Riding is a Pain in the Neck

February 2, 2022 12:07 pm / Category: Dana Point

Do you have neck pain while riding your bike? You are not alone. Neck pain has plagued many bike riders.

While you are sitting in a chair and reading this blog article (with what I assume is good posture: sitting tall, shoulders back and head up), all the weight from your head, which is about as much as a bowling ball, is being translated down and balancing on the bones in your cervical spine. The muscles are just chilling, and there is no significant muscle contraction going on. Now imagine sitting on a bike. You lean forward to the reach for the handlebars. Your thoracic and lumbar spine round, and your shoulders flex and internally rotate. As you lean forward, so does the weight of your head, putting your neck in a more diagonal position which means that the weight of your head is no longer providing a direct axial or downward load through your cervical spine. Instead, the muscles in the back of your mid and lower neck are supporting your head. The upper part of your neck is responsible for holding your head up to see the road. These are suboccipital muscles, and they attach from the base of your skull to the top of your neck. The more your thoracic and lumbar spine round or lean forward, the more your neck must extend to lift your head. So, the lower or more drop arm the handlebars are the neck must compensate. For example, a tri or road bike will need more neck extension than a mountain bike or townie bike due to handlebar position.

When discussing the different subtypes of riding, there is also a component of time that needs addressing. A roadie or triathlete will be in a long-duration forward head posture while riding, whereas mountain biking is more dynamic and is only in the forward head posture for climbs. No matter which bike or bike activity you choose, forward head posture is a disadvantageous position of the muscles; the longer they hold, the more fatigued and overworked the muscles will become, leading to a greater chance of developing neck pain.

To increase your time on the bike with less neck pain, here are some exercises to help strengthen and improve your neck mobility and endurance.

  1. Suboccipital release: tape two tennis balls or lacrosse balls together and roll out your suboccipitals for about 2 min. Avoid the spine!
  2. Neck stretches: it is vital to maintain the mobility of the neck.
  3. Chin tucks: laying on your back with a pillow under the back of your head. Imagine a string from the top of the head pulling up, causing your chin to nod (think of making a double chin). Hold for 5-10 seconds and then repeat ten times. Once you have mastered the chin tuck, you can perform it in sitting, standing, or quadruped to make it more challenging and sports-specific.
  4. Chin tuck with rotation: perform a basic chin tuck and then slowly rotate the head to look over one shoulder and then the other. Keep that chin tucked the whole time — this will open up the joints in the neck and improve mobility.
  5. T/S extensions and doorway pec stretch: due to the flexed or rounded posture of the bike, t/s openers and chest openers are clutch. These all-around exercises will help your posture and keep you balanced.

Rausch PT professionals have the skill and expertise you need to improve and restore function and get you pain-free — with no prescription from a doctor required. Call our experts today at (949) 276-5401 and make an appointment. We would also love to have you join our Facebook community where you can get health and wellness updates and learn about what we have to offer ongoing!