Video: 4 Foam Roller Exercises to Alleviate Neck Pain

Mar 1, 2019
by Liz Koch  
Foam Rolling

Your Neck… This great thing that keeps your head upright and controls where you look.

Does yours ever get tight while riding your bike? Especially on those long uphill climbs??

Your neck is connected to the upper back and then upper back to the lower back. This entire system, your spine, works like a slinky. If your slinky is working great each part moves a little bit, for the sake of an example… 5%. If you have stiffness in a part of your slinky, then it is going to put stress on the other parts of the slinky. That would mean that part of your slinky would move 1% and other parts would need to take up the slack and move 7-9% causing you stress in these regions and also limiting your full movement as well.

Aka if your upper/mid back, your thoracic spine, is stiff then you will have stressed placed on your neck and on your low back.

For mountain bikers, our posture lends us to have more stiffness in our thoracic spine than other sports. This is increased even more if you sit a lot for work.

Poor Upper Back Posture and Neck Stress
Poor Upper Back Mobility Causing Stress to the Lower Neck


Good Upper Back posture and neck position
Improved Posture with Less Stress on Lower Neck

As you can see from the pictures, this can cause the bottom most part of your neck to have stress. But with a change in position or a change in mobility, you can decrease the stress placed on your neck.

**Sometimes you might not be stiff in this region, you might need more core/trunk strength. Today, we are going to go over how to improve your movement or aka mobility in your thoracic spine.**

There are a couple of ways of using a foam roller to help with mobility. These may be exercises that you have seen before, but make sure you pay attention to the details.

Exercise #1: Make a T

Views: 4,702    Faves: 15    Comments: 0


Objective
- To increase thoracic spine extension

Perform:
- 3-4 times a day
- Do for 3-5 min
- Before Riding to warm up for a ride
- Post ride to stay mobile
- After Sitting all day


Things to Note:
- Make sure to keep your elbows in front of you, to increase pressure on spine
- If you do this too much, and you are very stiff, you will get sore
- Can be performed with two tennis balls taped together or on the wall if the floor applies too much pressure

Exercise #2: Foam Roller Rocking

Views: 3,468    Faves: 10    Comments: 0


Objective:
- Increased rotation and extension of thoracic spine

Perform:
- 3-4 times a day
- Do for 3-5 min

Things to Note:
- You can raise your hips to get a better stretch to the uppermost part of your back
- Make sure to keep your elbows in front of you, to increase pressure on spine
- If you do this too much, and you are very stiff, you will get sore
- You can do this 3-4 times a day, to warm up for a ride, and post ride to stay mobile
- Keep your head relaxed

Exercise #3: Foam Roller Twist

Views: 3,296    Faves: 10    Comments: 0


Objective:
- Increase thoracic rotation while flexing the low back

Perform:
- 2-4 times a day
- 2 sets 20 reps each side
- Before Riding to warm up for a ride
- Post ride to stay mobile
- After Sitting all day


Things to Note:
- Try to keep your elbow straight on arm that is down to encourage more rotation
- Rotation of thoracic spine helps with extension of thoracic spine
- Can be performed without roller or with a ball
- Keep hips shifted back toward feet to stop movement from coming from your low back and to keep it in your thoracic spine
- Don’t hold the stretch, joints like movement in and out of the stiff region

Exercise #4: Child’s Pose with Upper Back Extension

Views: 2,974    Faves: 9    Comments: 0


Objective:
- Increase thoracic extension through entire region while flexing the low back

Perform:
- 2-4 times a day
- 2 sets 20 reps each side
- Post ride to stay mobile
- After Sitting all day


Things to Note:
- You keep hips back to lock down low back to make upper back stretch
- This isn’t the best if you have shoulder issues/pain
- Don’t stress your neck, relax it in the stretch
- Don’t hold the position too long, joints like movement in and out of the stiff region


About the Author:

Liz Koch, PT, DPT is a physical therapist that knows exactly what it is like to have pain. She has been to many PTs over her life, which directed her to obtaining her doctor in physical therapy after she became an engineer. She has been a mountain biker since she was a kid and has recently opened up her own clinic in Western North Carolina, Blue Ridge BioMechanics. She wants to share the knowledge that you don’t have to be in pain when riding and you don’t have to stop riding to get out of pain. She has focused this mission to Rad Mountain Biking Ladies on Facebook and through her online business, The Ride Life.

Let me know if you have questions.

*If you have pain please consult with a medical doctor or physical therapist for further evaluation, Liz Koch and companies are without liability if you injure yourself while performing these exercises*


MENTIONS: @theridelife


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60 Comments

  • + 29
 Yeah!! More foam rolling please!!
  • + 10
 Agree. Those things are delicious. It would be nice to see some recipes here though.
  • + 4
 3-4 times a day lol
  • + 1
 @Ayyggss: If you have issues with this then you will want to Smile but yes.. can take some time
  • + 2
 Any recommendations for lower back pain from riding?
  • + 1
 @RollinFoSho: when do you get the pain... when climbing or descending?
  • + 1
 @theridelife: I mostly just feel it after a ride
  • + 1
 Going to try a different saddle and get a proper bike fit, see if it helps
  • + 2
 @RollinFoSho: a lot of times core control, tight hamstrings and movement through upper back are keys for Mtn bikers. Proper bike for can help as well. Do you do any cross training? And how do you feel about your core strength?
  • + 1
 definitely could do better
  • + 1
 @RollinFoSho: send me a message and we can talk further, but the core is the biggest area that I tend to give exercises for esp for mtn bikers.
  • + 14
 Me- "My neck hurts"

All physical therapists everywhere- "Just do these 17 exercises and stretches 3-4 times a day for 4 months!"

-Time commitment each day = 3.5 hours

Its easy!

But seriously, thanks for the tips!
  • + 3
 I have a friend that is a PT and no matter what my compliant, it's always the same: "Stretch it and ice it".

Don't know why I bother anymore.
  • + 6
 @IamZOSO: then hes a crappy pt.
  • + 1
 haha... I try not to give more than 4 haha
  • + 1
 @IamZOSO: There is usually more to it than just stretching and icing. I think I actually give more strengthening and motor control exercises than anything
  • + 17
 Where’s abby
  • + 1
 Team Abby Smile
  • + 5
 Good stuff. The cracks and pops in my spine I get from exercise 1 are crazy sometimes Smile
  • + 3
 Thank you, and that typically means you need to be doing more of it Smile
  • + 1
 Injured my neck dirt biking a few years ago. I now have pain and shooting electricity-like pain shooting down my right arm every day. The foam roller has offered me a lot of relief. But I was only doing the first exercise in your list. Thank you so much for posting all of these! I'm going to go try the other ones right now...
  • + 2
 That sounds an awful lot like a bulged disk in your cervical. Get that looked at man.
Anytime you have shooting nerve pain, don’t ignore it and hope it gets better. It can lead to long term issues if not taken care of.
  • + 2
 That isn't good. I agree with Abacall... you should probable go in to a local PT and get it looked at. Nerve pain is terrible and can cause longterm affects. It can also cause your arm to feel weak and make you more prone to really injuring your shoulder if you crash. Glad you got some relief, but get it looked at please.
  • + 1
 @theridelife @Abacall: I've had a CT scan, MRI, 3 rounds of cortisone and Lidocaine injections, physio and acupuncture. It is getting better though. I suspect poor posture and long hours at my desk are probably not helping things either....plus all the dumb stuff I did in my youth. It's all coming back to haunt me.
  • + 2
 @srh2: Geez... that is a lot of treatment. I hope that you are feeling a lot better by now.

Posture can play a huge role... but the underlying issue within that is that you have the mobility to move. Core strength can also help posture and help you keep mobility.

And yes old injuries can come back to haunt us.
  • + 1
 @theridelife: I'm also getting old....ha ha!
But you're right. I am just starting to work on my strength again.
Everything is a mess. Hopefully I can sort it all out Smile
  • + 1
 I had several episodes of lower back pain last summer as well as some neck pain/stiffness on longer rides last year. My main goal for the winter was to strengthen core and improve thoracic spine mobility and posture. Also working on hamstring and hip mobility. Took a while to find a good physical therapist but, when I did, her guidance was very beneficial. Started feeling better/stronger is short order.Will continue doing exercises even when at 100% so as not to possibly have further problems later.
  • + 1
 I has similar tightness in my hip flexors last summer and have been spending the winter in the gym with weights. For me it was an imbalance, I was doing squats but not lunges or wood chops (both hi-low/low-hi) and can already tell the difference of stability and strength. I think most Mt bikers dont do enough strengthening of the core. Downhill riding hard is basically a lunge with a twist the entire time.
The July 5 article here Yoga for Mt. Bikers, my foam roller, and core strengthening saved the day.
  • + 1
 @MLeslie7: yes! so true ... most mtn bikers don't do as much core and rotational stability as a whole and we come away with issues and problems that affect our riding.
  • + 4
 Can you use a tyre insert
  • + 3
 Possibly, although a tube of Pringles works wonderfully.
  • + 4
 Use a bendy balloon. 25 for £1!
  • + 3
 baguettes only
  • + 2
 This stuff is great, some help in combating stuff like shoulder impingement and snapping hip that can develop due to riding
  • + 1
 Great! I'll put that on my list for the next couple of months to talk about and give you some exercises for. Thanks for the feedback Smile
  • + 2
 Maybe I'm misunderstanding, but I thought you weren't supposed to foam roll directly on bone.
  • + 3
 Nope you totally can use a foam roller on bones or aka joints.. your spine is a series of joints... but you need to understand why you would in certain areas and not in others. aka thoracic/upper back great place... lower back not a great place bc there are no ribs there for support. does this make sense?
  • + 2
 @theridelife: That makes sense. I guess that also explains why she uses the long foam roller in the second exercise.
  • + 1
 @jstoup111: yes Smile that is why I use the longer foam roller... I also stretch out my pecs when I lie on it longways by resting my arms out the the side... feels great haha
  • + 1
 @theridelife: Thanks a lot for the exercises. My foam roller is shorter than yours (2ft instead of 3ft) and when doing exercise #2 it reaches from the lower back of my head down to just above my hips. Now you say avoid the lower back and neck. I don't think I'm really rolling on these but I'm not sure. What would you recommend for my shorter roller. Shift the roller up until it extends beyond the head like yours? Not sure yet if it works because I'm not suffering from neck pain in the first place Wink but of course I don't want to cause any by doing these exercises wrong!
  • + 2
 @vinay: great question. I would recommend shifting the foam roller up to support your head and instead of lying your body down on it like at the first part... just doing the part where you lift your butt up (since it can’t rest on a foam roller that isn’t there) Does that make sense?
  • + 1
 @theridelife: Thanks a lot. Yeah this makes a lot of sense. The exercise is easy to perform when keeping the upper legs in line with my core (so a straight line between knees and upper back). The only thing is, I get reaaaly mellow, even dizzy when doing this. More than when lying flat on my back on a level hard floor. I'm curious if this is considered a problem or perfectly fine. It may just be me though. I feel I'm quite sensitive to local pressures on my head. This is also why I'm always riding with goggles now, never with glasses. Because the pressure of the legs of glasses above/behind my ears starts to hurt and really drives me nuts. Lying on the back of my head doesn't actually hurt but yeah, it does make me dizzy. Got to say I once had a big concussion there (well before I learned what a concussion actually is). I was laughing so much I wasn't breathing, then fainted and hit my head against a heavy flowerpot on the way down. I fainted more often because of this but this was the only time I hit my had on the way down. After this, I taught myself to sit down when I feel this coming. So yeah, I'm a bit odd. I don't use alcohol or drugs by the way. But back to the original question, is it common to get real mellow when doing this exercise or is it not supposed to happen?
  • + 1
 @theridelife: what about the cervical?
  • + 1
 @vinay: Oh no... That isn't good. This shouldn't make your head feel like you are going to pass out or feel faint. The foam roller should still be resting on your upper back and head relaxed on the foam roller.

It also sounds like you could have a blood circulation issue. Do you get faint when you bend over for a period of time? If so then I would avoid exercises that place your head lower than your heart and go get checked out by a medical doc to check blood flows... you don't want your brain going without some blood.
  • + 1
 @theridelife: Thanks for the feedback. No, I have never heard of a circulation issue. They've checked pressures recently because I switched from Ritalin to dexamphetamin (for ADHD) and they wanted to monitor how that goes. But I only use that for work so it isn't really in my blood anyway in the evening. I don't recall the exact numbers but they said they were really good. One doctor kind of freaked out a good while ago because she thought my heart rate at rest was way too low. My body is naturally geared towards endurance so when I also train for that, my resting heard rate quickly drops below fourty, somewhere to the mid thirties. But I thought endurance is boring so for the past couple of years I've mostly been working on strength, mobility and technique. I don't really check my minimum heart rate frequently but when they use the digital blood pressure meter, it seems my heart rate is somewhere in the mid fourties while seated (and awake, obviously). I don't think I'm getting faint when bending over for any length of time though I do hate a curled up position. It drives me nuts. For this very reason I really don't like operating modern cellphones, working on electronics or any other type of work where I need to look down on my hands and do precise work. It freaks me out. Not sure if that's a pre-stage of fainting, it just feels uncomfortable. Last Summer I was practicing head stands. I don't think it really would make me feel faint, instead it just feels like there is more pressure in my head but nothing I can't handle. I also never had issues with 2 or 3g moves in aircraft, nor with 0g or going slightly negative. I do really think it is the pressure of the foam roller against my head that makes me go mellow, just like the pressure of the legs of the glasses makes me feel uncomfortable.

What I do know is that my basic reactions are quite primary. Dim the lights and/or put me horizontal and I fall asleep. Cold shower and I'm wide awake. Spring around the corner and I'm getting so wildly enthusiastic that I really need to tone myself down or I'll injure myself. So yeah maybe it is just that. When the body feels I'm lying down it goes in sleep mode. If I can't sleep I usually just drive my had harder down against the mattress to tell it what is supposed to do. So yeah, maybe it is just that. My head feeling a high local pressure making it think it is time to sleep.
  • + 1
 @vinay: Way interesting. I'd say for this.. logically, just don't do the exercise. I'm glad that you don't pass out or feel faint when you bend over. That makes it seem less blood pressure related. You might, as you said, just be more sensitive to stimulation of where your body is in space or you have a slight neck issue.

I wouldn't worry about it too much unless you start developing other symptoms or start feeling faint more often.

IF you do then go to your M.D. and tell them those specific symptoms and a timeline of when they happened.

Hope this helps a bit.
  • + 1
 Funny timing my neck has been absolutely killing me since mid recovery from my shoulder injury. I'll try these out!
  • + 1
 I’m glad I could be of helps Smile message me if you have questions on them ... esp with your shoulder recovery
  • + 2
 Thank you for this awesome post! This was super helpful.
  • + 1
 Is this a reason to ride a smaller bike so your more upright and not as stretched out ? Long and slack does in your neck ?
  • + 1
 You want a bike that fits you. If it is too small then your low back and upper back will want to be more flexed and you won’t be able to move... if it is too far on the reach then you will have to have more strength through your core and will prob put some stress on your neck.... try a plank from elbows with elbows too far under uou curling your body and then one with elbows reaching out too far... there is a happy medium btw the two
  • + 2
 Finally a foamcore product that actually works
  • + 2
 Best PT around right here! ????
  • + 1
 Nice thank you Would love a series about lower back also please
  • + 1
 Excellent!
  • + 1
 Great stuff! Thx!
  • + 1
 Thabks for posting this
  • - 1
 the comment section on this article is just going to be beautiful

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