Most cyclists haven’t done this lifesaving safety check!
Cyclists invest a lot to make sure they are seen by others on the road; flashing lights, high visibility jackets and the trusty bell. This helps prevent a huge number of serious accidents. However, it’s not only important for others to see you, you also need to look out for other road users too. Cars have mirrors to see what’s behind them. The only person I’ve seen with a mirror on their bike is my father-in-law. Therefore, everyone else has to twist and look. So what happens if you have a dodgy neck and you can’t see behind you?
How do you test if you can safely see behind you?
Do this simple test. Step 1: Sit on your bike holding on to the handle bars as you would when you’re cycling. Step 2: Turn to see if you can look directly behind you. It should be easy to do and not cause any discomfort. Make sure you do this in both directions, although you’ll mostly look over your right shoulder (in left-side driving countries) it’s important to be able to look both ways. If you can do it then get out and enjoy cycling the city. If you can’t, then we need to look into what is preventing you from turning fully and creating a dangerous ‘blind spot’ behind you.
Where does rotation come from?
Well most people can answer this, you turn your neck! Your neck should be able to rotate your neck to around 90º (able to look directly over your shoulder), 45-50% of this coming from your atlantoaxial joint (right at the top of your neck). However this only shows you what’s on your left or right and not behind you. As we don’t have 2 curves in our neck like an owl (which allow them to look behind them), we rotate our upper back (thoracic spine) as well. This allows us to look behind us for approaching cars before we change lanes or cross the road, for example.
What stops you from safely looking behind you?
There are 2 things that cause you to not be able to turn around whilst cycling:
- Structural restrictions. This is most commonly due to a build up of osteoarthritis (‘wear + tear’) in the joints of your neck physically limiting full rotation.
- Functional restrictions. These restrictions are, most likely, due to the joints of the spine not functioning properly and/or tight and shortened muscles.
The research is out there, as we get older the rotation in our neck is shown to decrease. This is shown in the research graph below. The decrease in flexibility of the neck as we age is due to a potential increase in osteoarthritis (‘wear + tear’) in the neck. Osteoarthritis is something that develops naturally through normal wear + tear but can be massively accelerated due to accumulated years of sitting at computer screens, poor posture and much more. So, the modern, stressful, desk-bound lifestyle most of us adopt causes functional restrictions in the spine that can accelerate the structural restrictions creating a double whammy. The good news is Chiropractic and massage are proven to increase neck rotation in the young and old by helping with the functional restrictions and slowing down the progress of the structural restrictions.
So, as the joints of your spine and your muscles ‘stiffen up’ then you won’t be able to look behind you as easily, or at all. At The Chiropractic Centre: Bristol we find that the majority of people have 20-30% less rotation than they should for their age, or need to look behind them. Often the restrictions are there even without pain in the area. That means a lot of people are cycling around Bristol with restricted necks and unable to look behind them properly. That’s not safe!
What can you do to improve your ability to look safely behind you?
If you can’t safely look behind you, the first thing you need to do is have your spine and the muscles around your upper back and neck checked properly. A Chiropractor will assess the level of movement you have in your cervical and thoracic spines (neck and upper back), they will assess the length of your muscles and, if deemed necessary, take x-rays to evaluate the level of osteoarthritis (wear and tear) in your spine. With that information they can recommend the ideal course to get you road-worthy again. That course will usually combine Chiropractic Adjustments, to restore movement to the functional restrictions, coupled with massage and home stretches to lengthen tightened and shortened muscles. Through this course you should notice an increase in your ability to look behind you, making you safer to cycle on the road. You should also notice that with a better functioning spine you not only move better, you also feel better and function better.
So cyclists, book in for an appointment with your local Chiropractor so they can assess what improvements can be made.
Be seen + see a Chiropractor so you can see!