Is Your Neckpain Being Caused By Your Handlebars?

by Dr. Jonathan Grendelmeier
Cycling is very popular in Milton Keynes and it has become a very fashionable sport or hobby. Team GB’s success at the Olympics has added massively to the appeal of this sport and I have assessed cyclists competing at a variety of levels such as sportives, time-trial cyclists or internationally competing cyclists.

Chiropractic Tips for your Bike Setup

  • Subtract 10cm from leg length = distance between top of seat and centre of bottom bracket.
  • Inside leg measurements (cm) multiply by 0.685 = frame size. frame sizes are measured from centre of bottom bracket to top of seat tube.
  • For clipless pedals cleats on bottom of shoes should be behind the ball of your foot.
  • While your core should be tensed your upper body needs to relax. look for a 20 degree bend in your arms when hands are on the hoods.
  • Top of handlebars of a racing bike should be no more than 5cm below the top of seat depending on your core strength.
  • Handlebar = shoulderwidth.
  • 60% of weight is on seat, 40% on handlebars.
  • Pedal at three o’clock knee joint should be directly above center of pedal axle, you may have to adjust seat forward or backward to enable and use a spirit level to keep seat horizontal.
  • With foot in down position the pedal crank lines up with the seat tube – there should now be a 30-35 degree bend in your knee.

Typical Cycling Injuries

  • Neckpain that can result in headaches.
  • Ankle sprains that can be linked to pelvic misalignment.
  • Pain between the shoulder blades.
  • Pelvic pain and sciatic pain.
  • Tight neck, lower back and buttock and leg muscles.
  • Knee pains resulting from tight iliotibial band.

Early in my work at a Sports Injury clinic I came across a very keen cyclist with recurring neckpain and I got him to bring his cycle in to see if there was a problem with the set-up in relation to his spinal posture. I soon established a problem with the height on the handlebars and it was a combination of adjusting these and chiropractic care that managed to clear the chronic neckpain that he had been suffering from for several years and had been very disabling in nature.

Can you imagine buying a pair of shoes without knowing the correct size? Many people buying cycles are not aware of the correct size of their bike frame. If you have not got your bike set up properly you will waste energy and increase your likelihood of injuries. So, when buying a bike you have to consider the right size frame, width of handlebars and the length of the handlebar stem. Other points to consider are: does the seat move up and down, forward and back and does it tilt to suit your riding style. Legs act as levers, so thigh, calf and feet size will affect bike set up. Most cyclists have a leg length difference and this causes a problem as they need to be equidistant. This can be balanced by a chiropractor as the origin of the leg length imbalance can be traced to a pelvicmisalignment. Some people recommend shoe inserts to equalise leg lengths but this will not clear the pelvic imbalance even if it may make the pedalling more efficient. Some cyclists may be aware of a pelvic asymmetry in that their leg strength feels different, i.e., the leg on one side tending to feel weak in terms of power that can be generated and one side tending to fatigue quicker. The legs appear to move differently, movement generally feeling less smooth on the weak side.

Studies have shown that cyclists regained a more rounded stroke on the previous short leg side following pelvic re-alignment and cyclists could ride for longer at their maximum level.

In some cyclists, riding with the trunk bent forward precipitates or worsens the misaligned back or pelvic pain by increasing stress on the area where the neck meets the upper body. The position will increase the tension of already tense and tender back muscles and will put direct tension on hamstring muscles and coccyx area.

In an ideal world your body becomes an integral part of the bike. Your legs act as levers so the length of your thighs, lower legs and the size of your feet all affect how your bike should be set up.

Having worked in a Sports Injury clinic for ten years has given me a keen interest in sporting injuries and a careful analysis of your pelvis and back as well as your bike could make your bike riding more efficient and could help avoid possible injuries.