Query on upper back pain from cycling

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Anonymous's picture

Hi all,

I've cycled long distances for a number of years, but hadn't run into this problem until late last summer and now again early this season and I'd appreciate advice from others who might have experienced and solved this problem before. I have a lot of pain in the muscles of my back around the vertebrae second down from my neck, pain that increases in long rides but persists through the week.

I've done various web searches and asked friends in the club and no one has had direct experience with this sort of thing, nor suggestions that worked. Here's what I've tried so far:

Stretching while riding (both neck and shoulders) and changing positions. This I did anyways, but do it more now.

Buying a light helmet

Going back to the bike shop to have the fit of my bike looked at (they thought it looked good).

Moving my seat up a bit to lessen reach to the bars (this seemed to help a bit, but only temporarily).

I'd appreciate the experience of others who know and have solved this problem.

Thank you in advance,


Anonymous's picture
Heath (not verified)
Old Injury

I think my pains are in the same area as yours, but it is hard to say without having you point to them.

I have an old rotator cuff injury from gymnastics. This has caused me a lot of upper back problems due to overwork of some shoulder muscles to protect the others. I have recently been doing some rotator cuff work which has eliminated my neck and upper back problems on the bike.

Any history of rotator or other shoulder injuries?

I won't get into the bike fit stuff, but your seat should be placed in relationship to your Bottom Bracket/pedals, not your handle bars. Your reach should be adjusted with a different stem. Not sure why you would move your seat forward to correct your reach.

Anonymous's picture
David (not verified)

Thank you for the prompt reply. I'm not aware of having had significant shoulder injuries, but I'll keep that possibility in mind. I have wondered if some physical therapy would make sense in any case.

On the seat -- it was just a quick way to see if reach was the issue, right before I went on a long ride a week ago. I thought I'd see if it made a difference before I went with a stem replacement.

Thanks again and I look forward to thoughts of others.


Anonymous's picture
Daniel (not verified)

Hi David,

I agree with seeing a orthopedic doctor to rule out a pinched nerve. However, my experience has been that with a lack of flexibility, the long rides strengthen/tightens the leg muscles, pariculalry if one has long legs. The longer the rides the stronger the muscles get, therefore reducing range of motion. The reduction of range of motion increases pressure, constricting blood flow of necessary nutrients to the nerves and again, the reduction of range motion will travel up the back, causing the back muscles(weakest area) to tighten/irritate.For me, the loosening of the leg muscles, particulalry the hamstrings, act as 'shock absorbers'.I have found that doing slow moving back-extensions and yoga necessary as the summer mileage increases.
Hope all this makes sense, good luck.


Anonymous's picture
massage therapist (not verified)

"Bicycling may not be the sole culprit. It's possible that something else has contributed to the pain, and riding just annoys it. There are a lot of muscles in the upper back, and it's hard to pin down where exactly your pain is. I wouldn't think it's a pinched nerve, from the description. (See caveat below.)

Just changing your cycling position may not make the problem go away. You also need to look at any other factors, such as your work situation. How do you sit? Do you use a computer all day long?

If there is soft-tissue damage, just taking some of the load off the tissue will not, by itself, make the pain go away. I do recommend a chiropractor, an experienced massage therapist, or some other health professional.

Yoga is great, but it's not a cure all. A hot bath will do more to loosen up your tissue than a yoga session.

(By the way, David, ""strength"" alone doesn't correlate with range of motion or flexibility. One can be strong and flexible. One can be weak and inflexible.)

Of course, nobody should try to diagnose or evaluate somebody via email or other electronic conduit. Your mileage may vary."

Anonymous's picture
Hy S.Terrier (not verified)
cycling back pain

Have you given any thought to a visit to an orthopedic phjysician and/or surgeon ?

Anonymous's picture
ted (not verified)
bike fit

How did the shop decide that the fit looked right?
You might do some online research or go to someone that specializes in bike fitting. Flexibility should come into play when fitting a bike. Everyone will not be comfortable in a racing position. Unfortunately, as we age, flexibility goes away.
A few years ago my back and neck started bugging me on longer rides, so I shortened the stem and got a bit more rise. The drop from my seat to the bars came up a little and my reach dropped. The position is less agressive, but I am very comfortable now.

Anonymous's picture
Gary Katz (not verified)
Rounded shoulders/tilted head


I am certainly not able to diagnose your condition or prescribe any remedy for it, but the above link from the New York Times may be of interest to you.

Two paragraphs above the heading ""common causes"" you will see a description of a woman who has rounded shoulders and is forced to tilt her head back to see where she is going.

That is the position that many of us put ourselves into while cycling. You may wish to consult a coach or trainer to assess your riding position. That person could see if you are hyperextending your neck while riding, with resulting discomfort/disability. The coach/trainer could also recommend changes in positioning and strength/range of motion exercises to eliminate or reduce the problem.

At an NYCC meeting in 2003 we had a personal trainer named Rick Prince as a guest speaker. I was quite impressed with his presentation, but I have not yet made good on my promise to myself to consult him.

After you get medical clearance from a doctor, you may want to consult Rick or someone similar to him.

Good luck"

Anonymous's picture
Evan Marks (not verified)
Bend your elbows

Unless you ride on perfectly smooth surfaces, locked elbows send the shocks of every bump and hole in the road straight up your arms to your neck and back. Use your arms as shock absorbers - it makes a huge difference (doesn't sound like much help, I know, but it works).

Anonymous's picture
Fred Steinberg (not verified)
neck pain

Yoga,stretching etc take months to have an impact.
You shouldn't be fooling around with this.
Raise your handle bar and pull it back.i.e loosen the bolts and rotate it back to take the strain off your upper body before you DO PERMANENT DAMAGE TO YOURSELF.
Stay off the drops.

Anonymous's picture
Daniel (not verified)

I find all the suggestion very informative. Since I had suffered back problems very early in my youth, I found stretching, martial arts and yoga a wonderful addtion to my routine, and have been doing it awhile. Limited information to threads can be taken out of context, but I find you have to explore all possibilities patiently. Not aggravating the injury/area a top priority.

Anonymous's picture
nygal (not verified)

As a physical therapist my suggestion would be to see either an orthopedic or neuro physician to rule out any spinal instability or disc problems. The problem could be due to a number of things such as tight/weak ms., decreased ROM, body mechanics riding and other activities or disc problems. It is better to be safe and not ignore the problem. Most physicians will take either an x-ray or MRI to rule out any problems. Depending on the diagnosis they might refer you to physical therapy or some other health care professional.

In the meantime try heat in the evening and icing after rides. Also, stretch neck ms and anterior chest stretches. Bike riding posture causes the pec ms and chest ms to be tight which may be contributing to your pain. Good luck but definitely don't ignore the problem!

Anonymous's picture
David (not verified)
Many, many thanks

I don't know if there will be many more posts to the thread, but just wanted to thank all who took the time to offer their perspectives. You gave me some new things to try and I am definitely following up.

Thank you,


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