Neck pain from cycling is one of the most common injuries, but it is often left unaddressed. Pain of any kind is your body telling you something, and shouldn’t be ignored. Typically, the discomfort is localized in your anterior deltoids, upper trap muscles and neck extensors. This can be attributed to a few causes such as bike fit, head positioning when riding, and muscle tightness.
What Causes Neck Pain
As a beginner cyclist it’s important to work with a bike fitting specialist and tweak one thing at a time, ride for about a week, and assess the changes. This allows you and the fitter to pinpoint the exact solution or cause in order to improve riding conditions.
Often neck pain from cycling is linked to having a high seat post in relation to your bars. When the seat post is too high it can place you in an aggressive position, which your body may not be ready for. It’s a better tactic to gradually increase the aero position as you get used to cycling. Additionally, if your road or aero bars are too far away causing you to overreach you can place unnecessary strain on these muscles. The solution would be to place the bars closer in relation to your body so you’re in a “tucked” position when riding.
It’s natural to try and keep your head up on your bike, looking forward to ensure you don’t swerve off the road. The key is to learn to look up with you eyes, rather than your entire head. Keeping your head down puts less strain on your neck, and allows you to ride for longer periods of time without irritating the muscles.
As a beginner cyclist you are now forcing your body to use muscles either it hasn’t in other activities or in a different way. This leads to tightness, muscles spasms, and pain. However, there are a few stretching exercises that can be completed which will lead to disruption of the pain-spasm cycle.
How to Treat Neck Pain from Cycling
Stretching is the best way to keep the neck muscles relaxed and prevent neck pain. Adding these stretches into your routine (or building a routine around them) will help keep you pain free, or address any neck pain you may already have. Hold each one for 20-30 seconds, and repeat at least twice.
Stand with your back straight, feet shoulder-width apart, and your arms at your sides. Look straight ahead and relax. Let your head drop forward by bringing your chin to your chest. Keep your back straight and your eyes on your toes as you hold this position. You can put your hands behind your head and pull down gently to extend the stretch.
This stretch is for cyclists who experience muscle tension at the back of their neck after spending extended periods of time on the bike.
Neck and bend rotation
Stand with your legs slightly apart, your back and neck straight, and look forward. Your hands can be at your sides, or clasped behind your back. Lower and rotate your head to the left, looking down toward the ground. Relax into the stretch, trying to extend the movement. You should feel the stretch along the right side of the neck. Bring your left arm up and gently pull down on your head to lengthen the stretch. Repeat the movement, lowering your head to the right.
This stretch is especially important for track and road racers who spend a lot of time in an aerodynamic position, creating tension in the neck and head extensor muscles.
Lateral neck bend
Stand with your feet slightly apart, back and neck straight. Raise your right arm and place it on the left side of the head, with your forearm going over top of your head. Your fingers should be pointing towards the ground, with your fingertips touching your ear. Gently pull down on your head, leaning so your ear is approaching your shoulder. Keep your shoulder down and relaxed throughout the stretch. Repeat with your left arm reaching up to the right side of your head.
Rear neck pull
Turn your head slightly to the left. Raise your left arm and place your hand on the top of your head, fingers pointing down the back of your hand, forearm resting on the top of your head. Even though your head is turned, keep your neck and back in line with your body. Gradually pull on your head, rotating so your face is near your armpit.
Sit or stand, keeping your neck, shoulders, and torso straight. Looking straight ahead, imagine there is a star in front of your with a vertical line, horizontal line, and two diagonal lines. Trace the vertical line, looking up at the ceiling and then bringing the chin down to the chest three times. Next, follow the horizontal line side to side once. Finally, trace the two diagonal lines once each. Return to the starting position and repeat three more times. This is a great stretch because is combines flexion, extension, rotation and lateral rotation to give you a complete neck stretch.
If you want stretching routines for cyclists, check out Dynamic Cyclist for the daily video program.