Neck pain can be caused or exacerbated by riding, but there are steps you can take to prepare your body for a day in the saddle and ease symptoms. Suzie Bostock reveals more
Motorcyclists often suffer with neck pain, especially when riding off-road or spending a long time in the saddle. Muscles get tired, especially carrying a helmet on your head all day, and gripping your handlebars for dear life when hitting the dirt can cause lots of tension. Here, I am not talking about whiplash, which is a whole different ball game. I’m talking about some exercises that can be done to help prevent neck pain and also be used for rehabilitation. Keep in mind that prevention is better than cure, so getting into an exercise regime before you get any pain is ideal.
If you suffer from frequent bouts of neck pain, ideally you need a long-term management plan, and I’d always recommend an assessment by a qualified physiotherapist to get you on the right track.
Here are some straightforward daily exercises to get you heading in the right direction. These should not cause pain, so do not continue if they are painful or cause additional symptoms like shooting pains, numbness, pins and needles, or weakness in your hands. Also, if any exercises cause you to become dizzy or suffer double vision, stop immediately, and again please seek a professional assessment.
Side neck stretch
Stand up straight, hands clasped gently behind your back. Look ahead and slowly move your left ear towards your left shoulder as far as comfortable without turning your head. If you need a stronger stretch, use your left hand over your head to add a little extra force. Hold 20-30 seconds. Repeat 3-4 times each side.
Rotated neck stretch
Stand up straight, hands clasped behind your back. Keeping your shoulders relaxed and still, with your head up, slowly rotate your head to one side as far as comfortable. Hold 20-30 seconds. Repeat 3-4 times each side.
Forward neck stretch
Stand up straight, look forwards, hands by your side. Bring your chin down towards your chest as far as comfortable, keeping your shoulders relaxed. You can use one hand to gently add additional stretch if needed. Hold 20-30 seconds. Repeat 3-4 times.
Diagonal neck stretch
Stand up straight, look forwards, hands by your side. Bring your chin towards your chest and then gently let your head lean to one side. You can use one hand to gently add additional stretch if needed. Hold 20-30 seconds. Repeat 3-4 times each side.
Backward neck stretch
Stand up straight, look forwards, hands by your side. Lift your chin up as far as comfortable. Hold 5 seconds. Repeat 5-7 times.
Deep neck flexor exercise
Lie on your back, knees bent up, feet flat on the floor. Do not use a pillow. Perform a gentle nodding motion as far as comfortable without lifting your head off the floor. It is only a small movement. Hold this position for 10 seconds. Repeat 10 times or until you can no longer sustain the contraction, whichever is less. Do this three times a week. You should not be working the superficial muscles at the front of your neck. If you are, reduce the movement and you can always use one hand on your neck to provide feedback.
Deep neck extensor exercise
Adopt the four-point kneeling position, hands directly below shoulders. Tuck your chin towards your chest a little then, keeping in this position, gently extend (arch) your neck. You may feel a stretch at the front and/or back of your neck. Hold this position for 10 seconds. Repeat this exercise 10 times or until you can no longer sustain the contraction, whichever is less. Do this three times a week.
Stand up straight, feet shoulder-width apart, look ahead. Gently tuck your chin in a little and then place your left hand on your left temple and gently apply pressure. Use your neck muscles to keep your head steady; your head should not move. Hold for 5 seconds and repeat this exercise 10 times on each side for 3 sets. Do this three times a week.
Do a warm-up before riding and undertake some stretches of your whole body, especially your neck, shoulders and wrists, then stretch again after you finish your ride.
It may cost a bit more for a lighter helmet, but it can make a huge difference – do your research and preferably try it on before you buy.
Loosen your death grip, keep your shoulders relaxed and elbows bent.
Consider a neck brace to avoid hyper-extension injury.
Take regular breaks, move about, move your neck and drink plenty of water. Please note: if you’ve had a bike accident (or other trauma) and think you have whiplash or you have ongoing, persistent neck pain, or suffer with any neurological symptoms (numbness, pins and needles, weakness in your hands, stumbling) you should see a physio and your GP for an assessment, especially prior to undertaking any new exercises.