Cycling shouldn’t be a pain in the neck!
Updated: Sep 20, 2019
Dr. Kacy Seynders PT, DPT is a runner and triathlete and belongs to the Atlanta Triathlon club. We are very excited that she will be joining our team at Precision in September! to share her knowledge and expertise in triathlon. Keep an eye out for her up coming blogs. In mid- August we will begin excepting appointments for Dr. Seynders.
Have you ever been several miles into your bike ride and noticed that your head felt
heavy? Or have you experienced cramping or a “crick” in your neck? What about
pain or difficulty turning your head to look for oncoming traffic?
Neck pain is among the three most prevalent areas of pain in cyclists, along with
knee and low back pain. Oftentimes as endurance athletes, we assume that some
level of discomfort is the price we pay for choosing to do an activity - running, biking
or swimming - for a long period of time, but there are simple fixes that can decrease
pain associated with training and prevent possible injury.
Bike fit: First and foremost, as with any pain associated with cycling, assessing your
bike fit should be a priority. The bike fitting process should be frequent and fluid,
with open communication with your bike fitter, particularly if something doesn’t
feel right. I recommend a new bike fit before each race season, or at least once a
year. A fit will be even more important if you’ve had an injury of any kind, lower
extremity or otherwise. Some common issues related to the neck, or cervical spine,
include handlebar position, aerobar position and top tube (the part of the bike
between the seat and handlebars) length. Reaching too far for your handlebars or
the pads of your aerobars can change the position of your shoulder blades and
therefore place strain on the muscles that connect the neck and shoulder. These are
the muscles most famous for that “cramping” or “crick” type feeling.
More “aggressive” bike fits are becoming popular among triathletes, with the body
placed as parallel to the bike as the athlete can tolerate. This position requires good
hip and cervicothoracic mobility, strong abdominals and endurance of the spinal
Photo credit: https://feltbicycles.com/blogs/news/daniela-ryf-wins-historic-4th-kona-world-championship
Equipment: Your bike helmet and sunglasses may also be to blame for your neck
pain. Your helmet shouldn’t slide side to side or forward and back at any time
during your ride, and it should remain high enough on your forehead so that you
don’t have to change your neck position to be able to see. If you race with an aero
helmet, make sure you are training at race distances several times to assess for any
neck pain and build up postural endurance so that there are no surprises on race
day. Aero helmets require good upper cervical (the first few joints of your neck)
mobility and can be difficult for some athletes to wear. Helmets that have less
coverage on the back portion will generally be more comfortable.
Sunglasses should also fit snugly and remain high on the bridge of your nose. It is
ideal if the lenses are large enough so that you don’t have to peer over the top part
of the frame at any time during your ride, especially in the aero position. If you have
to extend your neck to be able to see through the lenses, that’s a good rule of thumb
that those are not the right sunglasses for you.
Cycling form: Although a proper bike fit can get you in the correct position, it’s your
job to keep yourself there! As fatigue sets in, it can be tempting to let your bike hold
you up, instead of you holding yourself up on your bike! Check in with yourself
every 15 minutes or so, and assess the position of your neck and shoulders, as well
as your weight distribution. If you are in the aero position, your shoulder blades
should be wrapped outwardly, with your elbows directly underneath your
shoulders (think of a forearm plank position). Ideally, your upper back and neck are
aligned, and you shouldn’t have to expend too much effort to keep your eyes level
with the road. The abdominals should be slightly engaged. On a road bike, the
elbows should be slightly bent, with less than 35 percent of your body weight in the
Learning to use gears appropriately while doing harder workouts and climbing can
help, too. If you are using a too-heavy gear, you are more likely to compensate with
trunk movements and pull on the handlebars, which over time can contribute to
fatigue of the stabilizing muscles of your spine and shoulder blades.
Some symptoms to look out for regarding injury to the neck and shoulder region
include: numbness/tingling of the arm or hands, headaches associated with cycling
that are not related to dehydration or poor nutrition or loss of range of motion due
to neck pain. The physical therapists at Precision Performance can assess your
specific deficits in mobility and strength and design a treatment plan to improve
your riding endurance and get you riding more comfortably!
Keep going: you got this!
Kacy Seynders PT, DPT
Dr. Kacy Seynders PT, DPT is a runner and triathlete and belongs to the Atlanta Triathlon club. As an athlete herself, Kacy has a unique understanding of the endurance athlete lifestyle and the impact that injury can have on that lifestyle. She brings this empathy and passion to every patient in her care, utilizing a comprehensive and holistic approach to improve the way they move so that they can keep doing what they love. We are very excited that she will be joining our team at Precision in September to share her knowledge and expertise in treating runners and triathletes. Keep an eye out for her up coming blogs. In mid- August we will begin excepting appointments for Dr. Seynders.