Cycling shoulder pain is a common problem for cyclists that have just started, especially when they decide to push themselves to the limit without first knowing how to cycle correctly in the first place. So before you go ahead and try your first ten miles journey on your brand-spanking-new mountain bike, you may want to keep these tips in mind:
Signs of Cycling Shoulder Pain
There are actually two kinds of back pain that you can experience when you first start cycling: upper back pain and lower back pain.
As these two types of back pain are different, I would leave for now the subject of lower back pain. If you are interested in learning more about this type of back pain you are invited to visit my article about back pain from cycling.
Right now I am going to focus on upper back pain. The signs of this kind of back pain might include one or more of the following symptoms:
- A burning sensation in shoulders.
- Localized pain near the shoulder blades.
- “Tight” neck muscles.
- Painful muscle spasms in the neck and shoulder region.
- Numbness in any of the aforementioned regions.
The key point here is that you feel these discomforts in the neck, shoulder, and upper back area.
Causes of Cycling Shoulder Pain
This type of upper back pain is caused primarily by three things: poor posture while cycling, overuse injuries due to repetitive motions and plain old blunt trauma.
Did you know...?
Did you know that a loose helmet may cause neck pain while cycling?
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The first two problems occur when a cyclist either sits up too straight forward while cycling. The last problem occurs when a cyclist rides too rigidly and lets the shock of the impact do greater damage to muscle groups.
Other causes include a saddle that does not fit your height, a loose or tilted saddle that causes you to rock about, using handlebars that don't match the reach of your arms, misaligned bicycle pedals that don't match the cycling motions of your legs, lack of stretching prior to cycling and/or weak muscle groups.
Treating Cycling Shoulder Pain
The first thing you can do to treat the upper back pain is to stretch intensively before and after any cycling session. Reach out with your arms and pull them back with your shoulders. Do this about half a dozen times. Now pull your arms to your chest, let your elbows stick out to the side, and pull your elbows back as far as you can before letting your arms bounce back forward. Do this half a dozen times. Then "shrug" your shoulders up to your neck and pull them down to the ground behind you. Do this half a dozen times. Once you're done with the whole thing, repeat the cycle twice.
These stretches open up the blood vessels that provide oxygen and nutrients to the different muscle groups in the upper back region, priming them for cycling or disentangling them after a long, arduous session of cycling. Take a look at this video about Cycling Stretching Routine, Flexibility Program for Cyclists:
The next best thing you can do is to apply a hot compress to the areas where you feel pain or numbness. Stretching may physically loosen up the blood vessels compressed by cycling, but a hot compress uses heat to dilate the smaller vessels that cannot be opened up by physical means.
The heat also helps desensitize the nerves affected by the repetitive motions, reducing the uncomfortable sensation of pain and numbness. If the pain is due to blunt trauma, like when you accidentally bend your neck at an awkward angle after hitting a bump, then immediately applying a cold compress will do the trick. This prevents swelling and quickly alleviates the pain caused from direct injuries such as the one mentioned above, although you'll still need to apply a hot compress when the injury starts healing on its own.
Foam Rollers, Acupressure Mats and More
If you're really experiencing back pain despite the practical measures mentioned above, then you may want to consider getting a few products designed specifically to alleviate pain caused by intensive and repetitive motions. Take for example foam rollers. These useful little devices can be used to manually "roll out" the muscles, blood vessels and nerves affected by repetitive cycling motions.
Acupressure mats produce the same effect but use smaller studs to apply pressure to specific points around the back. These are pretty convenient for when you want to alleviate back pain even while at rest. Take a look at these products:
Preventing Cycling Shoulder Pain
Now all the measures, as mentioned earlier, won't work if you keep making the same mistakes over and over again while cycling.
The first thing you need to do is assume the proper cycling position - something that can only be done when your bike fits your body. You should be able to reach out to the handlebars comfortably (not awkwardly) even while slightly bent forward.
You should be able to bend forward with your back lose and limber while cycling, and this is only possible if the seat is steadily fixed and perfectly matches your height. You can get all this done by visiting your bike shop and having them adjust the bike to your physique.
The last thing you can do to prevent pain is always, always stretch before cycling. This primes the muscles and gets the blood flowing, all of which minimizes the risk that small injuries will occur inside the muscle groups. You would be surprised at how a little stretching can go a long way to preventing pain in the long run!
Products for Cycling Shoulder Pain Treatment