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Preventing Neck Pain in Cyclists

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Aidan Jones via Flickr Creative Commons

Neck pain is one of the most common cycling ailments. There are number of factors in a ride that can contribute to pain in this area, according to Trish DaCosta, group fitness instructor, trainer at Gold’s Gym, Sports Arena, and founder of Love Life Fit.

The first and easiest to solve is bike fit—a poor fit will lead to improper biking technique and biomechanics. The same is true if you ride indoors.

“A bike shop or instructor should adjust your bike to your body and needs for the most optimal ride,” she suggests.

Cyclists can also experience neck pain due to weak neck muscles. There are deep neck flexors that work a lot like the stabilizing muscles in the core to hold the head up.

“If those muscles are weak or fatigued from hyperextension or poor posture, the trapezius muscles have to jump in to compensate for that weakness. Before long, that muscle group fatigues and you’re left with aches, pain and a lot of discomfort,” DaCosta explains.

In the following interview, DaCosta discusses neck pain, when it should be treated and how it can be prevented.   

About.com: If a cyclist experiences neck pain, what is the first thing he/she should do?

DaCosta: Pain is the body’s alarm system. If you feel it during a ride or afterwards, you need to address it. Immediately, riders can do a few exercises to loosen up tension in the neck and shoulders, such as shoulder rolls, side neck bends, and rotating the head from side to side. However, for severe or prolonged pain, cyclists should see a doctor.

About.com: How is neck pain treated?

DaCosta: For less severe aches and pains, riders need to take a step back and focus on recovering properly. This may involve icing the muscles after a ride, practicing a few neck and shoulder stretches to address flexibility and exercises to strengthen the deep neck flexors. A few examples include:

Chin tucks: Lie down with your knees bent and gently tuck your chin in towards your chest, being careful not to jam your chin down into your chest. The goal is to neutralize the spine and not go into hyper flexion.

Shoulder rolls: This involves shrugging the shoulders to the ears, allowing the muscles to contract, and then rolling them back and down to stretch them. Repeat this a few times and reverse.

Side neck stretch and rotation: Gently pull your head down towards your ear and hold to stretch the sternocleidomastoid muscle, or sternos, for short. Repeat on the other side. Another is to rotate the neck to the right and left, gently and with control.

About.com: Who should a cyclist see to treat the pain? Why?

DaCosta: Cyclists should go to a doctor if they’re experiencing severe or long-term neck pain. There may be another issue causing the pain and a doctor is in the best position to recommend a specialist or additional treatment. However, if the goal is to improve strength and flexibility in the neck in order to prevent acute neck pain long-term, cyclists should take up Pilates as part of their active recovery work. The exercises help improve posture by stabilizing the shoulder girdle, strengthening the core and providing a number of flexion and extension exercises for the neck that will neutralize the spine and prevent neck pain.

About.com: How can neck pain be prevented?

DaCosta: Neck pain can be avoided with proper bike fit, good posture and strong neck muscles. It also helps to relax during the ride. People often tense their neck and shoulders and grip the handlebars for dear life when they’re tired or the terrain is challenging. All that does is create unnecessary tension in the neck.

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