Paul Hough is lead sport/exercise physiologist at St Mary’s University and author of Advanced Personal Training and he explains how cycling can affect the muscles in the neck and a few simple steps you can take to improve your position and avoid neck pain.
What is the neck?
The neck begins at the base of the skull and connects to the thoracic spine (the upper back) through a series of seven vertebral segments, termed the cervical spine.
How does it work?
The neck consists of a number of muscles, which include the sternocleidomastoid and trapezius. The neck muscles interact to initiate movement of the head in all directions and also contract to adjust the posture of the head.
What goes wrong when cycling?
Road cycling involves extended periods where the neck is hyperextended (tilted backwards), particularly when the bike is set up with a large handlebar drop, when riding a time trial, for example.
This position can cause the deep neck extensors to become fatigued and stiff. When this occurs the trapezius muscle, which originates from the base of the skull to the shoulder, begins to support the weight of the head. Over time, cyclists can develop stiffness and pain in the upper trapezius and neck muscles.
How to fix it?
Raise your handlebar slightly and change hand positions at regular intervals. Ensure there is always a slight bend at the elbows, as this eases the stress placed on the neck and shoulders.
Lower trapezius exercises should be performed two to three times per week alongside stretching exercises and massage.