There’s nothing quite like going for a bike ride as you soak in the sun and race through the wind. Just remember that while you’re picking up speed and taking in the views, one unexpected bump or collision can easily spoil the fun. Recent U.S. data estimates that about half a million bicycle accidents result in trips to the ER each year. Many of these injuries occur to the neck and/or back.
Here are some tips to protect your spine while enjoying the great outdoors on a bike.
Pick a comfortable bike
If you have a back or neck condition that makes your spine more vulnerable to pain and bumps in the road, think about which bike type is best for you. Some people prefer bikes with bigger tires and more shock absorption to reduce jolts to the spine. Also, depending on your back and neck, some people might feel more comfortable with a seat that has the head forward, whereas others might prefer a seated position that is more upright or reclined.
Know your skill level and surroundings
It’s often said, “Once you learn how to ride a bike, you never forget.” That may be true, but your skill and endurance levels can change over time. While children ages 5 to 19 have the highest rate of bike-related injuries, it is adults ages 50 to 59 who have the highest rate of bike-related fatalities.1 Anyone who gets on a bike—regardless of whether they learned last week or last century—needs to be sure the route is safe for his or her skill level.
If it has been years since you’ve ridden a bike or you’re on vacation in an unfamiliar place, it’s easy to get in a situation where you cannot control the bike as well as you thought. For example, taking a bike tour in a spectacularly beautiful vacation destination may sound great, but be sure to read online reviews or ask questions about hills, traffic, and intersections in advance. If something about the bike route sounds uncomfortable to you, such as steep hills or heavy traffic, it might be best to skip it.
Do not drink and ride
Unfortunately, many bike accidents involve alcohol. Just as you would never drink and drive, do not ride a bicycle if you are tired or impaired in any way.
If a high-impact bike accident does occur, your head and spine are particularly vulnerable to injury. In addition to wearing a helmet, it’s best to be alert when bike riding to lower the chance that an accident would happen.
Motorcyclists Also Need a Helmet
If you’re a motorcycle enthusiast, be sure to wear a motorcycle helmet. While there was some debate in the past as to whether a motorcycle helmet could possibly increase your risk for a neck injury in an accident, this theory is losing validity. The newest research indicates that in addition to lowering your risk for a serious head injury or death, a motorcycle helmet can also lower your risk for a serious neck injury.2
- Bicycle safety. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site. https://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/bicycle/index.html Updated June 15, 2017. Accessed May 3, 2018.
- Page PS, Wei Z, Brooks NP. Motorcycle helmets and cervical spine injuries: a 5-year experience at a Level 1 trauma center. J Neurosurg Spine. 2018;28(6):607-611.