Regular cyclists frequently complain of neck and back pain. In fact, up to 60% of cyclists experience them. It makes sense because cycling for hours requires you to maintain a position with your back flexed for extended periods. This puts a great deal of strain on our necks, resulting in pain and stiffness.
If you have cycling neck pain or neck discomfort, it is a sign that your bike posture or fit is placing undue pressure on your neck. Fortunately, you can easily resolve this issue by adjusting your form and bike. So whether you’re a recreational cyclist or an avid rider, you can follow some simple tips to avoid neck pain and a sore and stiff neck after long rides.
Here are the common causes of cycling neck pain and ways to prevent neck pain and treat it.
What Causes Neck Pain When Cycling?
Neck pain occurs when your neck is stretched out for a long time. It places unnecessary stress on the joints and muscles of the neck and upper back, causing discomfort and pain.
Forward Head Posture (FHP), a condition that occurs when the head leans forward and is misaligned with the cervical spine, is commonly associated with neck pain. When you push your chin forward and hyperextend your neck, the lower joints of the neck remain constantly compressed. This can occur fairly easily when you are out on a long ride.
The continual strain on the neck joints irritates the tissue and causes stiffness, inflammation, pain, and injury. Moreover, when you overuse the cervical extensors (the muscles that hold your neck up) or stretch the back and shoulder muscles for sustained periods, it can cause pain and fatigue in these muscles.
Also, when you contract or tense a muscle for long periods, the blood circulation to that muscle reduces because of pressure on the small blood vessels. This muscle does not get much oxygen and nutrients and is also made to work heavily. This can cause painful muscle spasms and trigger points.
Poor posture on the bike also plays a major role in causing cycling neck pain. Other factors that prevent you from maintaining a good bike posture and cause neck stiffness include weak neck extensors, poor core stability, and tightness in the upper portion of the spine.
Correcting such postural problems becomes even more difficult if you ignore your bike posture and cannot activate the muscles needed to improve your form.
Although cycling neck pain is fairly common, there are ways to prevent injury while cycling and nipping neck pain in the bud. Check them out below:
1. Maintain Proper Posture
Cycling neck pain is often muscle soreness or stiffness that arises from holding an awkward posture for an extended period. Many cyclists experience it when they sit in an improper posture on the bike saddle, which causes strain and compression on their neck joints.
Road cyclists especially need to keep their heads tipped upward. This can cause or worsen arthritis in the neck region and lead to pinched nerves and spinal stenosis.
That is why paying attention to your form while cycling is important, especially if you’re out on an endurance ride. Keep your shoulder blades relaxed, elongate your torso, lift your chest slightly, and pull your stomach towards your back while riding.
Keep your elbows unlocked and allow them to bend slightly. This will help your elbows absorb shock and prevent the impact from the road from going straight up to your neck and shoulder joints. Regularly switch your hand position to reduce the load on your joints and combat muscle fatigue.
Also, tuck your chin in and stretch your neck regularly while riding at a slow, relaxed pace.
Many avid cyclists tend to do too much, too soon, which causes injury and pain. If you’re planning to increase the duration and frequency of your rides, do so gradually. This will help your joints and muscles get used to the increased demands and perform better on endurance rides.
2. Ensure A Good Bike Fit
A good bike fit promotes a neutral, aligned spine posture. This ensures minimal stress on your neck and enables your muscles to function more efficiently and effortlessly.
If you’re in the market for a new bike, get a comfortable one that fits your body. Also, get its saddle height, handlebar height, cleats, and pedal alignment adjusted professionally. If your bike is set up well to suit your body, it will prevent injuries while cycling and enhance your biking performance.
Even if you have an old bike with a poor fit, go to a local bike shop and get it fitted properly.
Also, ensure that your helmet fits properly too. A helmet that does not fit right can also affect cycling performance and cause neck pain and stiffness.
3. Neck And Core Exercises
You can practice many neck and core exercises to keep neck pain at bay. You should perform postural exercises like angel wings, neck retraction, and chariot pull to reduce strain on the neck.
Poor core stability can affect your ability to keep your spine and trunk in a good position and place extra load on your hands. A rounded spine position will require you to overextend and overreach your neck.
So lower or deep abdominal activation exercises such as dynamic planks, Superman, and Jackknife will help you create a more stable core. Hip-hinging exercises like straight leg deadlifts and bent-over rows also help.
If you’re unsure how to do these exercises, you can seek the aid of a physiotherapist or a clinical Pilates instructor. The instructors will demonstrate these exercises for you and ensure you perform them correctly.
For immediate relief from cycling neck pain and soreness, apply heat or ice on and around the neck. If the area feels warm or if there is swelling, stick to ice. Extending your upper spine over a foam roller or a Swiss ball is also a good idea to relieve neck pain and stiffness.
You can also consider taking a break from biking until your neck pain subsides. During that time, do gentle stretches to loosen up your neck muscles and ease the pain.
One simple way to stretch the muscles in your neck is to touch your chin to your chest and then your ears to your shoulders. You can also stretch your upper back to reduce the strain at the base of the neck.
If the pain in your neck radiates to the top of your head, or you have a tingling sensation or numbness that travels down your arms, you should visit a doctor. The same applies if the neck pain does not improve gradually in around two weeks. Your doctor may suggest mobilization, strengthening, stretching exercises, and other treatment methods.
Neck pain is one of the most common complaints after long riding. However, you can fix it with a proper bike fit, good posture, and by following a maintenance program tailored for the cycling muscles.
If you enjoyed reading our handy guide on cycling neck pain and found it helpful, check out our website and discover more such blog posts and guides on biking.
Last Updated on May 29, 2023 by Danijel Cakalic