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5 Reasons why cycling causes neck and shoulder pain, and what you can do about it
Cycling is an expensive hobby. A good bike in Brisbane can cost thousands not to mention the prices of other necessary gear such as bike racks and helmets. The last thing you want to do is pay even more on pills with nasty side effects, or ‘minor’ surgeries that could leave you out of commission for months just to ease cycling related neck and shoulder pain. Thankfully, you can avoid expensive neck pain treatment, and it’s as simple as heeding the following advice from an expert physiotherapist.
1. Your bike isn’t set up properly
Your neck issues could be caused by your bike’s handles being lower than your seat. Raising them will reduce the impact being placed on the muscles of your neck and shoulders. In time, as your fitness increases, you’ll be able to slowly lower its height.
2. You’re looking the wrong way
Reducing neck pain while cycling could boil down to how you engage a small muscle group near your eyes. Your ocular motor is a group of muscles that work in unison to control your eye movements and help both eyes to track an object as a pair. This is what allows you to seamlessly read words across page or copy something from a blackboard without confusion. It also helps your visual perception which lets you catch and throw objects normally, as well as become generally more aware, discriminating and perceptive in your perception of the space around you.
So what does this have to do with riding a bike?
You see, many riders look up and into the distance too much when riding, which means that their neck stabilisers aren’t working and they compensate by straining their shoulder muscles. The best position for neck stability is slightly tucking your chin and looking directly ahead, which strengthens your ocular motor response, further stabilising your neck and helping to hold the position. Looking ahead also prevents your shoulder blades from getting weak and unstable.
3. You aren’t activating your core
Just because your core is strong, it doesn’t mean you’re all set. When cycling, too many people focus only on strength and not muscular activation, which can potentially cause injury. Unless you’re activating your core muscle groups as you ride, you might experience strain in your shoulder blades and destabilisation in your neck. You can also lean too far forward on your bike’s handlebars, creating further neck tension which in turn creates a tension headache.
4. You aren’t warming up
Gentle neck stretches are important if you’re over 40 years old, have had a neck or whiplash injury in the past, or spend hours in front of a computer every day, as this means you’ll already have a small amount of stiffness and tension present. Gentle stretches that don’t lead to instability on your bike are important. You can also include other gentle mobility movements that target your hips, lumbar/thoracic area, spine and shoulders before getting on your bike. This will make sure that your muscles are activated and that any lingering tightness has been released.
5. You are rotating your head and chatting
It’s important to be able to look out for oncoming traffic, but if you’re doing it too often and for more than a few seconds at a time, it can cause neck problems. It’s common for those who ride two abreast to experience this problem, as they’re constantly turning to chat to each other. It’s best to avoid this as it can shorten certain muscles on the side of your neck, leading to an asymmetrical body and lower spine problems.
How can I prevent cycling related neck and shoulder pain?
- Firstly, get your bike adjusted by a cycling specialist that knows your health history and of the past pain and injuries you’ve experienced. Don’t be afraid to tell them that you’re in pain and keep going back to them for adjustments if necessary. If the pain persists, you might need to visit a professional physiotherapist who can help you build strength in the right areas and teach you several exercises to practice.
- Strengthen your neck muscles and the stabiliser in your shoulder blades. To boost your neck muscle stability as well as shoulder stability, lie on your front, pulling the muscles underneath your lower belly inwards and keeping the muscles at the bottom of your back relaxed. Holding this position, edge the shoulder blades in a backwards motion towards each other with your fingers, pulling towards where your toes are. Holding this pose, lift your head and chest enough to keep your chin tucked and head on the same plane with the rest of your body. Do ten sets of this entire exercise, holding the final pose for ten seconds.
- You can make the muscles surrounding your eye area stronger by strengthening your ocular motor response by having your sight track an invisible square outline in front of you, without any head movement. This can be followed by gently moving your entire head from left to right without any eye movement.
- Practice activating your core by getting on your hands as well as your knees, pulling the space beneath your belly to your spine until tension has been created in the space between each. Keep practicing this movement, ensuring that your weight is spread out across your hands as a sign you’re getting it right. Holding this pose, lift one leg or arm while keeping your back flat.
- Gently stretch your neck to relieve its tight muscles by putting an ear down to the top of a shoulder while moving the shoulder on the other side downwards. Rotate your head towards your armpit and then again to the other side. Finish by rotating the shoulders upwards and around to loosen any stiffness and complete a few lunges to open up your hips.
Cycling is a great way to get fit, so don’t let pain get in the way. Follow the practical advice listed above, and if you’re looking for more targeted neck and shoulder pain relief ‘neck and shoulder pain relief’, make regular physiotherapy sessions a part of your post cycling schedule and you’ll be able to bike comfortably for years to come.