6.06.2007,11:04 AM
Orthopedist on a Motorcycle
"No, I will not stop riding my bike!"

That was my closing comment to the orthopedist during my first visit last week. After a lengthly diatribe on the merits of riding a motorcycle with an explanation of the ergonomics.

I've been told numerous times I "know enough to be dangerous". Au contraire, dear doctors. Because I'm a biologist and pro-active in my own health care, quite often I am either debating medical treatment or diagnoses, badgering MDs with questions, or educating them. Sometimes all of the former. I walk into their offices as an informed consumer with knowledge of anatomy/biology/physiology.

Some doctors don't like to be questioned. Others are receptive to inquiries and exchange.

Years of physical overuse and a weight lifting injury finally let me know enough was enough. Eleven years ago an early morning session in the gym lifting a bar with 275 pounds in pretty black plates for eight repetitions tore ligaments in my sacroilliac and lower lumbar. I remember feeling a tight sensation deep in my low back but not painful enough to hit my ego in the head and knock it unconscious, so I finished my set of ten reps and went into the shower room.

"Hmm.....I'm going to be sore tomorrow."

I continued on with my daily life working, running sheep and horses and light weight training thinking I had pulled a muscle.

"Pulled a muscle again; it'll be better in a few weeks."


Over several months the soreness had developed into a chronic ache and then debilitating pain. After two years of different doctors and treatment, x-rays revealed a collapsed and herniated disc at L4-L5, arthritis in the vertebrae, the iliac crests, the left acetabulum and femoral head (yes, folks; that is what the hip joint is - where the ball at the top of your leg bone rotates in a cup of bone). Many of the ligaments that hold the the two iliac crests to the sacrum (see image below) were torn. So the ilium in my pelvis flop around and move out of place all the time. Or as one of my weight lifting buddies commented, I have a broken ass.

Surgery to fuse the two discs together was recommended and the prognosis was I would never lift weights again. The first received an immediate "No!" and the latter was like keeping a duck from water. I continued to weight train, but my powerlifting training and career was severely curtailed. Although I went on to win two records in the bench press, I've struggled with squats and my dearly beloved deadlifts were relegated to weanie weights. And I had to learn to park my ego at the gym door and disable its homing device.

With the help of a very close friend who is a sports physiologist, and a chiropractor extraordinaire in Austin, Texas, I learned how to manage the chronic inflammation and pain, be pro-active in my own treatment, weight train for rehab, and avoid surgery. But it is now, and forever will be, a part of my daily and routine life.

Due to a recent flare-up of arthritis and pain in the sacroiliac area and the left hip joint, I had an appointment with a local orthopedist. After relating the long history and discussing treatments, he was astonished that I ride a motorcycle every day.

"Perhaps you should consider not riding a motorcycle."

"Absolutely not. In fact, it helps reduce the incidence of pain."

In response to the furrowed brow, questioning in the eyes and look of "this woman is nuts", I embarked on his route to enlightenment before the words spilled out of his open mouth.

I explained that while riding a bike *could* exacerbate the spinal and pelvic issues, that depends on the bike ridden and style of riding. I described and compared the ergonomics of riding the typical cruiser and other bikes:

  • *on a cruiser, the rider is sitting upright, feet and legs forward, arms reaching forward to the controls resulting in the so called "flying C" posture. If you look at most cruiser riders from the side, their line of body forms a large open 'C'. Their spine is curved and all four limbs reaching forward. All weight is transferred down through the spine onto their butts. And all impact of the bike and rider on the road is transferred up the spine. It makes my back hurt just looking at them.
  • *sport bike ergonomics are the opposite: extreme forward lean, sharp angle of the hip, knee and ankle joints, hugging the gas tank...what I refer to as the 'riding fetal position'. Most of the weight is borne through the hands, up the arms, into the neck and traps. And most sport bike riders, like most of the general public, have poor abdominal strength to support their low back. So often times sports bike riders complain about sore traps and low backs.

  • *most dual sport bikes are a hybrid of the two above. One can sit upright, or ride with varying levels of forward lean. The bikes usually allow the rider to scoot forward or back whenever they choose. That ability to change position while riding is adventitious. Also, the pegs usually placed under the hips of the rider allows one to stand up on them, lifting the butt, and the spine, off the seat. Invaluable for riding on uneven, bumpy and often pot-holed terrain, the legs and knees then absorbing the shock and not the spine.

In my case, I must maintain my spine in a lordotic position. This helps to reduce pressure on the herniated disc. I also described how I sit not on my butt cheeks but rather the inside of my thighs and with a forward lean which transfers weight and impact not down my spine but into my legs.

I often practice tightening my abs which supports my low back and even shifts weight off my arms and hands. This makes for relaxed control of the handlebars and the controls. This way I can sense feedback from the road through the bike and my control of the levers is more responsive rather than grabbing and weighted.

I spent several minutes explaining this verbally and with gestures to demonstrate the ergonomics. And then concluded by explaining and demonstrating why driving my truck and sitting in chairs elicits discomfort with increased pain after a short time.

He sat there listening, watching, nodded, lifted his eyebrows, blinked his eyes, and finally conceded: "Interesting. I never knew all that about riding a motorcycle."

I walked out of his office with a prescription for pain meds and an appointment for x-rays. After all, it's been four years since imaging my skeleton. Time to see what's cooking in there again. He saw me to the door with a handshake, a 'thank you' for the riding lesson, and a "Be safe out there."

I caught him shaking his head and smiling as he watched me don my gear and mount my two wheeled mustang for my ride home down the road: a skeleton on two wheels.


posted by Macrobe
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