Neck pain is one of the most common complaints from cyclists. It’s no wonder: Cycling is an activity that requires you to maintain a position in which your back is flexed for long periods of time, placing great demands on your neck.
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Neck pain from riding your bike is a warning sign that your position on your bike or the bike itself is creating undue stress on your neck. The good news is that a few adjustments to your bike and your form can correct the problem.
Whether you’re a casual rider or have dreams of riding in the Tour de France, you can take steps to avoid a stiff and sore neck when cycling. Here are three tips from spine specialist Michael Schaefer, MD.
1. Take the proper position
Most neck pain from cycling is muscle stiffness or soreness from sitting in an awkward position for a long period of time.
Many people experience neck pain because they are improperly positioned on their bike. If you’re riding a road bike, your head is tipped upward, which can aggravate arthritis in the neck, create pinched nerves and contribute to spinal stenosis.
So check your form: Pull your stomach in toward your lower back, elongate your torso, slide the shoulder blades down your upper back and keep your chest slightly lifted while riding. Keep your chin tucked in and stretch your neck during relaxed parts of your ride.
Make sure your helmet is properly fitted too. A helmet that isn’t properly adjusted also can affect comfort and neck stiffness.
2. Find a bike that fits your body and get it adjusted
A well set-up bike will help avoid cycling injuries in the long run and will make you a better and more efficient cyclist.
If you’re buying a new bicycle, fit is important. So try as many different bikes as you can and buy the one that feels the most comfortable. Then get the seat height, handlebar height, cleats and pedal alignment adjusted to fit your body.
Even if you are riding an older bicycle that you’ve owned for years, visit a local bike shop to have it properly fit for you. Most reputable shops often can make small adjustments that can help you feel more comfortable on your bike and get more out of your cycling efforts.
“The best way to avoid problems with your neck is appropriate adjustments of your handlebars and your saddle, to put your whole spine in a good position,” Dr. Schaefer says.
3. How to treat soreness
You can treat the soreness in the back of your neck or shoulders with heat or ice. Ice is best if the area feels swollen or warm.
It’s also a good idea to take a break from your bike until your neck pain diminishes. In the meantime, try some gentle stretches to make your neck feel better, Dr. Schaefer says.
“Touching the chin to the chest and then the ear to each shoulder is a great way to loosen up these muscles,” Dr. Schaefer says.
If you have neck pain that radiates all the way over the top of your head, numbness or tingling that shoots down the arms, or if the pain doesn’t gradually improve in about two weeks, it’s time to see a doctor.