My Neck Hurts! – Cycling CME
One of the most common complaints from cyclists is neck pain. My wife, Terri, and I would say that neck pain is our most common chronic musculoskeletal problem from cycling. Seeing that both of us are in the “mature” athlete group, sometimes we just expect it. However, neck pain in all cyclists can often be minimized with posture, proper bike fit, and conditioning.
One of the most commonly cited reasons for neck pain in cyclists is poor posture. This is likely related to daily poor posture, perhaps due to a desk job or computer work. In addition, both wearing your bike helmet too far forward and ill-fitted sunglasses may cause riders to excessively hyperextend their neck. Other reasons include improper or unrealistic handle bar positioning or overall improper fit of the bike. In the mature athlete, there may also be a component of detraining, misuse, and underlying degenerative change contributing to neck pain.
How does a cyclist address neck pain?
1. Be sure your bike is fitted properly. Often, adjusting your bike will decrease neck pain. Raising your handlebars by changing the stem is often a good first step. Both Terri and I have made this adjustment. However, be sure that you get good advice from an experienced bike fitter.
2. Work on your posture! Try to maintain a more neutral spine. Keep your shoulders, elbows, wrists, and hands relaxed to act as shock absorbers. Regularly stretch during the safest sections of riding. Avoid locking into the same position for too long.
3. Wear a well-fitted helmet
4. Conditioning. Be sure to include a conditioning program emphasizing neck, upper back, and core conditioning. An area that I often see neglected in avid cyclists is strengthening, especially core and upper body strengthening. This is even more important as we age. Including a two-day per week strength program can be helpful in this area. You can find several simple exercises and posture tips on Cycling Weekly. However, a physical therapist who understands cycling will be your most important consultation.
5. If your neck pain does not resolve or includes pain into your arms or chest – see your doctor! It may be something more significant.
Enjoy your cycling – there’s a lot of good riding out there!