I have a lot of cycling clients from recreational to elite (road cyclists, triathletes, duathletes) who complain about neck pain. This is a frequent problem among riders because of their long rides on the saddle coupled with their aero positions on their bikes. The head and neck are in constant extension for prolonged periods of time. During training rides and racing, the neck extenders (i.e. splenius capitis) become strong and potentially overdeveloped. Regrettably, this action can overpower the neck flexors leaving them weak and less active, like the sternocleidomastoid (SCM). The SCM is a muscle that flexes the neck, assists to elevate the ribcage during inhalation, laterally flexes the head and neck to the same side and rotates the head and neck to the opposite side. The SCM is extremely important in head and neck flexion.
Weak neck flexors (i.e. SCM) and strong neck extensors (i.e. splenius capitis) cause asymmetry, and overtime this creates misalignment in the spine producing pain. The Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls Upper Body Series and Quickfix Neck Video are a perfect neck exercise solution to get a cyclist’s sternocleidomastoid back in shape. I always provide simple ball rolling techniques and targeted SCM exercises to my cycling clients. Afterwards, they feel a whole lot better each and every time. Riding a bike shouldn’t be a pain in the neck. Ride smart by rolling and practicing sternocleidomastoid strengthening exercises.
Read about more exercises for cyclists.
Read about the perils of forward head posture.
I completely agree! SCM can play a huge role in head aches especially after an WaD injury or MVA
Have been getting a lot of neck kinks out of nowhere recently. No having an understanding of the SCM I am going to focus on releasing my neck extensors and spend some time lengthening and strengthening my SCM. Understandings the action of the SCM in relation to the neck extensors, its a little more clear on where my neck pain could be coming from.
Really great information for cyclists or those who work with cyclists. My husband experiences neck pain and does have head forward position. He’s been working on his posture and strengthening his neck muscles, these are some good exercises to add to his toolbox. Thanks!
Great info, thanks. When I’m cycling indoors on my trainer or at a spinning class my neck is fine, since I don’t have to raise my gaze to see what’s in front of me. As soon as spring comes and I begin outdoor cycling, I notice my neck muscles feeling really tight. This spring I’m bringing my therapy balls with me on my long rides.
Kristin, thank you for this great article. I have many older students with weak necks, the responses were also very informative. I tend to stay away from rolling my neck because it doesn’t feel good in my body but I will continue my research so I can skillfully bring this information to my students.
I have Cyclists clients as well as other who habitually over use there neck extenders( splenis capitus ) in having a forward head posture who will benefit from doing the work you suggest below to bring balance from either being on a bike or sitting hunched over a computer!! as you say the imbalance of weak neck flexors sternocleidomastoid (i.e. SCM) and strong neck extensors cause asymmetry, and overtime this creates misalignment in the spine producing pain. We all dislike pain !! By working on the SCM & on the anterior part of the neck, chest wall is a great way to address the imbalance in these tissues with self care using the YTU balls. Thanks for highlighting !!https://www.yogatuneup.com/quickfix/neck-video
Kristin, thank you for your clarity and your responses to others questions. I was curious if you also experience people who do not engage the neck extensors enough when riding because of a tight SCM or over active traps, clavicle breathing, or tension in the jaw. I have noticed a few cyclist friends of mine with a forward head position and a higher lordosis at the cervical spine. Also would love for you to comment on TMJ in cyclists.
I read your blog with great interest even though I’m not a street bike rider. However, spinning classes at my gym are very popular. No matter how many ways I adjust my seat and handlebars – even with the help of the instructor – it’s rarely an enjoyable event. Now that you’ve pointed out the problems with the neck, I intend to talk to some of my friends who bike (indoors and out) frequently. Maybe they’re suffering in silence.
[…] all those balls in the air. Between design jobs, practicing, teaching, taking care of my family and cycling, it is challenging. Last fall, I was asked to part of a cycling team […]
[…] Discover neck pain exercises for cyclists. swfobject.embedSWF("http://www.youtube.com/v/AeoDhKxI-OM&rel=0&fs=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=0", "vvq-2002-youtube-1", "640", "385", "10", vvqexpressinstall, vvqflashvars, vvqparams, vvqattributes); tweetmeme_url = 'http://www.yogatuneup.com/blog/2012/04/13/your-splenius-cappitis-can-be-a-pain-in-the-neckitis-can-be-a-pain-in-the-neck/'; Share Bookmark on Delicious About This Author Kristin is a school teacher living in Ottawa, Canada. After being introduced to Yoga Tune Up® just a few months ago she immediately fell in love with it! Kristin would like to help people get to know their bodies better in order to live healthier, more active lifestyles. In August she will be moving to Australia to teach Yoga Tune Up® full time. View RSS feed […]
Being a Pilates Teacher ‘The Head Lift’ is a constantly under discussion…’to do or not do”, The fear literaly wrapped around even moving the neck is THE WHAT that brings them to a class but then once IN the class not Having theability to lift their head or even Lay their head DOWN unassisted is usually the WHY they stay or LEAVE! Yor article gives a quick consise explanation of how overworked tight neck extenders (i.e. splenius capitis) overpower the neck flexors leaving them weak and less active, like the sternocleidomastoid (SCM) AND instant Relief for them if a moment is taken with the therapy balls. Abenifit for the entiee class. Its a great Elevator Pitch for a fast pace class setting to quickly address a new or old students need witha a Solid explanation as to Why it is not happening for them Today…and a great reference guide to turn the student over to the YTU videos and or creating a great new Private relationship to later address the Wole body is aiding in the PAIN IN THE NECK! Thanks!!
Hi Kristin, I am just loving your posts as they are very pertinent to many of the people we work with as well as my own issues I struggle with as currently it is neck issues from biking amongst other contributors! I love the connection between the hip flexors and the traps! We did some YTU hip releasing exercises yesterday which then directly affected my neck issues in a positive way, so exciting!! I also think its vital to have a knowledgeable person help cyclist with an appropriate bike fit as well as proper bike mechanics. Often we are imbalanced and using one leg compensating for the other side thus contributing to numerous possible injuries in the long run. Often times cyclist are not using their gears efficiently and gearing inappropriately and not getting the 80-100 rpms. It seems applying the concept of external rotation with shoulders and slight neck flexion along with engaging the core muscles to take pressure off the hands can help in preventing injuries. It is so easy as one fatigues to put added pressure and weight on hands in cycling thus creating a domino effect of alignment issues. When I think of proper bike alignment I think of adho mukha shavansana and applying those body mechanics to cycling. Thanks for this post!
Kristin I am a cyclist by day and night and a wishful yogi at heart! It is so hard to maintain balance and flexibility while constantly brutalizing your body! For instance I wrecked over my handlebars yesterday and who knows what true damage it really did to my body as a whole! As for neck extension, as a cycling intrustor I always tell my clients to keep their head in a neutral position try and keep your shoulders from elevating to your ears. This is were uneccesary tension occurs and when people experience neck pain. Ask them what the position of their neck is, there is no need for any overextension. Nuetral is optimal!
I’m studying Yoga Tune Up as part of the 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training Course. I have recently taken up cycling and have started to feel discomfort in my neck and back. Similar to the “Shoulder to the Wheel” article, this article is helpful in explaining how this happens and ways to help mitigate this.
Great article, and very enlightening replies. I’m sure this information could help anyone sitting at a desk for long hours or piano players, really anyone who might be slouching due to the extension of the neck needed to keep the head level.
Kristin, great article and great responses! I’m not a regular cyclist, but your postings are educational and useful for everyone. Your follow-ups are a good reminder that the body is highly interconnected, and that the source of pain may not necessarily originate from the region of pain. That interconnectedness, like a tight iliopsoas contributing to neck pain, is quite fascinating.
Thank you so much, Kristin. That is super helpful!
Chad, a lot of people may suffer from coccyx pain while cycling because their saddles are slightly tilted forward (wanting to alleviate pressure in the front). Unfortunately, this makes the saddle have more of a chance to touch the coccyx, which is exactly what people don’t want. Make sure your saddle is properly adjusted. The saddle needs to be hitting the ischial tuberosity (sitz bones) and never touching the coccyx. In addition, people think that having a saddle with more padding will lessen the coccyx pain; but it can make it worse, so be careful! In regards to actual exercises for a bone (coccyx) there are none that I know. Just rest and ice to my knowledge. I hope this information helps. Yes, there are saddles that help- for example the SMP and the ADAMO.
I used to have chronic neck pain (um, for like the vast majority of my life), which I healed with Rolfing, and I thought I had bid it adieu for good as it was resolved for nearly 15 years, only to have it return as I returned to my bike in this last year. I’ve loved getting reacquainted with cycling, but I can’t really same the same regarding my neck pain. And as I meet more and more distance cyclists who have the “vulture” posture of extremely anterior cervicals, combined with a strongly kyphotic thoracic spine and scalenes and levator scapula that are always on (not to mention those super tight SCM’s you talk about!), I often wonder what I’ve gotten myself into.
However, I’ve recently began to also return to my YTU balls and have found it extremely helpful, though I’ve been focusing on the levator scapula muscle. Thanks to this article I’ll add in the SCM and see where it takes me! Thanks!
Taylor, thank you for the excellent question. I’m going to make an assumption based on what you wrote. You have a road bike or triathlon bike that has been properly fit for your body. This includes proper aeroposition in the saddle, arms on the aerobars, and proper leg alignment on the peddles. If these or just one of these is off (i.e. you are not properly aligned) then you can have increased neck pain regardless of what I tell you.
Aside from the bike biomechanics, relaxed hands and arms makes a huge difference. Anytime you have a grip of death on the aerobars, shoulder tension thus neck tension inevitably occur. In addition, a lot of recreational/competitive riders tend to use too much neck extension (more than is necessary on a ride). Are you using your entire neck, or do you use your eyes. It’s amazing how much the eyes can see. If you need to adjust your neck and eyes, then you need to readjust your helmet to make the most out of your aeroposition.
Breathing is another potential perpetrator of neck pain. We have three abodes of breath (abdominal, thoracic and clavicular). When cyclists get tired, or are in surges, or are at the sprint near the finish line they will most likely use their clavicular breath (panic breath). Breathing rihght up at the shoulders and neck. This is guaranteed to give you more neck pain because of the tension it places on the muscles in that area. Make sure you check that you are breathing from your abdomen and thoracic region only during long rides.
If you have a tight iliopsoas (hip flexor) this can 100% effect your trapezius. If your trapezius is tight your neck will probably get tight too. The trapezius goes from your thoracic vertebrae T12 and attaches right up to the skull at the occipital protuberance, additionally attaching to your shoulders. [As you can see the whole body is seriously interconnected] While riding you can stand on your bike peddles and push your hips forward to get an elongated feeling of the hip flexors.
I could go on and on with many muscles in your body that can cause your neck pain; but, I will stop there. I am not 100% sure where exactly your pain is coming from BUT these are just a few things to think about. I certainly don’t recommend ‘exercises’ per se while you are riding your bike because it is too dangerous. I don’t want you to have an accident!
To wrap up, you asked whether or not shoulder retraction and depression made a difference in riding. Actually, contrary to popular belief you want to have shoulder protraction and depression. This activates the serratus anterior keeping your scapula in place thereby preventing winged shoulder blades and in consequence serious injury. Most cyclists believe that they just need strong rotator cuff muscles to stabilize their bodies on their bikes to prevent injuries; however, it is also to have strong serratus anterior muscles! Make sure they are activated while you ride!
Taylor, you need to strengthen and stretch your SCM off the bike in order to have the best ride possible (assuming that the SCM is the problem). Once again, thanks for the question!
I definitely wanted to write down a brief message to express gratitude to you for all the superb secrets you are posting at this website. My incredibly long internet search has at the end been recognized with really good tips to go over with my good friends. I ‘d tell you that many of us website visitors are very endowed to exist in a magnificent place with so many outstanding professionals with great strategies. I feel very privileged to have discovered the website and look forward to really more thrilling times reading here. Thanks once more for all the details.
When I was a cycling commuter, I would depress my shoulders (when I remembered) but my biggest issue was stress on my coccyx. Does anyone ever complain about that pressure? It was very painful. I know they have specially designed seats to take the pressure off that delicate area, but are there therapeutic ways to alleviate this pain?
Kristin, thank you for this insight! During my triathlon training I’ve experienced this exact issue – especially on the morning after long rides. I’m curious if there’s more that we can do WHILE riding to reduce some of the neck stress to start with. I’m not sure how the neck muscles are relating to the shoulders. I’m curious if retracting & depressing the shoulder blades would provide a bit of the lift needed, without making the neck do all the work? Any thoughts?