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.
This pain and tension are further exacerbated when you have a weak neck (which, to be honest, most people do). That's why today, 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!
Why Does Cycling Hurt My Neck?
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
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 Cycle With Neck Pain, Or Do I Need 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 My Neck From Hurting When Cycling?
There are a few ways you can stop your neck from hurting 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
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 You Up After Riding
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!)
How Do I Strengthen My Neck For Cycling?
Learning how to manage the symptoms of 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
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.
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 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!