View Full Version : Neck pain

08-19-2006, 04:57 PM
I've been experiencing pain while riding ever since I started in June. I think this comes under the heading of "neck pain", although it's actually lower, around the shoulder blades. It starts after about 5 miles and is really sore after 10. Whenever I stop & stand, and especially if I turn my head, I get intense sharp pains. I now have a chronic mild pain on the left side in this area. While I'm riding the pain is on both sides.

I brought the bike back to the LBS where I bought it, specifically to address this. They swapped out the stem, to raise the handlebars. They also slid the seat closer towards the handlebars. They went through the whole routine with taking measurements. These were fairly minor adjustments that haven't helped the situation.

This is the LBS that recommended a 44 cm frame. I've had a few people mention that the bike looks too small. I'm 5'4. In my reading about this, it seems that there are different camps on frame size - "smaller is better", especially for women, or - "get the largest frame you can stand". This makes me wonder if I've just got the wrong size frame.

At this point I'm not sure what to do. Has anyone else had to troubleshoot this?

08-19-2006, 05:05 PM
Did they measure your shoulders and discuss how your shoulder width corresponds with your handlebar width?

(My apologies in that I haven't had to troubleshoot this specifically, but just fyi, I am 5' 4 1/2", with short arms and torso, and have a 50 frame. My bike came with handlebars that were way too narrow for me, though, so had to switch to wider ones. Just another parameter to consider... )

08-19-2006, 05:19 PM
Hey Amy,

Sorry to hear that you're experiencing neck & shoulder pain.

If the frame may be too small for you, have you tried moving the seat back rather than forward? Or maybe a longer stem?

Do you change hand positions while you ride? Is there any hand position (on the hoods, on the drops, on the flat part of the handlebars) that seems to exacerbate your problem?

Are there any neck or shoulder exercises that might help with strengthening or flexibility?

Sorry, lots of questions, but no answers.

-- Melissa

08-19-2006, 05:21 PM
Did they measure your shoulders and discuss how your shoulder width corresponds with your handlebar width?

Yes. I don't remember the measurement, but my shoulders are 1 cm wider than the handlebars. He said a wider handelbar would be the next thing to try.

08-19-2006, 05:38 PM
I switch between the brake hoods and the ends of the handlebars. I've had the seat farther back, and I have noticed that I have to scoot my butt back as far as it will go to make my legs comfortable. After I bought the Brooks saddle I was stopping a lot to adjust its position. It seems like I've tried a lot micro-adjusting.

Yeah, exercise... (blank stare into the computer screen) I'm looking into that, too. :)

08-19-2006, 08:12 PM
When I first started riding, I experienced a lot of pain in my shoulders. As it is, I already am susceptable to getting very tight shoulder and neck muscles due to stress (I carry it all in my shoulds) and ultimately that leads to major tension headaches. I had to spend a lot of time stretching my neck, shoulders, and back after each ride, and took a lot of long hot showers to make the pain go away. But, as I rode more, and the muscles in my neck and shoulders got stronger, I noticed that the pain slowly went away.

Do you experience tight neck/shoulder muscles at other times or just when riding?

08-20-2006, 04:16 AM
See a doctor. This doesn't sound right. How old are you? Insist on an x-ray at minimum.

I had neck surgery in December. I had a couple of disks that were replaced & a fusion of C4-C6. One of the symptoms of cervical spinal problems is a pain in the shoulder areas.

08-20-2006, 07:19 AM
Its hard to troubleshoot this without seeing a pic of you on your bike. But, I can tell you that I am 5'4" and ride a 44cm bike if that makes you feel better about the size. I have to sell you though, that depending on the manufacturer, I can straddle bikes ranging from 44-51 cm. I bought the 44 to get the seat tube angle and top tube lenght I required. If your bars are 1 cm narrower than you shoulders, that could be your problem. I would recommend going 0-2 cm wider. I went from a 37cm to 40 cm to 41cm bar, and much prefer the 41s (my shoulders are 40cm). But, your saddle fore-aft should be set up to get your knee over the pedals, not to bring you closer to the bars. Stem length and height should be adjusted to modify reach. You can get neck pain when the reach is too long, too short, bars too short or long, or from being too stiff on the bike and not shifting position enough. Its best to have an experienced person look at you as you are riding to troubleshoot, or post a pic for us to look at of you pedaling in a trainer if you have one.

Duck on Wheels
08-20-2006, 07:25 AM
I used to have a lot of neck and between-the-shoulder blades pain, mostly from working long hours at the computer. I definitely felt it on rides as well. Then I had a car accident that made it many times worse, but also got me to a physical therapist. She said I was carrying my head wrong. Major posture problem. Keeping my spine straight (tuck in chin, lift head, pull shoulders back, relax into this position) certainly has helped! So too has building core strength (i.e. strength to maintain that straight spine while leaning forward on the bike, using stomach and lower back muscles more than arms and shoulders, thus freeing up arms more for steering etc.). I've also now invested in special prescription glasses for close work, which I hope will help me not tip my head back while staring at the computer screen (as I used to do to see it through the close focus area low down on my multi-focal lenses). Does any of this resonate with what you're experiencing?

In my experience, p.t.s often have more to offer on this type of thing than doctors. Of course, to get to a p.t., one may need to go via a doctor.

08-20-2006, 09:04 AM
Ouch! You should not need to be i that pain.

I am 5'4 (I realize we are all shaped differently), with that said, I am on a 50cm bike. Did they have you try a larger frame bike? I have a long torso, so the handlebars were not an issue. I did not "fit" on a WSD, probably due to my liong torso and shorter legs. I fit very comfortably on a 50cm to a 51cm frame. Anythingn smaller and I felt very uncomfortable-my not so local bike store is located at a trail head, so they let you ride as long as you want. It truly helped me find the right fit.

I noticed others mentioned shoulder exercises. I carry all stress in my shoulders and neck. Luckily or wit a good fit, my bike has not caused any shoulder pain.

Try being off it for awhile. Ride some larger frames, and if the pain is persistant, please see a doctor.

08-20-2006, 09:42 AM
I really appreciate your suggestions!

I don't have a picture of me riding, but when I go back to the LBS I'll bring my camera. I'm 50 years old. I don't carry stress in my shoulders or get headaches, fortunately.

Triskeliongirl - I will try the wider handlebars, thanks for the information. I think he said my shoulders are 39 cm wide. He did say that he moved the seat forward to get my knee over the pedals.

I suspect my position could use tweaking. I have been doing some core strengthening exercises all along. I've read about using the stomach and low back muscles more in cycling, but honestly I don't know if I do this or not. I have considered finding a physical therapist who is knowledgeable about cycling. I'm sure there are a few in the Bay Area, and I don't mind seeing my doc.

And glasses - yes, Ducks! I got a special pair so I wouldn't have to tilt my head up to see the screen. I sit in front of the computer all day at work.

I did ride a 51cm frame early on, and felt way too stretched out. I had those pains in my lower neck immediately. I told the sales guy this, and he didn't seem really engaged in the issue. That made me go to other stores, and this one in SF suggested I needed a smaller frame. Their "bike fit" guy has been very patient, so I'll see it through. But - I have considered trying other bikes. :)

08-20-2006, 10:06 AM
another idea is to go to a different lbs to have a fit. Now, there would be a caveat here, in that you need to go to a reputable one who would not consider it an opportunity to hard sell you things you don't need, but is willing to offer an opinion on your current fitting.

Some way of getting a second opinion on your current fitting might not hurt. It could be that bike store #1 hasn't fitted you properly, despite seeming like they knew what to do. :confused:

08-20-2006, 09:24 PM

Believe it or not, I was thinking about your neck pain while I was riding today. My mind just kind of drifts, and it drifted to this.

Do you have anything on your back during rides? Like a Camelbak? Or something in your jersey pocket? Maybe you're compensating thru your neck & shoulders?

Does one side hurt more than the other?

Do you have a leg length discrepancy? This usually shows up as low back pain, but if you compensate for the leg length discrepancy, it could show up as neck/shoulder pain. Stranger things have happened!

I agree with Triskeliongirl in that your saddle fore/aft position should be adjusted so your knee is over the pedal. Adjustments for reach should be made thru the stem rather than the saddle.

Good luck in getting to the bottom of this!

-- Melissa

08-21-2006, 09:27 AM
If your position is good, then indeed being checked for a leg length discrepancy is in order. I have a large one, and I did get upper back (not really neck, but upper back pain) until I got good PT for SI joint damage AND a custom crank set that deals with my LLD (but mine is very large, 3 cm, smaller ones can be corrected by easier methods). My PT also put me on a program of stretching and back strengthening exercises, which cannot hurt. It is hard to track these things down, since there can be many causes, so the best advice I can offer is putting yourself in knowledgable hands in terms of bike fitters, physical therapists, etc. I still think that trying wider bars may be an easy next step. Its not hard to change them out yourself, so it doesn't have to be expensive. You just have to learn how to move the levers and re-wrap the bars. I found Lennard Zinn's road bike maintenance book an easy way to get started doing my own repairs, which is essential if a lot of tweaking is in order.

08-21-2006, 01:23 PM
Hmm.... I don't carry stuff in my back pockets, and I haven't used my camelbak yet. While riding it's slightly worse on the left, but there's pain on both sides. The lingering pain feels like a pinched nerve, and is only on the left. Who knows if it's even related to the riding. :confused:

The leg length discrepancy is a good one. I don't remember if the bike fitter measured both sides.

On the handlebars, I'm pursuing this with the store where I bought the bike because they're not charging me anything to swap out parts. :) If that doesn't do it, then I'm on to other avenues that will start to cost $$.

Thanks melissam and Triskeliongirl for your ideas, I appreciate the help. It's a puzzle.

08-21-2006, 02:39 PM
Are you left handed? throw away your mouse! - you mentioned you sit at a computer all day? I used to have shoulder/ neck pain that sounds similar to yours. One of the best things I did was get rid of my mouse and switch to a graphics tablet (I'm a graphic designer so I don't do a lot of typing) -the tablet sits in my lap so I'm not holding my arm up and out all day.
It had gotten to the point where it was all of the time discomfort so I went to a PT - the best thing they did was have me do a stretch using a couple of tennis balls - put two of them in a sock and tie it shut. lie on the floor with the tennis balls under your back right along your spine starting at the small of your back - arms out to the side. Move the tennis balls up your back stretching several times until you've moved the tennis balls up to the base of your neck. If you can do it without it becoming painful you can slowly raise your arms over your head while stretching over the tennis balls too.

08-21-2006, 07:27 PM
Amy, I was thinking the same thing as Eden. I have an injury from mousing in a non-ergonomic position. My PT says it's more about my neck. Ice helps a lot.

Just an idea. Hope you feel better soon!

08-21-2006, 08:23 PM
During tonight's ride I tried a very unscientific experiment: I moved my hands closer together on my mountain bike's handlebars. I didn't have to move them in too much when I felt the tightness in the upper shoulders/neck region.

Dachsund, I'll add another vote to trying wider bars.

-- Melissa

08-22-2006, 04:14 PM
That's a good suggestion about the mouse. I always think I've exhausted all options on this, but I am going to try alternating hands. I can use either one, and have been using the left for quite a while. I do use a 4-button track ball, which is set so I don't have to do that "claw" position to grab and drag things around on the screen. That was really wearing me out.

I have to type a lot, and move things around on the screen. Too bad we can't get one of those huge monitors like the one in "Minority Report". :)

I have an appointment this Sunday at the LBS to swap out a wider handlebar. Keeping my fingers crossed.
Thanks again!

08-23-2006, 03:51 PM
I think trying wider bars is a smart idea. Also, if the pain is unilateral, it can come from an uneven arm length, so have them measure your arm length and if they are different adjust the brake lever placement accordingly. Also, be aware there are many different bars out there so you may want to try them first on the trainer to find one that feels good, not just in width, but reach, depth, amount of curvature (i.e. ramp), ergo bumps vs smooth,etc. I personally like the nitto noodle the best cuz it has a short ramp and is very smooth, but many women on this board really like the salsa poco bar, which is a short reach bar with ergo bumps.

09-10-2006, 05:17 PM
Six years ago I was off work for one year and told I could not work anymore. I was struggling financially as it was and decided I would get back to work somehow.

The turning point for me was to start riding a bike, which appeared to help immensly.

BUT I could not have got on so well without the help of my chiropractor, six years on I still go but only about every 6 weeks or so.

Yes, it costs money but you cannot put a price on your health.

So hope you get your neck sorted out.