Can yoga help my sit bone pain?
Mary wrote in with a question about sit bone pain and cycling:
She says: “I think I have a sit-bone problem on my right side of my behind. I do cycle [and] just wonder if there is an exercise I can do to ease the discomfort or [whether] perhaps [I need] a new saddle, [and] what may have caused it.”
Is Mary’s sit bone pain from cycling?
Maybe. I can’t see Mary, of course, to assess whether she has sit bone pain from cycling, or whether the sit bone pain is the result of other postural habits from work or other activities. Either way, she is experiencing sit bone pain and she is cycling. So, let’s look at where yoga could contribute to easing some of the potential postural issues that can result from long hours on the bike, as well as how you might adjust things in both cycling and yoga to address sit bone pain itself. Remember you can find even more information on sit bone in yoga in my series specifically on sit bone pain: Got Sit Bone Pain? – What To Do With That Hamstring, Working With Sit Bone Pain And Achy Hamstrings, and Sit Bone Pain – 2017 Update.
Posture in road cycling
With respect to cycling, we’ll assume you’re riding a typical road bike. The posture that you would adopt on the bike would vary a bit if you were riding a mountain bike or a more upright hybrid-style commuter-type bike. But, with a standard road bike several postural patterns are common: the shoulders, upper back, and chest tend to round, shortening the muscles on the front of the chest, due to the position you maintain to hold the handlebars.
As long as you are riding in a seated position, the hips are flexed, shortening the hip flexors (rectus femoris, psoas major, and iliacus, especially). And, the more hours you spend on the bike, the more likely it is that you acquire a pattern of chronically short hip flexors. Finally, the back of the neck also tends to be in a shortened position in order to lift the head and look where you’re going while still staying connected to the bike. All of these postural changes that you make in order to create the posture needed to ride the bike have the potential to, either directly or indirectly, influence other patterns, aches, and pains that show up in our body.
Also, remember that it’s fairly common for all of us to be moving around with a body that’s not in perfect balance. Whatever those imbalances are that exist in our body, we’re going to bring them with us to all the activities that we do, including cycling. For example, if we have an imbalance between the two sides of the pelvis, that could influence how much pressure we put into one sit bone compared to the other when we’re sitting on the bike. Imbalances either up the chain, such as right-left imbalances in the torso, or down the chain, such as imbalances between the legs, can also indirectly influence how we place our weight on the seat of our bike. All of that can impact how pressure goes into our sit bones.
On a bike the hands and wrists are connected to the handlebars and the feet are potentially clipped into the pedals (if you are using that type of cycling shoe and pedal system). So two ends of our body are to some degree held in place while we’re riding a bike, while the hip joints are free. This leaves the hips as the place where force gets directed. When you combine that force with imbalances that may be present in our body, it can affect how our pelvis makes contact with the bike seat. That combination of force and postural imbalances can be reflected in compensations with respect to how our body connects the pelvis to the saddle when sitting.
Can yoga help?
Yoga is a great tool to lengthen your hamstrings, quadriceps, deep six lateral rotators, glute max, and more to help undo some of the inevitable postural compensations from cycling. While there may be sit bone pain from cycling or it may not be a result of cycling, you can definitely use the laboratory of yoga to explore body patterns that might be contributing to that sit bone pain, wherever it came from.
General considerations for working with sit bone pain in yoga
If you are working with sit bone pain in yoga, remember that the pain and/or pull at the sit bone comes from one or more of the tendons that attach there. The most common place to experience sit bone pain is the tendinous attachment of the hamstrings. If you’re experiencing sit bone pain, the hamstrings may be tight. Or, tension in the hamstrings may be one piece of a larger, more complicated postural pattern. Either way, you’ll probably want to include the intention to lengthen the hamstrings in your yoga practice. Since the most common way that we stretch the hamstrings in yoga is during forward bending, be sure that you give some extra attention to how you are doing forward bends.
Aim to keep the pressure in the belly of the hamstrings. The hamstrings are two-joint muscles, so if you’re experiencing sit bone pain, it’s often more effective to do your forward bends with straight legs, but without going as far into the forward bend, so you can keep the pressure directed into the belly of the muscles. Do stretch the hamstrings, but don’t overdo it. Stay on the cautious side of the stretch. If the sit bone pain is getting worse, not better, back off of forward bending even more.
If you have particularly tight hamstrings that pull your pelvis under in a more posterior tilt when you sit upright on the floor, you may find that sitting up on something, like a yoga block, or rolled-up mat allows your pelvis to stay in a more neutral position while you then begin to forward bend. That can help you keep the pressure out of the sit bone attachments of the hamstrings and focus the stretch more into the belly of the muscle.
Considerations for working with sit bone pain from cycling
If you think you may have sit bone pain from cycling, pay attention to your posture on the bike. Don’t overdo the anterior pelvic tilt on the bike. If needed, adjust the fit of your bike so you can maintain a more neutral pelvic position, especially if you are riding long distances. That may involve going into a reputable bike shop with someone who is experienced in fitting cyclists to their bike. Getting a different saddle or adjusting the saddle placement may also help. Again that’s a question for someone experienced with bike fit.