Kurt on Old Brownsville Road

Recumbent bike helped with Sciatica recovery

A newer, longer version of this post has been published at Building and Maintaining a Healthy Back.

Two years ago I was diagnosed with a herniated disc in my back. This caused my sciatic nerve to be pinched, which caused great pain in my legs when I was sitting or standing. I spent a lot of the next two weeks lying flat on my back. After standing for just a few minutes, the pain would become intense again, and I’d need to lie back down.

I’m the sort of person who resists taking medicine, and I found myself taking up to eight ibuprofen a day just to cut the pain and get through it.

Yes, having Sciatica sucked.

I wanted to get better fast, but I felt fairly helpless. Even stretching that used to seem light was difficult to do without pain. Lying on the living room floor watching movies got old.

I was desperate to be able to get outside get some form of normal exercise, but it seemed just about every kind of movement hurt.

In this desperation, I tried an experiment. I hobbled out the bike shed to see how painful it would be to ride my Rans V-Rex, a recumbent bike. The seat was more reclined than most seats, so it might be feel more like lying down than sitting. That could make it low pain.

I pulled out of the alley and was tentative with the first strokes. Even if there wasn’t immediate pain, I was concerned that some shooting pains might appear while I was riding, causing a wreck, or leaving me stranded waiting for someone to pick me up.

But so far, my experiment was working. I began to pedal harder and harder, until I was going full steam. There was no pain! It was working. I remember riding to the library, feeling good while I was on the bike. I had to move around the library quickly, as the pain was building quickly as I checked out some books on Sciatica. The irony.

The pain was significant by the time I returned to the bike for the return trip. Again, I took off with some concern– I had made it here, but perhaps there would be a problem on the return trip, having started with some pain getting on the bike.

But again, I was able to pedal trouble free. Since I was on “vacation” that week, I started taking longer and longer bike rides each day. I practiced a 25 mile loop and that went well– I rode the course at full speed with no problems.

The experience allowed me to get my blood flowing, clear my head, get some fresh air…feel normal. There wasn’t immediate relief when the ride was over, but I knew this helping my recovery. Certainly my mental state and outlook improved.

The irony was that even by the time I parked the bike in the bike shed, I would already start having pain off the bike again as I rushed to the house to lie down again.

I took a risk and decided to set a daily distance record in this condition– I planned a 60 mile solo round trip ride from Richmond, Indiana to Oxford, Ohio and back.

As I pedaled down the barren country roads on the way there, I had doubts the trip I was embarking was a good idea. I arrived in Oxford safely but still had to sit on floor of bike shop briefly while I shopped there. I couldn’t stand comfortably long enough to complete the task.

Even on the way back, the pain on the bike did not increase, although I approached being on bike about four hours that way.

Over the next few weeks, the pain eventually tapered off without the need for surgery or other expensive treatment. Besides cycling, I also used walking, massage, acupuncture and yoga to help recover.

Now, two years later, I’m thankful the symptoms are completely gone. I would definitely recommend trying a recumbent bike to others with sciatica or lower back pain. Some stationary bikes are also recumbent, and may be available at local gyms or health clubs.

In my case, it was only coincidental that I had recently purchased a used recumbent bicycle, and I’m glad I did!

  • Don Antal

    I bought my first recumbent bicycle a Sun EZ-1
    and I have a bad back, and it is amazing the pain
    just melts away, the first year I had it I put on
    1166 miles… in the spring last year I was hurting alot,so I didn’t ride as much; but this
    spring I’m riding no matter what !!! The pain
    comes back when I sit or stand in one place too, so I dream of riding alot!!!
    I now have a Tomahawk cx and LOVE it too!


    I am also suffering from low back and left leg pain, riding a stationary recumbent bike makes me feel good and helps me to move around better, I HAVE BEEN USING IT DAILY FOR 2 MONTHS AND NOW AT 40-45 MINUTES DAILY NO PAIN, this pain in the left leg still is difficult to deal with but I will continue the bike and increase my time., hopeing to improve further.

  • Lois Ellen Osborn

    I was walking/running a 4 mile trek every day at a fitness center. They had a precore recumbent bike and a schwinn Airdyne bike sitting near the track. I decided to try the recumbent bike with trepidation because I’ve had knee surgery but it was a blast and I thought maybe I could cut a mile a day off the wear and tear on my feet using the bikes. The Airdyne I sat on and pulled the long handles back and forth but rested my feet on the bars that are for that purpose. 4 days later my low back was hurting and then I started feeling a sting/itch on the inside of my right leg. At first I thought something was biting me because although I’ve had low back pain for years it never did the sciatic thing down my leg. I tried scratching the itchy area and almost went through the roof. I kept watching for a rash still not associating it with my hip/back ache and thinking maybe the detergent I’d been washing my clothes in was the culprit but the intense pain and tingling/stinging got so bad and my lower back hurt so I could hardly bend when it occurred to me that it had to be the sciatic pain that I’d heard people talk about in the leg. I’d already tried a pain clinic and got the shots in my back and didn’t want to put myself through that so I called a chiropractor for an apt. In the first session he stopped the pain in my leg from my knee up to the hip joint though there was still some tingling in the joint itself. Next day I went back and he worked on the last two disks around my tail bone. I was probably 80 to 90% better with those two trips. Still a bit sore mostly bruised feeling. I used ice the two days after treatment but he said after that I could use heat. One thing I was surprised is that I could walk/run my original 4 mile track and didn’t seem much bothered by the condition. One other thing I had been doing ham string stretches which felt good while I was doing them but the chiropractor said in the long run it just made it worse. Maybe this will help somebody down the line if they happen to stumble upon it.

    • Lois Ellen Osborn

      as a note my chiropractor said it would be best if I NEVER got near a stationary bike as long as I lived. LOL Swimming or walking is far safer if you are a sciatic sufferer. Believe me if you’ve ever had a flair up you would kiss god’s ass not to ever go through it again

  • rattboo

    I also have sciatica. I’m 67. I’ve had an mri and xrays. Disks are messed up big time L4 and L5. Cannot walk without a cane. Horrific pain all the way down to my feet. I know this sounds crazy, but when I get on my bike, the pain disappears completely and I can ride with no pain whatsoever. My physical therapist says its ok to ride the bike. After each ride the pain is less, not much, but less. Slowly getting better. I just started riding the bike. Its been 4 months of pain, and now getting better. Combined with the stretching exercise, this may be the answer.