Shermer's Neck: Cycling's Most Bizarre Injury


In Danhaus' case, he had no pain associated with his case of Shermer's Neck, though he does admit he was in a zone that didn't allow him to even acknowledge any pain he may have been feeling.

"I've read accounts of people that quit because of the pain," Danhaus said. "I tend to be pretty good at blocking pain out. At RAAM, I was so hyped up that nothing would stop me from finishing."

For Danhaus, it was simply a case of the neck refusing to hold the head up any longer. In most cases during ultra-distance bike races, Shermer's Neck does not go away for the remainder of the ride.

But most of the time, cyclists continue on despite the muscle failure. In that regard, Danhaus says that Shermer's Neck is more of a bizarre ailment rather than a crippling one. To him, compared to major saddle sores or hip problems or knee problems, Shermer's Neck is no big deal.

That is, if you're prepared for it.

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Solutions on the Bike

The popular solution for Shermer's Neck is a brace that's wrapped around the cyclist's torso, with a metal pole that goes up the cyclist's back and attaches to the bike helmet. Ideally, the head will be dangling off the pole and it allows the cyclist to continue looking straight ahead while riding.

A member of Danhaus' crew tried this, but the crosswinds of the Great Plains made it ineffective, because Danhaus' head kept rocking from side to side. So he dismounted and the crew huddled up.

"I said, 'Well, take my aero bars and rotate them up,'" Danhaus said.

The crew shifted his aero bars so they were straight above the handlebars, then wrapped the top of them with toilet paper and covered the toilet paper in duct tape to keep it in place. Danhaus then put his chin on top of the contraption and kept riding.

A simple Google image search of Shermer's Neck shows other creative ways to work around the ailment, including one that combines the Danhaus crew's two ideas and sends a metal pole up the back, then has an elastic band wrapping around each side of the cyclist's head that form a chin strap to rest the head on.

Another example was discussed in the New York Times involving female competitor Leah Goldstein. When her neck failed, her crew braided tape into her hair and tied it to her heart-rate montior or bra to prop her head up.

More: Women-Only Cycling Issues Explained


With his head resting on the makeshift aero bar chin rest, Danhaus kept pedaling toward Annapolis. He finished the 3,000-mile journey in 11 days, 11 hours and 51 minutes. He was 60 years old, the oldest of all the 2009 entrants.

By that point, his body was used to the sleep deprivation. He fell asleep after the race finished but only got two hours in before waking up. And his neck still wasn't working.

"On the drive home, I stopped at a drug store and got one of those neck collars for whiplash to help keep my head up," Danhaus said.

He returned to his full-time job as a veterinarian surgeon, but still had problems doing his work because his neck was not back to full strength. He frequently visited the chiropractor to try and speed up the recovery.

"It took three or four weeks before I could really keep my head up," Danhaus said. "But even then, if I went out for six- or seven-hour bike ride, it would still be weak. It gradually returned, but it took weeks.

"I never felt pain. It was just total muscle fatigue."

Danhaus has competed in 500-mile events since the 2009 RAAM, and has not had any problems with his neck in those rides. He's hoping to compete in the RAAM again in the future, knowing that Shermer's Neck might pop up once again.

For the extreme ultra-distance cyclists, it's always a possibility.

"I've done many races in the 500- to 600-mile range and never had a problem. But in RAAM, it struck me at around 1,000 miles," Danhaus said. "Until you get 1,000 miles under your belt, you don't know what your body is going to do."

More: Solutions for Common Cycling Aches and Pains

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About the Author

Ryan Wood

Ryan Wood is an editor for He enjoys a good ride and loves participating in endurance events throughout the year. Follow him on Google+.
Ryan Wood is an editor for He enjoys a good ride and loves participating in endurance events throughout the year. Follow him on Google+.

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