Are you suffering from cycling neck pain? Neck pain from biking is actually more common than you think. And if you're looking to treat or prevent neck pain from cycling, you've come to the right place. Today, we're going to cover all that you need to know about biking neck pain.
Neck pain from cycling is a risk you sign up for every time you hop on your bike. Even with a perfect bike fit, the anatomy of your spine while riding is unnatural - and it puts the neck muscles under a ton of stress. Minor neck discomfort is one thing - but if you're suffering from more intense neck pain while cycling, something needs to be done.
This pain and tension are further exacerbated when you have a weak neck (which, to be honest, most people do). That's why in this complete guide, we're going to help you understand why you deal with cycling neck pain, and how you can treat it. If you don't currently have any biking-related pain in your neck, it's even more important that you read the rest of this article, as you will also learn what it takes to prevent this in the first place! First things first - let's address the root cause of cycling neck pain.
What Causes Cycling Neck Pain in the First Place?
We mentioned earlier that neck pain while cycling is pretty common - and that's due to the positioning of your spine while riding a bike. Whether you're a casual cycler or a professional cycler, the anatomy your body is in while riding is not natural or ideal. Your neck and shoulder muscles are both in pretty compromised positions. Let's start with the shoulders - these are supporting the entire weight of your upper body.
You can imagine the stress they take on as your rides become longer and longer. Any inflammation in the shoulder blades or the muscles themselves can lead to pain in the cervical spine. But the neck itself is also in an incredibly compromised position. It's responsible for supporting the weight of your head, while in extension.
How Neck Extension While Cycling Causes Pain in the Neck Muscles
Our neck is comprised of some of the most dynamic little muscles in our body. It's a miracle we're able to turn our head and move it the way we are. But when these muscles are forced to stay in one position for such a long period of time, like with cycling - it can cause trouble.
This is only exacerbated by the fact that your neck must support the weight of your head - which isn't light! The human head can weigh as much as 15 pounds. So, you can imagine what a toll this takes over the course of a 1, 2, 3+ hour ride. Neck pain while cycling is almost something you have to learn to live with.
Can I Just Deal With Neck Pain From Cycling, Or Do I Need to Take Time Off?
That last thing you want to do is have to park the bike for a few weeks - but at a certain point, you have to put your longevity and long term health first. So - can you just deal with neck pain from cycling or do you need to take some time off?
There's a fine line between simple fatigue in the neck muscles after a ride and a serious neck injury. It's important to distinguish between the two. If you feel some form of impingement or heard/felt something "pop", then you should do your best to recover and give your body time to heal.
Continuing to put your neck in compromised positions when it's not at 100% is just inviting further injury. However, if you just feel that your muscles are a bit sore, you don't necessarily need to put the bike away for the week.
Many people are able to learn how to manage cycling-related neck pain and continue to ride their bike daily - let's explain how you can do the very same.
How Do I Stop Neck Pain When Cycling?
Cyclist neck pain can be downright miserable. Fortunately, we’ve got some solutions for you to try There are a few ways you can stop neck pain when cycling. First, we're going to talk about bike fit - making sure your bike is dialed in for you and your frame. Then, you can help alleviate some of the cycling neck pain from home if you still suffer from it.
Bike Fit - Adjust The Handlebar Height & Position On Your Bike.
While you can't alleviate all the stress caused by your position on the bike, you can optimize the handlebar height & position to take some of it off.
Excessive reach to your handlebars is ultimately what causes back and neck pain, so avoids hunching over as much as possible. To accomplish this, you can either alter the handlebar height or the distance from the saddle - in some cases, you may need to alter both. Getting your bike in the perfect position for your body is the most important part of keeping your spine and the rest of your body intact, so make sure you have proper bike fit!
How To Alleviate Cycling Neck Pain From Home After a Ride
Assuming you're not dealing with a real injury that requires professional treatment, you can more or less manage the pain from cycling at home.
All those muscles in your upper back along your spine - specifically between your shoulder blades - are going to be pretty inflamed and stressed. A good start is to loosen them and get them to release. You can foam roll, use a lacrosse ball, or a Theracane, and release the trigger points in your neck and upper back. Then, you can stretch these muscles out. Follow that up with some other anti-inflammatory tactics, such as an Epsom salt bath or even some ibuprofen.
Specific Stretches & Movements To Help Loosen Up And Alleviate Cyclist Neck Pain
We're going to talk specifically about strength training in a moment, but first, we want to talk about some stretches and movements you can do to ease the overactive muscles that are giving you grief.
A lot of these will focus on the traps, chest, lats, and triceps. Here are some of our recommendations to follow up with after your ride:
- Thoracic extension on a foam roller (huge to combat the overactive flexion position while riding)
- Foam roller W stretch (this will loosen up tight pecs and shoulders)
- Lat stretches (compliment these with ultra-deep breathing to get deep into the lat muscles)
- Seated neck stretches (be very gentle here, but do not skip these if you suffer from cycling-related tension!)
Addressing the Root Cause of Neck Pain from Cycling: Weak Neck Muscles
Learning how to manage the symptoms of neck pain when cycling is a good idea. But if you're serious about riding and are in this for the long haul - you need to optimize your body for the stress this activity brings. It's no secret that a weak muscle is far easier to injure - and this is almost always the case in biking. with perfect bike fit and warming up, you are at risk of injury with a weak frame! But how do you do strengthen the neck specifically for biking?
TRAIN THE FLEXION POSITION SPECIFICALLY FOR BIKING
There are a wide array of neck strengthening exercises you can try out yourself to build strength and durability of the neck. However, to compensate for the overactive extension your cervical spine is in while riding a bike, you should focus your training around the flexion position to prevent muscular imbalances. Simple chin tucks are great if you're a cyclist hoping to strengthen your neck and stay pain-free in the long run. But, we also encourage you to train all the other little muscles in this region - especially those responsible for stabilizing. Learn more in our complete guide to neck training.
Do I Need Equipment To Train My Neck For Cycling?
At first, you can get by with just the weight of your head. However, you'll eventually need to add some form of resistance.
Whether that is with resistance bands and a neck harness, or you want your training to be a bit more dynamic with the Iron Neck training machine - that is up to you. Whatever the case, this is one area you cannot skimp on if you plan on being a cyclist for years to come.
This activity may seem low impact, but that doesn't mean it won't put significant wear and tear on your body. So, get to work - your livelihood depends on it!
Final Thoughts on Neck Pain When Cycling: How to Prevent or Treat Biking Neck Pain
We hope this article has helped you gain clarity on how to prevent or treat neck pain when cycling. Cycling neck pain is typically caused by a poor bike fit, poor posture while riding, or in some cases, weak neck muscles. So, you can go down the list yourself and see which of these is the culprit in your unique circumstances. Avoid neck pain by adjusting your bike fit or strengthening the deep neck extensors, upper back muscles (like the trapezius muscle), and other related muscles.
In some cases, your neck pain from cycling may force you to take some time off. As difficult as it may be, it's important for keeping you riding in the long term - so bite the bullet and give your body time to recover. With these tips, you will be able to curb cyclist neck pain once and for all!