5 Reasons Why Cyclists Get Neck Pain and What You Can Do About It

Are you a cyclist who sometimes or often gets neck pain during or after your ride?  Do you suffer from neck pain after only a short ride?

Is your neck pain then difficult to get rid of forcing you to take medications that you would not rather take or spending your hard earned cash on expensive massages, Physiotherapy or Chiropractic sessions?

Who would have thought that cycling could be so expensive!

First you outlay thousands for just the right bike not to mention the gear you need to make the ride more comfortable and then of course the bike racks etc ...  Why then should you be outlaying all of this extra money to eliminate the pain caused as a result of your bike ride.

Angela Melit | Principal Physiotherapist at Graceville Physiotherapy

Here are my 5 reasons cyclists get Neck Pain

1. Incorrect Bike Set Up

Everyone’s body is different.

 If you have had any neck issues in the past it is important that your handle bars be higher that your seat. This puts less strain on your neck and shoulder position.

As you become stronger in your riding position it may be possible to lower the height of the handle bars but this must be done gradually.

2. Looking too far forward and up while riding

Obviously it is essential that you look where you are going but many cyclists develop neck pain because they fail to activate the neck stabilisers while riding. 

It is important to have your chin gently tucked while looking forward in order to activate these important muscles.

The strength in your eye muscles has an effect on your neck also. This may be hard to believe but strengthening this "Occular Motor response" can help in stability of the neck and make it easier to look ahead while keeping the neck in a good position.

Often when there is weakness in the stability of the neck there is also weakness in the stability of the shoulder blade area also. Weakness in this area causes more strain on the neck as the muscles that attach into the back of the head overwork to compensate for this weakness.

3. Poor Core Activation while Riding

 Note that I have said Activation and not Strength.

There is too much emphasis on developing “Core Strength” in my opinion.  Everybody wants to strengthen their core. We see many injuries coming through our clinic due to poor Core activation and not poor Core strength.

You may go to Pilates, Yoga, Reformer classes etc to develop more core strength but unless your core is activated when it needs to be activated during your ride there can be a domino effect and the result can be Neck Pain.

Correct activation of the core during your ride will help with the shoulder blade area and neck stability also. Poor core activation causes you to lean on your handle bars and this causes tension in the neck resulting in tension headaches.

4. Inadequate Warm Up

If you are over 40, have had previous problems with your neck/previous whiplash type injuries or even if you work at a computer you are likely to already have some sort of neck tension and or stiffness.

It is then important before you get on your bike to do some gentle neck stretches. I say gentle because if you stretch the neck muscles too much this can lead to a bit of instability on the bike.

It may be also helpful to do some gentle mobility exercises for the shoulders, thoracic spine, lumbar spine and hips.

Doing this before you get on the bike will ensure that the muscles that need to be activated have already been prompted to activate and any tension is released (gently) before hopping onto the bike.

5. ​Turning your Head to talk to a rider next to you

Now obviously you will need to turn your head while riding to check for traffic etc but continuously turning your head to talk to someone alongside of you leads to neck problems.

We have seen it in our clinic on a number of occasions. If you are riding 2 abreast it may be necessary to speak to the rider alongside of you but it is not necessary to turn your head.

 I would suggest that the safer option is to not talk to the rider alongside you unless absolutely necessary. This action causes shortening of some of the muscles on one side of the neck and also leads to asymmetry which can then alter the way you ride and be the cause of problems lower down in the spine also.

It is easy to see then how a cyclist can develop neck pain leading to an uncomfortable ride.

What can we then do about it?

1. Bike Set Up

Ensure that your bike it set up by an expert. Your bike set up expert needs to be aware of any past history you have of neck pain and or injury. Tell them of your concerns and if you experience pain while riding make sure that you go back and report to the bike fitter what you are experiencing. Do not put up with the pain. If re jigging the set up does not work make an appointment to see a physiotherapist who can give you some exercises that will help you while you are on the bike.

2. Strengthening Neck, Eye and Shoulder Blades

Pilates style Dart exercises are great for neck and shoulder blade stability. These are done lying on your tummy. Firstly you activate your core by pulling in your belly button but not activating your lower back muscles. You then pull your shoulder blades back together and reach your fingers down towards your feet. Then you lift your chest and head off the ground just a little keeping your head in line with your body and your chin gently tucked in. Hold for 10 seconds and do 10. To strengthen your eye muscle response you can use a “Neck Tek” to strengthen the Occular motor response or practice moving your eyes to follow a square shape in both directions without moving your head and then try moving your head from side to side without moving your eyes.

3. Core Activation

Increasing the ability to activate your core can be done in a similar position to riding. If we do this on our hands and knees we can teach the core to activate in this position. While on hands and knees gently pull your belly button in towards your spine so that you feel some tension between your hip bones. Just practicing this activation while keeping the weight spread through your hands can help you to know when your core is activated or not. If you then gently lift up one arm or one leg you will notice that your core needs to activate to maintain a flat back. Getting used to this activation can help the core to activate while on the bike.

4. Stretching

Gentle stretches of the neck by taking your ear to the shoulder and then depressing the opposite shoulder can help to stretch some of those tight neck muscles. You can also turn your head to look in the same side armpit and then turn your head to look up to the opposite side to stretch other neck muscles. Rolling your shoulders up around and back can help to loosen up stiff shoulders and some gentle lunges to loosen up the hips may be of benefit.

In summary don’t let neck pain ruin your ride ... Bike riding is a fantastic form of exercise and should be pain free!  With a little care and attention to your set up and your bike riding form you will be able to enjoy riding well into the future.

Thanks Angela.

Stay tuned for more articles from Angela and the Graceville Physiotherapy Team. 

In the meantime, if your wish to book an appointment for your sore neck, or any other issue, please visit the Graceville Physiotherapy website or click the button below. 

Graceville Physiotherapy have developed a dedicated team that specialise in sports injuries, back and neck pain, workplace injuries, ante-natal and post-natal care, respiratory conditions and arthritis. 

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