Of all your pains in the neck, cycling shouldn’t be one. Here’s how to keep your body comfortable when you ride. – By Selene Yeager.
A survey for recreational cyclists saw neck pain top the list of riding aches and pains, with about 55 percent of women and 44 percent of men suffering at some point. This shouldn’t be surprising when you consider that the average human melon weighs about as much as a bowling ball. Add a helmet and some glasses, and that’s a lot of heft for your neck to hold. Of course, your neck is built for the job, but cycling can add some stress, says Matthew Silvis, MD, medical director of for a US based medical group that specialises in the care of injured endurance athletes.
“Common things cyclists do to strain their neck are pretty straightforward,” says Silvis. “It generally comes down to improper bike fit, too little conditioning, tight muscles, and/or riding position.” All of those are fairly easy to address to soothe your sore neck and prevent repeat painful episodes:
Hone your bike fit. Being too stretched out can leave your neck vulnerable to stress, strain and pain. Assuming your bike size is correct, the culprits could be a stem that is too long, a saddle that’s set too far back, and/or bars that are too low relative to your seat. Having a too-narrow or wide handlebar can also place stress on the muscles that support your neck.
Fix it: Your neck should be comfortably aligned with your spine, and you should be able to easily reach your bars and maintain a slight bend in your elbows as you ride. To achieve this, you could try a shorter or high-rise stem, adding spacers under your stem, checking your saddle setback (though don’t bring it all the way forward; that’s bad for your knees), or a combination of these. Your bar width should match that of your shoulders so your arms are straight out when you grasp the handlebar hooks. If you ride a lot in the drops, consider a bar with a shallower drop. If you spend a lot of time in the saddle or are prone to neck pain, get a professional fit.
Look up with your eyes, not your neck. Your neck and spine should be comfortably aligned, so you should look up the road with your eyes, not by craning (or hyperextending) your neck to lift your entire head, which stresses your neck.
Fix it: Again, bike fit is the first step to proper position. But also be sure that your helmet fits properly and isn’t sitting so low on your forehead that you need to angle your head to see forward. It should be positioned level across the midline of your forehead.
Loosen up. How many times have you sat at your desk and found your shoulders creeping up toward your ears from stress? Most of us carry our stress in our trapezius muscles on either side of our cervical spine. That means tight muscles, painful knots, or trigger points off the bike worsen in the saddle, as those tight muscles absorb the impact of bumps in the road.
Fix it: Massage out those knots by placing a lacrosse or tennis ball on the wall between your shoulder blades, and rolling your muscles side to side and up and down on either side of your neck from your shoulder to your neck (without rolling on your cervical spine itself). Also perform shoulder rollbacks by shrugging your shoulders up toward your ears and then drawing them back and down toward the floor to open up your chest.
Strengthen your support system. Your trapezius muscles do the lion’s share of the work to keep your shoulders back and supporting your neck. Yet we do very little to strengthen our supporting muscles for their job.
Fix it: Help them hold your head high as you ride down the road with the Goalpost Raise: Lie facedown over a stability ball, so the ball supports your torso and your body forms a straight diagonal line. Allow your arms to hang down with your elbows bent 90 degrees, palms facing down. Keeping your arms in the goalpost shape, squeeze your shoulder blades together and lift your arms (but not your head and neck) up as far as comfortably possible. Lower to start. Do 10 reps.