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  1. #1
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    Long distance neck issues

    Ok, so it may not belong in the touring thread, but considering its related to long distances and an imminent tour I thought I would seek some experienced advice.

    I am 4 weeks off starting my first fully loaded tour, from London to Turkey. I have been undertaking 70-100km training rides as of late. Everything is working smoothly, except around about the 30-40 km mark I begin experiencing upper back and neck pain. It begins at the very top of the spine at the base of my neck. I feel as if my muscles are having trouble keeping my head upright. After a nights sleep I usually experience pain on one side of my neck following a long ride.

    My bike has been properly fitted to me, and as far as I have been told I have a sound riding posture (this may of course not be the case).

    I am very afraid this issue may present a serious impediment to not only my first tour, but every attempt at a tour thereafter and therefore may prevent me from doing something that I really want to undertake in my life.

    Any experiences with neck pain that occurs after long distances? Specifically when touring? How have you cured/prevented such pain? Any tips or pointers? Anything would help.

    Thanks in advance.

  2. #2
    Let's Ride! Jimbosays's Avatar
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  3. #3
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Look up Shermer's neck.

    Also, you might do better posting this in the Long Distance forum, as the only cases of Shermer's neck I've heard of occur on 1200K randonnees.

    You say your bicycle is set up correctly. Where are your handlebars in relation to your saddle? Level? Lower? Higher?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Machka View Post
    Look up Shermer's neck.

    Also, you might do better posting this in the Long Distance forum, as the only cases of Shermer's neck I've heard of occur on 1200K randonnees.

    You say your bicycle is set up correctly. Where are your handlebars in relation to your saddle? Level? Lower? Higher?
    My handlebars are a touch lower than my saddle. Certainly not level. I have actually taken apart my stem and flipped it over so my handlebars are as high as possible and I am in an 'upright' riding position for a bike with drop bars (i ride with my hands on the hoods usually, never use the drops)

  5. #5
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wowk View Post
    My handlebars are a touch lower than my saddle. Certainly not level. I have actually taken apart my stem and flipped it over so my handlebars are as high as possible and I am in an 'upright' riding position for a bike with drop bars (i ride with my hands on the hoods usually, never use the drops)
    I was going to suggest raising your handle bars an inch or so above the level of your saddle.

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    Aesthetics aside, raising one's bars above the level of the saddle is a quick way to take some strain off of the neck, arms, and shoulders, as well as the lower back. A cheap stem raiser could let you test out a more upright position without making any drastic changes to your bike.

    http://www.sjscycles.co.uk/mobile/hu...ver-prod29876/

  7. #7
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    My solution is to stop and rest every couple of hours, or just get off the bike and do something else like walk around. That fits my touring style because it's what I like to do. It's also probably why I'm not into randonnees like Machka.

  8. #8
    Senior Member wahoonc's Avatar
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    Bars above the saddle worked for me. I raced a lot back in my younger days, I am no longer as flexible as I once was. I also have had physically demanding jobs most of my life and they have taken their toll too. I can ride a drop bar bike with the bars level or slightly below saddle height maybe 15-16 miles (25km) before I start getting a stiff neck, keep it up and I will be hurting. By moving the bars above the saddle height I can easily do 70 miles (112km) with only a bit of stiffness in the neck. You may need to take a look at your frame geometry too, many frames are set up for aggressive riding and don't work as well for touring IMHO.

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  9. #9
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    I wouldn't jump to the extreme and rare diagnosis of Shermer's Neck so quickly. What you're describing is fairly common, especially among the large portion of the population that spends a tremendous amount of time sitting. Between sitting in front of a computer at work all day and sitting at home watching tv, a ton of people do not move as much as we are designed--and need-- to do. That inactivity, combined with poor, prolonged posture leads to an unhealthy spine. I can always tell when someone with a computer-based job comes into my clinic by the way their upper back/neck area feels. (I'm a chiropractor.)

    Each vertebra of the spine needs to be able to move freely. When a vertebra can't move freely, two things happen. One, the spinal nerves that pass by that vertebra will be adversely affected. And, two, the other vertebrae close to the fixed one try to compensate for the lack of movement. Both outcomes are negative. Ultimately, the local musculature will spasm (in an attempt to aid in the compensation for the lack of movement) and you will start to feel pain. This is when people usually seek care and this is why so many people, including good intentioned but misinformed doctors, think this is the cause. It's not. The original cause was the lack of movement in the first stuck vertebra. Therefore, the solution is to unstick the stuck vertebra. (There may be more than one.)

    tl;dr version: go see a chiropractor.

  10. #10
    Senior Member LuckySailor's Avatar
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    Yep. I get this pain. Only it can really get out of hand and put me out of commission. Do you grind your teeth at night when you sleep? Do you have a partner that confirm your answer? Do you clinch your teeth when you are doing certain tasks? Does the hinge joint in front of your ear (TMJ, or tempormandibular joint) crack or pop? Any accidents involving head, neck, spine or legs? Also, you mentioned this will be your first loaded tour. I see stress as a possibility, hence, grinding or clinching your teeth. I am not a doctor, or a dentist, just average Joe Bike Rider. You didn't mention when you do your training rides either. Morning, during the day or evening? Anyhow, sounds to me like you need a night guard, bite splint, or a bruxism appliance. (All the same, just different names) You'll need a dentist, denturist, or qualified dental technologist for the appliance. Wear it at night, every night, or if you're a clincher when doing certain activities wear it then.

  11. #11
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    Cross training, yoga and the like will help. Being 50 now, I like my bars 2" higher than my saddle for my touring and commuter bikes. The bike and pics would help. How is the reach and drop? Distance to hoods if drop bar? Bar ends for flat bars?

  12. #12
    Senior Member Cyclebum's Avatar
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    Most cyclists neglect upper body conditioning. In addition to raising the bar, you should consider some serious upper body workouts to balance the lower body workout you regularly get.

    If all fails to relieve your pain, consider joining the dark side....go recumbent, the no-pain-at-all ride. I agree, not as much fun as a DF, but are you really having fun now?
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    One other thing you may want to watch out for, since you are in Australia and it is summertime down that way...are you getting dehydrated as you ride. I have learnt the rude way just how many different effects dehydration can throw at you. Neck pain, pain in the upper back of the arm, pain in the lower back, etc. Once I learnt the secret I stopped having any and all kinds of aches in the body. What I thought was an improper bike fit/increasing mileage too much too fast turned out to be nothing more than dehydration. It can hit you any time of the year including the dead of cold winter. Drink more and get more salt. See if that helps you out. I can go out and ride 130-170 miles with a 35 pound backpack on my back and do it day after day and have no trouble at all, as long as I'm drinking enough. If I go out on a short 80 mile ride with nothing on me or the bike, I can get the arm aches that leads a little while to neck pain just by not drinking enough. Do you get Charlie horses, calf cramping overnight...if so you are dehydrated. That's one of the easiest signs, when off the bike to tell you are dehydrated...at least it works for me.

  14. #14
    Senior Member Doug64's Avatar
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    I was talking to a physical therapist who specializes in bike fitting. He said a common source of neck pain from riding road bikes is posture which dougdevine covered.

    What he suggested is not just tipping you head back when riding on the hoods, but extend your neck "turtle-like" as you bring your head up.

    The rest of the folks make good points about long distance riding. When I first started long-distance riding, a long long time ago, my neck and shoulders would get very tired and sometimes painful from just holding my head up after more than 8 on the bike. The modern lightweight helmets are great. Since then I have worked a lot on my upper body strength and especially core strength.

    One good exercise that I still do regularly is a modified wrestler's bridge. Lying supine with your knees bent on a bench or the floor, lift your bottom and as much of your back as you can off of the floor. This will put tension on your upper shoulders and neck. While holding this position lift one leg and straighten it. Lower and raise it for 15 repetitions. Switch legs and do the same. This works better on a bench, because it really stretches the abs because the leg can be lowered to the floor.

    It might also be bike fit or your helmet. If you have a visor on your helmet or wear it too far over the brow it can cause you to tilt your head excessively to look forward.

    You might want to get a medical checkup before starting weight work just to make sure there is not a medical reason for the pain.

    Do a Google search on something like "neck and back exercises for cyclists", and you will find some good exercises.
    Last edited by Doug64; 02-28-14 at 05:35 PM.

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    Senior Member dorkypants's Avatar
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    I used to get frequent neck pain from biking until I realized how much I was tensing my shoulders. Learning to deliberately relax them took care of that. Occasionally I still tense up and start to get twinges, but at least now I know I need to relax my shoulders. Keeping my elbows in closer to my torso helps with that too (I ride with drop bars, not straight MTB-style bars).

    The other trick I learned from swimming: instead of tilting my head back to see, I keep my head and neck aligned and direct my eyes "up" towards my eyebrows.

  16. #16
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by andrewclaus View Post
    My solution is to stop and rest every couple of hours, or just get off the bike and do something else like walk around. That fits my touring style because it's what I like to do. It's also probably why I'm not into randonnees like Machka.
    When I tour, I do a lot of this, and one reason is that I like taking pictures of everything I see. So we stop quite frequently.


    Quote Originally Posted by Cyclebum View Post
    Most cyclists neglect upper body conditioning. In addition to raising the bar, you should consider some serious upper body workouts to balance the lower body workout you regularly get.

    Yes ... don't neglect the upper body work. Especially when going into a cycling tour. I haven't met a cycling tour yet where I haven't had to do some lifting and carrying of bicycle and gear. A strong upper body helps with that, but also helps you sit well on the bicycle.

  17. #17
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dougdevine View Post
    I wouldn't jump to the extreme and rare diagnosis of Shermer's Neck so quickly.
    I went to Shermer's Neck because of this comment: "I feel as if my muscles are having trouble keeping my head upright."

    But he is cycling really short distances to be affected by Shermer's Neck.

  18. #18
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    Some questions for the OP:

    Do you wear sunglasses or ordinary specatacles while riding?

    Does you helmet have a peak?

    Do you hunch your shoulders upward while riding?

    How wide are your handlebars?

    How much weight do you feel you are putting on your hands while riding (this as the two previous questions are sort of interrelated)?

    Do you look down at the front wheel of your bike all the time (ie, keep your head in the one position all the time)?

    How far down the curve of the handlebars are your shifters/hoods?

    Can you post a picture of you while riding?
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  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by dorkypants View Post
    I used to get frequent neck pain from biking until I realized how much I was tensing my shoulders. Learning to deliberately relax them took care of that. Occasionally I still tense up and start to get twinges, but at least now I know I need to relax my shoulders. Keeping my elbows in closer to my torso helps with that too (I ride with drop bars, not straight MTB-style bars).

    The other trick I learned from swimming: instead of tilting my head back to see, I keep my head and neck aligned and direct my eyes "up" towards my eyebrows.
    Tensing muscles in a chronic manner can be a big source of pain. I remember a long time ago a guy saying he got headaches after races and he realized he had been tensing/scowling his forehead so much it gave him a headache. Once he relaxed his face he got more comfortable and no more headaches.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by vaultbrad View Post
    Aesthetics aside, raising one's bars above the level of the saddle is a quick way to take some strain off of the neck, arms, and shoulders, as well as the lower back. A cheap stem raiser could let you test out a more upright position without making any drastic changes to your bike.

    http://www.sjscycles.co.uk/mobile/hu...ver-prod29876/
    I have for some time thought my saddle to be a tad high. Thanks for the advice on this. I will first give dropping my saddle to below handlebar height a go before looking at getting a stem raiser. Cheers.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by LuckySailor View Post
    Yep. I get this pain. Only it can really get out of hand and put me out of commission. Do you grind your teeth at night when you sleep? Do you have a partner that confirm your answer? Do you clinch your teeth when you are doing certain tasks? Does the hinge joint in front of your ear (TMJ, or tempormandibular joint) crack or pop? Any accidents involving head, neck, spine or legs? Also, you mentioned this will be your first loaded tour. I see stress as a possibility, hence, grinding or clinching your teeth. I am not a doctor, or a dentist, just average Joe Bike Rider. You didn't mention when you do your training rides either. Morning, during the day or evening? Anyhow, sounds to me like you need a night guard, bite splint, or a bruxism appliance. (All the same, just different names) You'll need a dentist, denturist, or qualified dental technologist for the appliance. Wear it at night, every night, or if you're a clincher when doing certain activities wear it then.
    Not a suggestion I was expecting, but one that resonates with me. I have been diagnosed with having tooth damage from grinding at night, although my partner always tells me she does not hear a thing. I have experienced headaches in the past supposedly from jaw clenching, which I think had its origins relating to stress. Will look into this. Ta.

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rowan View Post
    Some questions for the OP:

    Do you wear sunglasses or ordinary specatacles while riding?

    Does you helmet have a peak?

    Do you hunch your shoulders upward while riding?

    How wide are your handlebars?

    How much weight do you feel you are putting on your hands while riding (this as the two previous questions are sort of interrelated)?

    Do you look down at the front wheel of your bike all the time (ie, keep your head in the one position all the time)?

    How far down the curve of the handlebars are your shifters/hoods?

    Can you post a picture of you while riding?
    Thanks for the extensive questions Rowan, will try and answer all.

    I wear Ray bans when I ride.

    My helmet has a visor, yes.

    I dont feel as if I hunch my shoulder upwards, my handlebars are wide, not near my bike now I can't specify but I am riding a 2013 Fuji touring bike.

    At certain times in my ride I often feel the need to straighten my arms and apply more pressure against the hoods, this is usually when my neck is feeling tender.

    I tend to keep my vision ahead of me, not at the front tire, but scanning the road ahead, as you would driving a car.

    I have bar end shifters.

    I will endeavour to upload a picture when I have the opportunity.

    Cheers!

    Thanks to everyone for the suggestions so far. Lots of things I can look into.

  23. #23
    just another gosling Carbonfiberboy's Avatar
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    Roll your pelvis forward and flatten (straighten) your upper back. Lose the visor. In the gym, do overhead dumbbell presses, shrugs, cable rows, lat pull downs, and benches. If they have a head harness, hook a dumbbell to it and roll your head while bending over. People who have suffered with Shermer's neck have solved the problem with these exercises. The most important are the overhead presses, shrugs, and neck work. The rest are just a good idea.

  24. #24
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    My wife had a similar problem three decades ago. A bit of abdominal work and narrower handlebars worked wonders for her. The abdominal work helped her keep weight off her hands/arms while also helping to keep her back in good form and the narrower bars kept her shoulders relaxed.

  25. #25
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    reach to bars may be too low and too far away.

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