Avoid Shoulder and Neck Pain Whilst Cycling

Whether you are neophyte in the world of cycling, or an old dog who has been dragging your bike for a long time, chances are that you have had an experience of shoulder pains and stiff or tight muscles in the neck area after finishing a long ride. So what on earth is happening? Do cyclists just put up with it and just endure the pain? The answer to these questions in “No”, you don’t need to put up with it. There are different factors why cyclists experience neck and upper back pains. And these are the things that we are going to talk about plus the preventive measures in cycling that we can carry out to prevent further injury and pain in the neck, shoulder and arm area.

Aches, Pains, and a Proper Bike that Fits

Comfort is very important factor in riding a bicycle. Whether you are riding around the block, riding to a friend’s house, or cycling across the country it is very important that you have a chemistry with your bike, that is you are comfortable with it. If you experience pain in your upper back or in the neck area while cycling or even after cycling, then, perhaps your bicycle does not fit you. For advice, you can head on to your local bike shop and ask for an expert’s advice on which kind of bike fits you. Because getting a bike that properly fits you is very important, as it can help you in eliminating unnecessary discomfort during you’re cycling sessions. Plus it can greatly boost and improve your aerodynamics and pedaling competency.

Now let’s try to understand what really happens: why do certain muscle pains occur while cycling? Let’s focus first on the cyclist form, or position while riding a bike. Most cyclist ride in a hunched position, now this is a very uncomfortable position and most of the time put so much stress on the upper back and neck muscles. Therefore if the ride is too long there will be a prolonged hyper-extension of the neck area and thus an intense pain may occur.

Neck pain is the most common problem that cyclists encounter and complain about. This is usually the effect of straining the neck muscles by bending the neck up for a longer period of time. This is usually done to see which direction you are going. This may imply that your bike may be too long for you, or your handle bars are placed too low. Make sure that when you ride, don’t position yourself too low on the bike, as this employs your neck muscles to bend further up. So here are some tips to help you out.

1. When you ride your bike, raise the handle bars so you can ride in a more upright position, thus reducing the strain in your neck.
2. Make sure that the frame of your bike isn’t too long for you.
3. If you got a longer bike, make sure that the stem is shorter so you won’t need to reach out too far. Just don’t exceed more that 100mm as this can give you more problem.
4. Choose a shallower drop for your handlebar.

Another cycling gear that can cause neck pain is the helmet. If it is not properly placed and worn too far forward, it can generate a surge of pain in the neck area due to bending too far to get a view of the track. Aside from this, it also defeats the purpose of the gear which is worn for safety purposes; instead it becomes a hazardous object for the cyclist and becomes the cause of injury.

 

I Have a Near Perfect fit and I Still Have Neck Pain

This can be down to an injury or overuse of a muscle. This can occur when a cyclist is on a long ride, and the neck is bent upward for a prolonged period of time with sub-maximal loading on the upper back and neck region, thus adding tension and resulting in injury.

To have an over view of what really happens when a muscle is sustained in a contracting motion for a long period of time, the blood vessels are clamped, and the flow of blood into that specific muscle is impeded. Thus the blood supply is reduced while the pressure on that area is building up. This then results in painful muscle spams and trigger points of pain. Muscles basically need oxygen and nutrients to function properly, and with added pressure and oxygen deprivation, muscles are pushed beyond their limits. They signal to us through pain, to inform us that there is imbalance within the system, and that we need to do something about it.

Cyclist are prone to trigger points: these are tender, irritating and painful spots in the skeletal muscles. They can create a twitching response nearly the same as muscle spams. This usually occurs in the upper back and neck region, and an end result of long distance cycling. So there are things that we can keep in mind to avoid these trigger points.

Get Those Muscles Moving

Now that we have delved into the cause and origin of trigger points, let’s gain an understanding of how to avoid pain in these areas. It is important to follow a prescribed form of stretching, and set of exercises. Understanding the principles behind the exercises that we employ in our training is a must, in order to be able to stick to it and reap the benefits.

Most cyclists experience pain in the upper back and neck region while riding, and this can be a sign of inadequate blood flow to the upper back and neck area. This can also mean a sustained contraction with an added load on the muscles.

One way to reduce and avoid muscle pain or injury is to execute properly your neck and back muscle stretching assignments. Aside from your stretching exercises, here are two bonus exercises that can help ease and reduce the probability of having muscle pains.

The elbow press is an excellent blood pumping exercise. It increases blood circulation in the back and neck region. This also counteracts the sub-maximal contraction in the small arteries of our muscles.

To do this, raise your elbows to your side on a shoulder level, and then open your chest area as you pull your elbows to the back as far as you can. Then bring it back to the starting position. Repeat this for a couple of times till you feel a mild burning sensation in your upper back and neck muscles.

Now for the reverse shoulder shrugs, raise your shoulder and draw it towards your ears. Open your chest area as you lower your shoulders then makes a half rotation and draws your shoulders toward your back, then down. Repeat this a couple of times. There is a great difference between regular forward shoulder shrugs, and reverse shoulder shrugs. Forward shoulder shrugs give the back a forward hump that nearly resembles a chimpanzee like posture. The reverse shoulder shrugs thwarts the upper back muscle from contracting too much, and thus help achieve a rhythmic contract and relax movement pattern. This exercise can also improve the blood circulation in the shoulder and neck area.

As a cycling enthusiast, I’ve incorporated the two exercises in my training routine, and I’ve notice a great improvement in my performance and especially in my riding comfort. However, I recommend that you thoroughly study and plan your shoulder exercises especially if you have shoulder problems.

Here are some basic neck exercises that can help loosen up tight neck muscles and increase the neck’s range of motion.
1. Flexion. The common chin to chest exercise.
2. Extension. It is a head up exercise.
3. Right and left rotation. Start with the chin pointing towards the shoulder, then rotate it clockwise then reverse.
4. Right and left lateral flexion. This is the basic ear to shoulder exercise.

Aside to the above mentioned health complaints that cyclists usually encounter, there is another threat that when ignored and overlooked can take a serious toll in one’s cycling career and performance. The Thoracic Outlet Syndrome or TOS is a condition where in the blood vessels or nerves are compressed by an overlying muscle. The upper back and neck are usually the affected areas. This causes pain, numbness and weakness of arms and hands. Football and baseball athletes are more prone to TOS, but cyclists can also have a high risk of experiencing symptoms of TOS. Moreover cyclist may also suffer from this due to the constant strain at the base of the neck area. One way of alleviating the discomfort of TOS is through stretching.

Let’s Ride!

To wrap it all up, as an athlete it is essential that we take good care of our bodies. The frame of our bike and how its parts are assembled greatly affects our posture while riding a bike. Most of the time we assume an awkward forward hunch position making us prone to injury. Without proper precautions we are likely to suffer from neck, upper back and arm problems.

Therefore it is important to get a bike that fits you and to keep your neck and upper back muscles within a full range motion. You can do this by having a good stretch before starting on your training. Thus you can derive great benefits by putting into action the tips in this article. By doing so it can help improve your performance and keep your upper back and neck muscles healthy and functional.

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