Back of Neck Pain Caused From Cycling
Back of neck pain is common for cyclists from riding for hours in the aerodynamic position.
This picture of Allen Larsen, the winner of RAAM 2003, clearly demonstrates the posterior neck muscles that lift your head up as you ride in the aerodynamic position.
I met Allen when he was Crew Chief for Marko Baloh’s 2005 attempt at RAAM. At the time, I was Marko’s massage therapist. When I heard Allen’s story it confirmed how important it is to tell cyclists about treating the posterior neck muscles to prevent back of neck pain – and even more serious, a repetitive strain that can end your cycling career!
How Back of Neck Pain is Caused
Back of the neck pain is understandable when you consider the aerodynamic position held for hours as you cycle. Your body is bent forward contracting your psoas muscle and your head bends all the way back as you look forward.
When held for hours these neck muscles are strained causing severe back of neck pain. This can be serious and if left untreated the muscles can become totally fatigued from being contracted for hours and can eventually give out.
3 Muscles that Cause Back of Neck Pain
These 3 muscles are responsible for pulling your head back and are the cause of back of neck pain.
Splenius Capitis originates on your thoracic vertebrae and inserts into your skull. It brings your head back while in the aerodynamic position it also enables you to look up as you stand.
Splenius Cervicis originates on your thoracic vertebrae and inserts on the posterior tubercles of the transverse process of C1-C3. This enables you to bring your head back and/or tilt it to the side.
Upper Trapezius originates along your thoracic vertebrae and inserts into the base of your skull to bring your head back and also inserts into the top of your shoulders to lift them up so you can raise your arms as you lean forward.
What Happens With Your Shoulders as You Cycle
As your body is hunched over with arms resting on your handlebars this causes a lifting of your shoulders. This movement is accomplished by a contraction of your upper trapezius and also by a muscle called levator scapulae.
The levator scapulae muscle originates of your C1 through C4 cervical vertebrae and inserts into the inside border of your shoulder blade. When the muscle contracts you lift up your shoulders. In fact, the nickname for the levator scapulae is “the shrug muscle”.
Look closely at this graphic, when the levator scapulae muscle is tight it pulls the cervical vertebrae to the side and down, which presses the bone directly into the spinal cord where it comes out of the brain and starts down the spine. This not only causes back of neck pain but is also a key source of terrible headaches!
Riding for hours causes a shortening of muscle fibers. When you get off your bike your shoulders are able to drop down which pulls vertebrae down and to the side. This action causes bone to press on the spinal cord right where it comes out of your brain. As the bone presses on the spinal cord it causes back of the neck pain and headaches because of the nerve impingement.
Back of Neck Pain – Worst Case Scenario
When the muscles that pull your head back become totally strained they can lose all power. This means you cannot hold your head up as you ride. This is exactly what happened to Allen Larsen during RAAM 2002.
In order for Allen to finish the race (and win!) his crew resorted to desperate measures. Using duct tape and a stick (check out the pic), his crew jerry-rigged a contraption to hold his head in position to see.
You can read his amazing story – and make a decision that this will never happen to you!
Unfortunately, had Allen known how to release the tension in the muscles long before it built up to this level, the odds are excellent this could have been prevented. While I can’t prove it, I have seen the techniques taught in the Foundation DVD of Focused Flexibility Training prevent or reverse pain throughout the body, including back of the neck pain, for thousands of athletes.
It’s worth your time and energy to learn to release the toxins and tension in all of the muscles you are repetitively straining as you cycle.