4 Tips on How to Fix Cycling Neck Pain

Feb 21, 2024
cycling neck pain

(Credit: Adobe Stock)

Neck pain while cycling and neck pain from cycling are two common issues people face on the bike. There’s nothing worse than the feeling of struggling just to keep your head up while riding. Never is this more true than when your lower back, hamstrings and quads are yelling at you at the same time! Let’s learn about cycling neck pain and how to overcome it.

What Causes Cycling Neck Pain?

If you look at anyone riding a road bike (or just pay attention to yourself on your next ride), you can see the neck is in a compromised position. It’s either really far forward or craned back or both, depending on how aggressive the riding position is. The nature of cycling is quite static apart from the lower body, and it is in this detail where much of the problem lies.

The neck extensors are tasked with maintaining stability of and supporting the head, especially in an upright position. However, during cycling, these muscles can become overworked and fatigued due to the sustained forward-leaning posture adopted by riders. This persistent tension on the neck places excessive strain on the cervical spine and surrounding musculature. 

If you’re a desk worker or otherwise spend lots of time sitting, your neck muscles are likely being jeopardized in some way. Creeping too close to the computer screen at work or resting passively against the cushion of a couch in your down time means the muscles in the neck are being overworked or getting weaker, respectively. The neck is always involved somehow.

Too much weight carried by the upper body (≥40% of bodyweight) while riding further contributes to these problems. Stress through the upper limbs causes pressure in and around the neck to build, possibly leading to discomfort and injury. We’re starting to see that several factors, including work, past injuries, bike fit and positioning, can have an effect on this sensitive area. 

“Is there a cycling position to avoid neck pain?”

Avoiding neck pain from cycling totally is a far-fetched goal. At some point we have to come to terms with the fact that cycling just doesn’t put our necks in a great position. That being said, there are many things we can do to mitigate the likelihood of cycling neck pain from occurring, both acutely and chronically.

(Credit: Adobe Stock)

4 Tips on How to Fix Cycling Neck Pain

Understanding the biomechanics of cycling and its effects on the neck can inform strategies to alleviate these issues and promote greater comfort and efficiency on the bike. Now that we’ve covered some of the main causes, let’s turn our attention to changes we can make on the bike and things we can do in general to fix this problem and prevent it from occurring in the future.

1. Bike Fit

We don’t want too much weight bearing in the upper limbs, and a lot of that has to do with bike fit. A professional bike fit is recommended to help solve the problem of cycling neck pain; handlebars shouldn’t be too low or too far forward, the saddle shouldn’t be tipped too far forward (forcing weight into the upper body), and the elbows should have a soft bend in them.

2. Gaze

Where you look is going to have a significant impact on the position of your neck. Optimal head position will have you looking straight, approximately 20-30 feet ahead of you, to scan for obstacles and maintain awareness. Straining above the horizon will crane the neck excessively, and any lower starts to disengage the neck extensors by putting them into a lengthened position.

3. Spinal Alignment

Maintaining a neutral spine (as much as possible) should be your default position on the bike. The more aerodynamic of a position you begin to adopt, the more likely it is that the spine will round. This is okay temporarily and for specific purposes throughout a race or training session, but also promotes hunched shoulders, forward head posture, and craned-neck head positioning.

4. Strength & Mobility Training

Our off-the-bike training has one goal above all others—injury prevention. With the problem of cycling neck pain in mind, our goal then is to implement effective stretches and strength exercises to help relieve tension in the neck and optimally support it through muscular strength and balance. We will give examples of each in the next section of this article.

(Credit: Adobe Stock)

Dynamic Cyclist—Mobility, Strength & Recovery

The Dynamic Cyclist platform has been designed to help cyclists train and compete pain free on the bike. We’ve created it to help fix common cycling injuries and improve performance with easy to follow, fun to do, 15-20 minute routines. 

Here are two movements from us—one mobilization and one strength exercise—to help you make a positive difference in your cycling neck pain today!

If you enjoyed this article and like what you see below, sign up for a 7-day free trial with us, and join our community of tens of thousands of cyclists worldwide!

Mobilization: Cat-Cow

Instructions:

  • Start on all fours in a kneeling position
  • Round your spine and tuck your chin towards your chest (picture 1)
  • Once you reach your end range, hold for a split second, then reverse the movement
  • Arch the back, crane the neck, and extend the spine as much as possible while bringing the shoulder blades together (picture 2)
  • Again, hold for a split second at your end range, then repeat the sequence
  • Continue this movement for 30-60 seconds

Benefits

The cat-cow moves the whole spine (including the cervical spine; your neck) through a large range of motion. It mobilizes the vertebrae and back/neck muscles through both flexion and extension, encouraging blood flow, promoting healing and long-term health. It’s a great movement to mitigate the stiffness caused by cycling in the upper back/neck region.

Strength Exercise: Prone Head Lift

Instructions:

  • Start in a prone position with your arms folded in front of you, head resting on your forearms (picture 1)
  • From hear, retract your neck, pulling it backwards to lift your head off of your arms (think of making a double chin to perform this; picture 2)
  • Hold for a split second, then return your head to your arms
  • Repeat this movement for 30-60 seconds

Benefits

Performing the prone head lift helps strengthen the neck extensors on the back of the neck. These are the muscles that get weak and overstretched when we spend too much time in a forward head posture (i.e. while cycling or just sitting in general). Pulling the head back into proper alignment reduces the strain on your cervical spine and, resultantly, the likelihood of cycling neck pain.

Written by Eric Lister - Certified Personal Trainer & Corrective Exercise Specialist

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