Updated: Sep 25, 2022
Hiking can be a pain in the neck! Maybe you've felt that dull ache and fatigue in the back of your neck or upper shoulders after a few hours on the trail. You're neck is not even doing that much work, so why is it bothering you?
Causes of neck pain when hiking:
1. Downward gaze - While you love the views when hiking, most of your time is probably spent looking down at the trail. This visual feedback is important so that you know where to step and can avoid obstacles that might make you trip. However, keeping your neck in that flexed position can be tiring.
2. Poorly adjusted pack - If your pack isn't properly adjusted it can pull on your shoulders and neck. Make sure that it sits securely and snugly on top of your hip bones. Buckle your chest strap to keep the side straps in line with your shoulders. Pull the load lifters, the adjustment strap at the top of your shoulders, so that the backpack is closer to your body and not leaning away from you. This will take the tension off of your neck and shoulders and transfer the load more directly to your hips.
How to relieve neck pain when hiking:
1. Stop hiking every quarter mile or so and do the following neck stretches:
Rotate your head side to side bringing your chin over your shoulder and hold for a count of 3. Repeat 2-3 times.
Bend your head side to side bringing your ear to your shoulder and hold for a count of 3, Repeat 2-3 times.
Bend your head forward and back trying to touch your chin to your chest and then pointing your chin into the air. Repeat 2-3 times.
2. A ski instructor taught me this trick and now I use it when hiking:
Keep your head pointing straight ahead and scan the trail with your eyes only. You can keep your nose pointing straight while using a downward gaze to watch the trail. Use this technique every 10 to 15 minutes to give your neck a break from actively looking down.
3. Give yourself a massage using your hiking pole.
Gently roll the hiking pole along the back of your neck on each side of your back bones. Then roll it along the side of your neck, the tops of your shoulders, and upper back. This self massage is an easy technique for relaxing overworked neck muscles.
Need more help avoiding neck pain on the trail? Let's talk about your hiking challenges and how The Healthy Hiker Training Program can help your become a stronger and more confident hiker!