Cycling and your neck


The sporting success of Chris Hoy, Bradley Wiggins and Victoria Pendleton has given cycling in the UK a massive boost. People of all ages are getting back on bikes and enjoying the sport. This has spawned the amusing acronym “MAMIL” which for the uninitiated stands for “Middle Aged Man in Lycra”.
Dropped handlebars
For many the appeal of the classic road bike far outweighs that johnny-come-lately sport of mountain biking. However the riding position with dropped handlebars is far from ideal from an anatomical point of view, especially in the more mature rider. On a long ride, the lumbar spine is held flexed for hours at a time, leading to increased compression of the lumbar discs. Conversely the neck is held in significant hyperextension which reduces the space available for the nerve roots as they exit the spine. With tyres at 120 psi and no suspension there is the added hazard of shock and vibration being transmitted through to the rider.
The aging neck
Most pro cyclists will retire aged 35 years or younger whereas recreational cyclists are often much older than this when they take it up. Even at 30 years of age the discs between the vertebrae may be beginning to dehydrate (spondylosis) and the facet joints will gradually become arthritic. With the boom in road cycling I have seen many cases of riders suffering neck and shoulder pain, often with pins and needles or numbness in the hands,
What can be done?
If you love cycling but have associated symptoms the good news is that you may not necessarily have to give up. Most manufacturers produce comfort orientated versions of their road bikes. The geometry of the frame is different to give a more upright riding position. Additionally components can be changed to further enhance the effect. Stem risers are available and a shorter handlebar stem will bring the rider more upright too. The saddle is also on a slider which can be brought forward. Additionally some hands on treatment and/or acupuncture may be enough to free the troublesome joints. As a cyclist who has suffered with this problem myself, I am very sympathetic to fellow sufferers.