upper back pain

by fuzzhead1   March 25, 2011  

Hi guys, this is my first post.

I’ve been cycling for a few years now. I started off on my old marin mountain bike riding on towpaths doing 20ish miles. I'd go out on weekends with my mate and I would have no pain from knee or back. So a few months later we decided to ditch the tow paths and start riding on the road. Then we decided do the London to Windsor in 2009, which was about 45 miles. Did that and again no injury problems. Everything was good. Over the following months of riding on the roads, we started to increase our distance and do 35 miles sometimes more or less, but average 35miles. Then I started to notice my left upper back/trapezius muscle would hurt. This would only happen near the end of the ride. I never took much notice of it as once I got home I was fine. But it became more and more dominant in my riding.

Last year in july I did the London to Cambridge, which is a 60mile event. The last 20 miles my left upper back was killing me. So I decided to buy myself a road bike, which I absolutely love. I got myself a trek madone 5.2 from the guys at Rutlands cycling in Grafham. But the pain was still there. So doing some research I decided to get a bike fit. I booked myself at sigma cycling to have the specialized BG fit. The guy there nick was very helpful and said my stem size is ok, he raised my saddle height and put the specialized footbed in my cycling shoes. After my setup I was eager to get out and ride, but due to the crappy English weather I had to wait. When the weather was better I went for a ride. Again my left bloody back was hurting. By this point I was cursing and wondering if a bike fit isn’t going to solve my problem what is. I had read loads of articles on bike fit and how they are good but this one didn’t help at all.

Now IV been going to see a physio at the varney practice in hertford for 3 weeks. Done 3 sessions. I explained my problem. The chap there is very helpful. He starts off with electrotherapy, which includes interferential therapy, and then Acupuncture followed by deep tissue massage. He also put tape on my back (left side) to keep my back in the correct position for muscle memory correction. My last session with the physio was Tuesday. Now the weather is lovely at the moment I said the guy im gonna go for a ride and see if its helping. He said let me know next week how I got on. So started riding and again after an hour of riding it was hurting again. Before I went out for my ride, I did stretches. This really is putting me down and I have no idea how I can overcome this pain.

I spoke to one of my friends about this and he said I should knock the physio on the head and just do shoulder shrugs with some light weights to build up strength. My girlfriend said I should build up my core muscles to give my back muscles support. Another mate says I should go to this guy who gives him proper deep massage tissue. I just don’t know what to do.
Let me say when im out on my bike, im really comfortable and have no problem getting used to riding a road bike. I came natural to me when I first got on it.

Im not pushing myself because once the pain kicks in im more focused on trying to get rid of the pain by stretching my neck while riding, moving my arms, changing my position on the bike. I even changed the stem from 100m to 80m and made it worse, and very twitchy. Flipped the stem over, moved the handle bar position and still nothing seems to work. Im not going to give up on this. Im more determined to fight this and beat it, so others with this problem can save themselves money and time.

The reason im writing on here is to ask for help. I need advice, tips anything. Its strange my left side hurts but right side doesn’t. im right handed so im guessing maybe my left side is weak and I need to build up muscle. Im already doing shrugs with light dumbbell weights. I will see how that will go.

I really could do with anybody here to help me. Im sorry if I have written a biography, but I don’t want to miss anything out.

Again I really appreciate anybody who reads this and writes back.

I will keep you posted on how im getting on.


4 user comments

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I had a similar problem last year with a new road bike, kept getting awful pain in my upper right back, shoulder and lower neck.

I had the bike fit at Sigma and it didnt help much - did sort out my ongoing kneee problems though!

After much messing with stems, bar height etc I finally nailed it by buying new bars with a much more compact design, they have a very short reach and short drop.

This design places the hoods closer to me but leaves the tops in the same place - a shorter stem would move the entire bar back and possibly make the bike a bit twitchier. I only ever got the pain when on the hoods so this seemed the perfect solution. It also makes it easier to reach the drops as they are closer to you too.

Not really had any issues since then - I do get a bit of lower neck ache after a few hours in the saddle but nothing serious.

Another thing to think about is arm length - if they are slightly different lengths then the stress on each could be different and could lead to pain on one side. Not sure how you would counter this though - rotate the bars a little? Maybe alter the hood position on the painful side? I'm guessing here as you can probably tell!

Think sheldon brown mentions something about arm length.

posted by dandan [36 posts]
25th March 2011 - 12:06



It sounds to me like you should see an Osteopath (I am student of Osteopathy). If you ask around and go see a reputable Osteopath then they will take a full case history before they examine you and then make a diagnosis based on all the information that they have gathered. Osteopaths look at the body as a unit, physio's tend to focus on the painful area. It's important to remember than imbalances in other areas of the body, e.g. spine, pelvis, arm etc can actually be the underlying cause of a problem. It could be musculoskeletal, neurological or circulatory. It's just important to remember that the place that hurts isn't always the place where the problem is. If you go to an Osteopath then I'm sure you will get to the root of the problem and they'll either refer you on if they can't treat it or they will treat you themselves using soft tissues techniques and mobilisation ("cracking") if necessary. They can also advise on strengthening exercises and diet etc. Hope that helps!


posted by amyling [1 posts]
25th March 2011 - 20:39


It's just important to remember that the place that hurts isn't always the place where the problem is

true dat. i had a friend who had terrible back pain playing football, turned out it was his hamstrings that were the problem...

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7854 posts]
25th March 2011 - 23:18


I would find a different physiotherapist. It doesn't sound like your present one has found the source of your problem and given you a specific diagnosis. I would expect a good physio to prescribe a course of exercises designed to target your problem, instruct you in how to do them correctly, and check at subsequent appointments that you are doing them correctly. It sounds like the one you have seen is a bit towards the alternative therapy end of the spectrum.

I think that your girlfriend's suggestion of building up your core to help support your back muscles is more useful for lower back pain. Upper back pain is usually less serious and easier to treat.

Do you do any other exercise, such as tennis, which is very one sided?

I have found that swimming is very useful when I've had strained muscles in my back, so you might try that too. A nice symmetrical breast stroke might help restore balance to your muscles.

And how is your cycling style? Are you spinning a low gear in a high cadence (over 90 rpm) with your upper body relaxed (good), or are you pushing over a big gear and pulling through your arms to force each pedal stroke through (bad)?

Oh, and you should only stretch once you are warmed up, though I'm not sure how you would warm up your back muscles. It might be more useful to stretch after riding.

two wheels good; four wheels bad

posted by cat1commuter [1448 posts]
26th March 2011 - 14:08