: Bird Dog Exercise

The bird dog exercise engages the core muscles, including those around the pelvis, promoting stability and balance.

  1. Start on your hands and knees in a tabletop position.
  2. Extend your right arm forward while simultaneously extending your left leg backward, keeping your hips level.
  3. Hold the position for a few seconds, then return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat on the opposite side.
  5. Perform 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions on each side.

#4: Pelvic Tilt Exercise

The pelvic tilt exercise targets the muscles that control pelvic movement, improving stability and reducing sacroiliac joint pain.

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  2. Gently tilt your pelvis upward, flattening your lower back against the floor.
  3. Hold the position for a few seconds, then release and arch your lower back slightly.
  4. Repeat the exercise for 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions.
A cyclist holds her bike above her head, looking down over a sunlit valley.

Tailoring the answer to your body: Is Cycling Good For SI Joint Pain?

While cycling is an excellent form of exercise and overall health, it’s crucial to strike a balance between pushing our limits and giving our bodies the time they need to recover.

If cycling is exacerbating pain in the SI joint, stop. However, if cycling doesn’t elicit any pain, then it is usually a fantastic form of low-impact exercise that will likely improve your SI pain.

Remember to be mindful of training intensity and incorporate proper rest and recovery.

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As a qualified sports massage therapist and personal trainer with eight years' experience in the field, Ben plays a leading role in BikeTips' injury and recovery content. Alongside his professional experience, Ben is an avid cyclist, splitting his time between his road and mountain bike. He is a particular fan of XC ultra-endurance biking, but nothing beats bikepacking with his mates. Ben has toured extensively throughout the United Kingdom, French Alps, and the Pyrenees ticking off as many iconic cycling mountains as he can find. He currently lives in the Picos de Europa of Spain's Asturias region, a stone's throw from the legendary Altu de 'Angliru - a spot that allows him to watch the Vuelta a España roll past his doorstep each summer.

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