Shoulder & Upper Back Pain Cycling – UPDATED 2022
Many people that spend multiple hours on a road bike experience upper back pain when cycling.
Cycling for a long time can often cause you to roll your shoulders forward. This results in stiffness in the shoulders and upper back.
People that experience this often struggle to ride more than an hour without discomfort. So how do you prevent upper back pain when cycling, and what can you do to stop shoulder pain?
In this article, we discuss the cause of upper back pain when cycling and the reason you may experience shoulder pain on a ride.
If you want to learn more about upper back pain caused by cycling, continue reading.
Upper Back Pain Cycling – Complete Guide
Upper back pain cycling is a common occurrence within the road cycling community. That is because the traditional way of sitting on a road bike generally causes rounding of the shoulders, which then causes tightness of the thoracic spine. Tightness then expands to the neck and bottom of the rib cage and shoulders.
Other people may experience upper back pain cycling after a long day at work.
This is caused by sitting for long periods at a desk when the shoulders, spine, and back and consistently in the same position for multiple hours. Then when you head out for a ride you typically have the same back position on the bike.
People that don’t work at a desk during the day can still experience upper back pain cycling. This can be caused by the wrong bike position, poor core strength, and even overreaching.
Either way, if you experience a sore upper back when cycling there are some things you can do to prevent it.
What Causes Upper Back Pain When Cycling?
Working long hours at a desk and lack of flexibility are generally the most common causes of upper back pain when cycling. Sitting at a desk all day, compresses and rounds your shoulders. Which then can cause stiffness and lack of mobility on the bike. Then when you add this to sitting in a fixed position for multiple hours at a time, it’s not uncommon for people to feel uncomfortable.
If you are one of these people it is important to spend more time standing up during the day. Doing so will reduce the time you spend rounding out the shoulders and compressing the back. Alternatively, things like foam rolling at lunchtime and standing up at your desk can help reduce symptoms when you head out on the bike.
However, some other people don’t work at a desk all day and still experience upper back pain cycling.
For these people, it is mostly their bike position.
Sitting too far forward in the bike loads the shoulders and arms more. resulting in a fatigued and tight upper body. So if you experience tight shoulders cycling and also numb hands, you are most likely seated too far forward.
If this is the case, try shifting your saddle back 0.5-1cm. This will help your pelvis to bear more of the load, which will result in less stress on the shoulders, arms, and back. Thus reducing the load on the upper back.
Other things like handlebars, can cause a tight upper back. This usually happens when the handlebars are too narrow or too wide, causing the shoulders to tense during riding.
If you experience upper back pain cycling, speak to a qualified bike fitter as the can help find the cause of the issue if it is position orientated.
How to Prevent Upper Back Pain When Cycling?
Luckily there are a few ways to prevent upper back pain when cycling.
First is to see if the cause of your back pain is position-related.
That means looking at your position to see if you are too compressed in the upper body or too stretched out. Because both positions can cause pain in the shoulders and back.
Alternatively, check your handlebar width against your shoulders. Riding a too narrow or wide handlebar can compress and round out the shoulder blades causing compression in the upper back.
Other things like saddle height and saddle fore-aft are major causes of upper back pain cycling.
You can read our article about bike position here if you are struggling to set up your bike position.
Secondly is to spend some time off the bike working on your upper back mobility. Things like stretching and foam rolling are a great way to keep mobility and suppleness in the upper and lower back.
Trapezius Pain Cycling – What Should You know?
If you experience pain in the upper back when riding, you may also feel stiffness and pain in the trapezius muscles. The trapezius muscle is an area that takes a lot of load when cycling. This is because it is at the point where the neck changes to a more curved position, something that is often exaggerated when cycling.
This is often caused by the position or reach to the handlebars. A bike that has a too short reach can often exaggerate the curve in the neck, thus resulting in more stress on the trapezius muscle.
However, handlebar height is often a factor too. A handlebar height that is too low and requires more stress on the neck can result in trapezius pain.
If you experience trapezius pain when cycling, you are most likely experiencing upper back pain too.
So, looking at your position and mobility will help prevent future issues. However, if neither of these helps fix your upper back issue, talk to a qualified physiotherapist. They can look at strengthening exercises as well as massage to help relieve any pain or tightness you may have.