Top tips for cycling with axial SpA

This information is for anyone with axial spondyloarthritis (axial SpA), including people with ankylosing spondylitis (AS).

Cycling can be a good form of exercise if you have axial SpA

It can improve general fitness and stamina. Regular cycling can reduce the risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke. It can also boost your mood and keep your weight under control.

Is cycling for you?

Do check with your physiotherapist to see if they think cycling would be suitable for you. This is particularly important if:

  • You are having a lot of pain and stiffness with your axial SpA
  • You know you have quite a bit of fusion

If you have a very stiff spine and neck do consider whether you will be able to turn to see traffic and pedestrians properly when cycling.

Getting started

Start off slowly on fairly flat ground. Try cycling on smooth pavements or roads at first and avoid bumpy, rough ground that could jar your spine.

Only use your bike for short journeys at first and build up the distance you cycle over time.

Stretch out

Cycling can encourage poor posture so it is important to stretch your body into a good upright posture after cycling.

Try lying flat on the floor to stretch the spine out for a few minutes.

Ask your physiotherapist to show you some good before and after exercises.

Aches and pains

At first you may be sore after your bike ride as you will be using your uses muscles in a new way. This should settle down over time. You can take mild pain killers and anti-inflammatories to help you over the initial soreness.

Stop cycling and consult with your medical team if you suffer usually high levels of pain after cycling or if you feel a sharp or sudden pain when cycling.

Your cycle

If you don’t already own a bike then do consider borrowing or hiring one first to see if cycling is for you.

If you’re buying a second-hand bike or you have an old bike that’s been gathering dust, consider having it serviced at a specialist bike shop to ensure it’s roadworthy.

If you are going to buy a bike then a specialist bike shop will advise you on the correct frame size and help you select a bike to suit your budget and the type of cycling you want to do.

  • Drop down racing handlebars are not ideal for people with axial SpA as they encourage poor posture
  • A mountain style bike with good suspension may offer better protection for your spine
  • A gel saddle may be a good investment
  • If you do have any problems with your hips or knees that you may find it more comfortable to have your saddle raised a little higher than usual. This means that as you pedal, your knees and hips are not bending quite so far
  • Take care not to raise the saddle too high. You should still be able to touch the ground with your toes
  • Ask the staff in the bike shop to help you adjust your saddle correctly

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