Quite a lot of people experience neck and shoulder pain while cycling.

Beginners cyclists especially often seem to suffer with this problem during a cycling session. There can be many reasons and remedies and we will explore them in this blog.


Note: If its pain that’s constant and not just cycling related its best to have it checked by your doctor or physiotherapist.

Cycling related

Possible causes of cycling related neck and shoulder pain. Neck and shoulder muscles are weak or inflexible Your head is raised too much to allow you to see the road ahead. This places strain on the neck and shoulder muscles as the head is a heavy object. So, to be lifting and holding in a static position takes a lot of hard work.

Bike setup

If your handlebars are set too low. This creates a flatter back angle but means that you must raise the head to see the road ahead. A helmet that is  positioned is too low on your forehead can block your vision. This also means that you must constantly raise your head to see where you are going. A visor on the cycling helmet that has the same effect as above.

Saddle Angle

Notice the angle of the saddle on the track riders bike below. It is close to horizontal. If the saddle slopes too much towards the front the riders weight will be supported more by the arms than the saddle. this could cause Shoulder and neck pain.  The usual saddle angle setup is either horizontal or very slightly sloping towards the front. 

Pursuit cyclists. Aerodynamics are key to success in this event
Note this Track pursuit rider. His race is around four minutes long. Aerodynamics are hugely important in this event so he must get his trunk as flat as possible. Notice the different trunk angle compared to the pro road racers. . Also notice how he must tilt his head to see where he is going. This creates a big strain on Neck muscles.

If Handlebars are set too low a lot of your weight is also distributed on to your arms and shoulders. This can create a lot of pain in the shoulders and arms, as well as putting strain on the neck muscles.

Handlebars width

Handlebars that are too narrow or wide is a common cause of should pain. The angle of the drops can cause problems also. The angle should be set so that your hands sit very naturally on the bars and help the arms act as shock absorbers. Handlebars too far away that means you must stretch too much to reach them

Ideal Handlebars width

Note How these elite Irish cyclists Handlebars are about the width of their shoulders. This setup gives good control and comfort for long distance cycling

Good bike setup example

Professional cyclists trunk angle
Professional cyclists Bike setup

Physical fitness

Other possible causes? Lack of conditioning,

If you are a beginner cyclist it will take a bit of time for your shoulder and neck muscles to adjust to supporting your head.

So, don’t ramp up the training time too quickly. Increase the distance that you cycle very progressively to allow the muscles to develop.

A 10% weekly increase is usually fine.

Work demands 

Using a phone a lot when working or sitting at a computer for hours at work with poor posture can also create problems.

Check your computer posture and  see Exercises from Pearse St Physio Ergonomics video.
Scroll Down for the videos but the article is well worth a read through.

Strength and conditioning

Develop general strength and conditioning by doing some strength exercises at home or in a gym. 

Specific Programmes like Pearse Street video above and Cathal Moynihans Core strength programme could be very helpful.

Video examples

Climbing positions Mount Ventoux Tour De France   You will notice that the rider has a more upright position as aerodynamics is not so important as they are going slow on the climb.  

Time trial position .. Bradley Wiggins has an extreme position on his time trial bike to ensure good aerodynamics.

This position would require a rider to be very strong and flexible. Most likely it would require support from S+C experts and physiotherapists

Prevention and Remedies

Spend some time preparing your bicycle setup. The setup will depend on what events you participate in.

Allow time to adapt to changes in position and make small changes. Record your original setup and record changes as you make them.

Have a year round exercise plan. Get good training from Strength and conditioning experts and physiotherapists.

For great coaching Contact here.              

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