Cycling Neck & Shoulder Pain

“45 per cent of cyclists suffer from chronic neck pain, which is often worse after a ride”

Wilber et al. 1995

Cycling posture requires bending forward at the low back and hips and maintaining the neck in an extended position to see the road ahead. This unnatural cycling position puts a lot of pressure on the junction between your neck and upper back due to the neck joints compressing against each other which may lead to neck irritation. Looking over your shoulder for traffic and the vibration from the road travelling  along the arms to the neck may be uncomfortable.

Riding with the arms and the weight of the head (typically 5kg) held forward for hours at a time may cause neck and shoulder tension which can cause fatigue and neck pain when cycling long distances. Cycling induced symptoms may include stiffness and discomfort in your neck and/or upper back, headaches, migraines, jaw pain, shoulder muscular aches, pins and needles in your arms and finger tingling.

Neck pain is often maintained by poor posture and weak shoulder girdle mechanics when on the bike. The problem with a bike posture is that it accentuates a poor forward head desk bound posture.

Heavy exertional breathing causes the accessory breathing muscles (scalenes) on the front of the neck to be overused and chronically tighten up. As we fatigue the flexed/hunched posture of the lower and upper back becomes more pronounced affecting the thoracic spine, rib cage and shoulders which then leads to an increase in extension in the neck to look forward.

The body is very good at compensating for slight postural strains or muscular imbalances and it can be a while before the problems manifest as pain. If you have had a bicycle accident, then there may be imbalances (possibly predisposed to by being in the same position on a bike for hours) and residual complications even when the injury is apparently healed may cause long term issues if not treated.

Although overuse injuries may appear local in effect, they are often multi-factorial in origin. Osteopathy is well suited to this kind of issue. Osteopaths can identify the weaknesses that may pose potential problems and can help correct the strains that occur from cycling and or general posture. Osteopathic treatment looks at the whole body and the way it works together as a unit, the inter-relationship between structure and function, and is suited well to the athlete and cycling enthusiast alike.  Osteopathic treatment to loosen restricted joints in the spine and massage to specific tight muscles and fascia may help ease neck pain when cycling.  Corrective postures and appropriate exercises may also be given. Don’t forget a bike fit! The strongest neck and shoulder muscles won’t be much help if the setup of your bike is incorrect. Remember, the more aerodynamic the bike setup the greater the compression on the neck joints.

Cycling can be tough on your body and it’s important to make sure you look after it. Why pay thousands on a bike, if you don’t address any issues with your body that can have a detrimental impact on performance, health or even just being comfortable on the bike?

So, if you find you aren’t getting the most out of your cycling then see an osteopath and see if they can get you moving again.