What is it?
The main areas worked when cycling are the powerful gluteal group, the quadriceps and the hamstrings but the most susceptible areas to injury are the back of the neck, lower back, knees and hamstrings. Cyclist’s neck is usually caused by incorrect spinal and pelvis alignment and a lack of mid-back flexibility when on the bike.
When your midback is stiff and rounded, it prevents your lower back and neck from getting into a neutral position, which will result in overloading either your lower back or your neck and shoulders.
The first step to reduce your risk of injury is to get a tailored bike fitting. This is because cycling is all about angles. Your foot, knee, hip spine and shoulders need to be at the correct angles to your limbs and body to prevent overloading, pain and subsequent injury.
For management of cyclist’s neck you need to improve your mid-back flexibility in order to improve your cycling posture. Exercises to help improve this involve use of a foam roller to roll the upper back muscles in the form of foam roller thoracic extensions along with seated thoracic rotations, arm openings, side bends of the upper back and the shell stretch. It is also important to carry out regular stretches of the pectoral muscles, latissimus dorsi (the broadest muscle on your back) and your tricep muscles.
A great exercise for strengthening is scapula setting (drawing your shoulder blades together and down), which will improve the postural position and stability of your upper back and shoulder muscles. Deep neck flexor exercises are also great for cyclists as they focus on strengthening the deep intrinsic neck muscles and allow an optimal head-on- neck position while running, swimming and cycling.
Finally, it is important you have the correct mobility to adjust your pelvis so that it brings your lower back into neutral alignment. Practise pelvic tilts so you become familiar with the movement of the pelvis.
Then you need to find the mid-point position of the pelvis which will be your neutral position. The rest of the spine should then follow into a neutral position. In the initial stages of pain it is important you avoid the activities that aggravate the pain.
Seeing a physiotherapist may be beneficial to assess your neck and upper back in order to prescribe the appropriate treatment. Your physio can then recommend exercises according to your pain, level of strength and function. Continuing to train through pain will only risk further damage to the injured area.