My Neck Hurts When I Ride My Bike
Neck pain, back pain, and knee pain are some of the most common complaints of cyclists. Of all of these complaints, neck pain may be one of the most concerning.
Just as the desk jockey struggles with upper cervical pain from poor posture triggered by hours chained to their desk, the cyclist struggles with creating healthy posture and avoiding neck pain while on their bike. The bicycle forces you to sit within a limited number of fixed positions. This restricted movement creates intense stress on specific areas of your body. While compensatory stretching should always be used following a workout, creating the correct fit can relieve much of the pain.
Thankfully, much of this pain is harmless and resolves with no action. However, if you are dealing with recurring neck pain as a result of your cycling (or if you are someone who has neck pain, but who wants to buy a bike) you'll need a guide like this one to help you get the best setup for your specific scenario.
And, before we go further, these tips are educational only. If you have a health problem, consult your physician for guidance.
What Causes Your Neck To Hurt While Cycling?
Your neck is supported by an intricate array of muscles that work closely together to lift and turn the head. The major muscles that play a role are the sternocleidomastoid and the trapezius.
On long rides -- especially on road bicycles -- these muscles hold the head up and support both the neck and the shoulders. This creates a scenario where the shoulders are flexed and supporting the arms. Then, the sternocleidomastoid and the trapezius are also flexed, holding the head up.
In your day-to-day life, these muscles are not used much. Even one hour on the bicycle creates more specific and prolonged engagement of these muscles than they are likely to experience in a week of ordinary living.
Tips To Fix Your Neck Pain
Overcoming neck pain while cycling typically requires a combination of both exercise and bike fit adjustments to resolve the problem. Here are some handy tips for finding fast relief.
1. Get The Correct Bike Size For Your Height
Bicycles come in different sizes. Many cyclists are given bikes by a well-meaning friend, or they purchase them used. In these scenarios, it is common for them to get a bike of the incorrect size. Sites like Dave's offers thorough sizing guidelines that are universal across any brand of bike.
2. Bike Sizing Chart Based On Height
If You Are: < 5’0″ You Need: XX-Small 13″
If You Are: 5’0″-5’4″ You Need: X-Small 13-14″
If You Are: 5’4″-5’9″ You Need:Small 14-16″
If You Are: 5’10”-6’1″ You Need:Medium 16-18″
If You Are: 6’0″-6’4″ You Need: Large 19-21″
If You Are: 6’3″-6’8″ You Need:X-Large 23+"
If you purchase a bike that is too small, it will require your seat to be raised to allow room for pedaling. This taller seat position places your hips too high in relation to the handlebars, tipping your body forward into a steep angle. The resulting body position requires more effort to lift your head and creates unnecessary stress on your neck.
The foundation of a comfortable cycling experience requires a correctly-sized bike.
3. Adjust Your Handlebars Higher With Extenders
Even a correctly sized bicycle may place too much strain on your back or neck. This is especially true for cyclists who have had major back surgery.
Thankfully, there are a few options for moving your handlebar higher and allowing you to enjoy a more upright position.
The easiest option is the adjustable stem. This replacement stem swaps out the traditional, fixed, stem that holds your handlebars with one that can be adjusted into a higher position. Swapping the stems only requires an Allen wrench and 15 minutes of work.
Some cyclists need a more aggressive approach. For these riders, a stem extender should be attached. These extenders can be used in conjunction with the adjustable stems. Many cyclists start with the adjustable stem and then add the risers later if necessary.
The amount a stem (and, as a result, the handlebars) are raised is only limited by the amount of brake cable there is. Sometimes a bike shop will need to run longer brake or shift cables to allow for the taller position. The cost is usually minimal, especially for the comfort it provides.
4. Stretch Your Neck To Relieve Pain
When you finish riding, neck stretches are a lifesaver. Performing simple neck stretches before and after you ride, makes all the difference in how much pain you suffer.
Try squeezing your shoulders back and holding for 10 seconds. Then, lean your ear to each shoulder, holding each side for 10 seconds. Finally, roll your shoulders backwards 10 times and forward 10 times. And then repeat for 3 to 5 repetitions.
For an even more aggressive stretch, place your hands on either side of a door and lean into it. Hold this position for sixty seconds.
When combined with the exercises and bike fitting adjustments, these stretches help release tight muscles and provide swift neck pain relief.
5. Exercise Your Neck To Relieve Overworked Muscles
Mild resistance is all that is necessary to begin working out the neck muscles.
Your hand can provide excellent resistance for performing these exercises. While sitting upright, press your forehead into your hand, and hold it for 30 seconds. Then, repeat to each side. Finally, use a piece of elastic such as a Thera-Band to provide resistance to the back of your head.
Repeating this exercise on a daily basis is enough to increase your neck strength noticeably.
6. Use Ice For Immediate Relief
As with any muscle sprain, using ice is perfect for immediate, non-medicated, relief. If you struggle with neck pain after a ride, you might consider keeping an icepack in your car on the days you ride so that you can ice your shoulders on the car drive home.
7 .Cross Training For More Endurance
Yoga and weight training are two complementary sports for preventing injuries. Yoga adds flexibility training that can help not only your neck but also your lower back and leg muscles.
Weight training can allow you to target weak muscles and correct imbalances that arise as a result of too much cycling.