It’s not an understatement to say that biking saved by back.
It was 1992, I was living at my mom’s house after my second back surgery a year after graduating from college. Depressed doesn’t describe what I was going through – despondent is more like it. I was reading a ton, spending too much time drinking at bars and basically just sitting around waiting for my back to heal itself (just a note: that strategy doesn’t work).
Then one day I jumped on my stepdad’s Specialized mountain bike. I stayed on pavement, riding to a neighborhood park and back, then began commuting to Metropolitan State College of Denver for summer classes. Slowly, my back began to feel better.
Eventually, I bought my own mountain bike and started riding off trail – the first few times I fell off I was terrified I was going to reinjure my back. But I learned a lesson that still serves me today – my body’s a lot tougher than I gave it credit for. Within 5 years I was doing half-day rides and in 1999, after a lot of training, I completed a 75-mile mountain bike ride from Needles District in Canyonlands National Park back to Moab. Today I regularly complete 20+ mile mountain bike rides – I even have a road bike, a commuter bike and a spinning bike for winter.
Now, if my back is sore, the first thing I do is jump on a bike – it’s better than ice or Ibuprofen. I commute 3 miles each way to work each day that weather allows – a godsend for my back health. In fact, I feel stiff on the days that I don’t ride in to work – and that motivates me even more, especially on chilly mornings.
I’m not sure exactly what it is about biking that helps – I suspect it’s the hamstring stretching and the core activity involved in balancing on the seat (I’ll post again on this later after I do a little research). I think it’s also psychological: after giving up basketball, skiing, running and downhill skiing due to my injury, being able to participate in a sport became very important to my mental well-being.