Neck Pain from Cycling
Neck pain has plagued almost everyone at one time or another. It’s a common issue ranging from mild discomfort to serious pain, and it’s difficult to avoid. Simply sitting, standing or sleeping the wrong way can lead to it neck tension. If it’s that easy to develop in day to day actions, it makes sense that neck pain from cycling is an extremely common complaint.
But why is neck pain so quick to develop? For one thing, we tend to carry a lot of our stress in our neck muscles. Add to that the average person’s poor posture, and a stressful day at the office just became a great source of discomfort. It’s difficult enough to practice healthy posture when sitting, but when riding your bike it can be even more challenging to remember. This is especially true for new or self-taught cyclists.
And cycling, while for the most part considered to be a body-friendly sport, does lend itself to strained muscles. Consider the posture — even when it’s done correctly. It’s still an unnatural way for humans to carry themselves. In fact, humans were designed to walk on four legs. Our spines were intended to be horizontal, not vertical. In general, this is one reason why neck pain is so easy to come by. When you look at the very particular posture one takes on a bike, the heavy weight of the human head plus a bike helmet, it’s really no wonder that neck pain from cycling is so common.
The good news is that, unlike some other cycling-related injuries, neck pain from cycling in most cases doesn’t mean you need to quit riding nor does it mean that you’re at risk for something worse. For the most part, it’s just — pardon the obvious — a pain in the neck. But it’s also easy to fix through adjustments, prevention and treatment.
Perhaps the biggest cause of neck pain from cycling — or of any other major discomfort — is bike fit. Those who have been riding for any significant period of time probably know that there’s a lot to this. Bike fit is all about how every detail of your bicycle is adjusted, from the pedals to the saddle to the handle bars. And each part of bike fit has its own details within. Thus it could be said outright that if you think poor bike fit might be harming your ride comfort and posture, it may be worth it to pay for a professional fitting.
Do keep in mind, thought, that bike fit is not to be confused with bike sizing. If you’re starting from square one, the first thing you need to do is make sure your bicycle is the right size for your body. If it’s too big or small, that can definitely be a source of discomforts like neck pain from cycling.
But back to bike fit, a crummy bike fit should be fixed no matter what current, physical ailments a cyclist has. If it’s not something now, it’s only a matter of time before something like knee injury or back issues flair up. No matter where you stand with neck pain from cycling, you should follow these steps to look for ways in which you can make your bike fit healthier for your body. One way that poor bike fit that causes neck pain from cycling is when it makes the body stretch out too far. For the same reason, a too-large bicycle would also cause neck pain. But again, if you’re uncertain about your bike size, start there before you get into bike fit.
To avoid a bike fit that stretches you too far, here’s what you’re going for. The neck should be comfortably aligned with the spine. When you’re riding, you should be able to reach the bars easily, without straining and while keeping a slight bend in the elbows. The width of your bars should match your shoulders. And, you can take a ride around the block and observe how your fit compares to this. If any of it seems off, it’s time to start adjusting.
Start with your handlebars. Do you feel like you’re reaching for them? If so, you should first check your stem. It may be too long, causing you to reach further out than you need to. You just have to adjust the stem so that it’s easier for you to reach your handlebars comfortably, allowing your neck to relax when riding. You can adjust the bar’s height as well so that you can find a better and more comfortable grip on them.
Next, take a look at the saddle. If your saddle is set too far back, or if you’re sitting too far back on it, this could also cause your neck to stretch, strain and crain when you ride. You can adjust your saddle so that you sit further forward. However, be careful not to move the saddle too far forward, since this can be bad for your knees.
Again, if you’re not sure about your bike fit, in the long run it’s worth paying for a professional fitting. This way, you can rule out these mechanics as a possible cause of your neck pain from cycling.
Other possible causes are tight or weak muscles and poor posture unrelated to bike fit. Is your helmet too big so that it falls low on your forehead? This or other habits might cause you to strain your neck upwards when riding for better visibility. Try to notice what habits you have that might bring tension to the neck area.
Since tight and weak muscles are themselves causes of neck pain from cycling, it only makes sense to address those issues in order to feel better. Knots in tight muscles will take on more impact when you’re riding, making them even worse. Use a self-massage tool to release that tension and work through the knots before you ride. You can also perform gentle stretches to the neck and shoulders to help loosen tension and prepare for a ride. Sore muscles can be treated post-ride with alternating heat and ice, or with a warm epsom salt bath. Subscribe for more.