EVER HAD NUMBNESS OR TINGLING YOUR FINGERS WHILE YOU’RE RIDING??
You could be suffering from an overuse injury. The two most common of these being Cyclist’s Palsy and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
- WORDS: Helen
- Published: June 8, 2015
What causes them?
Firstly Cyclist’s Palsy better known as ‘Ulnar neuropathy’.
(Is much more common in women than men. )
The ulnar nerve controls sensation in your ring and little finger and controls most of the muscular function of your hand. If pressure is placed on the ulnar nerve by stretching or hyperextending that nerve when in the drop down handlebars/resting on the hood etc, this can cause compression. In other words you are riding with your wrists cocked and angled thus compressing the ulnar nerve by your grip on the handlebars.
Its this pressure placed on the ulnar nerve that results in numbness and tingling in the ring and little fingers or hand weakness, or a combination of both.
Secondly Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
Is less common than Cyclist’s Palsy but is still an overuse injury. It is caused by compression of the medial nerve at the wrist instead of the ulnar nerve. Again hand position plays a great part in its development if it is a cycling induced injury (There are many causes of hand pain and may not be associated with cycling, but hand position on the bike could aggravate an existing injury as well).
Regarding Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, an example of hand position is when you ride with your hands on the brake hoods on a road bike. The angling of the wrist is a contributing factor to cause compression of this nerve. Symptoms will be very similar to Cyclist’s palsy, but disinctly different. Where there is noticeable tingling/numbness in the little finger and ring finger in ‘Cyclist’s palsy’, there will be tingling/numbness in the thumb, index, middle, and sometimes ring fingers and possibly weakness of the hand if it is ‘Carpal Tunnel Syndrome’. Thus the area of numbness or tingling can assist when distinguishing where the problem lies. The good news is, when you get off the bike, the symptoms should resolve shortly after, but apparently with Cyclist’s Palsy, it can take days and even months to resolve particularly the longer it occurs. There are other causes of pain in hands/wrists but I would think that if it was an overuse injury as mentioned, I suspect the symptoms should come on during the ride. In other words, they weren’t there before you got on the bike and they should also diminish when you stop riding.
Rest, stretching exercises and possibly anti-inflamatory medication if that is required. If the pain is bad enough though, I’d be visiting my Doctor to rule out other possible causes of the pain.
Now when I say the hand position is the contribution factor to the above conditions , it is. Making some adjustment to your equipment and behavior can relieve these symptoms and possibly prevent their reoccurence.
Your grip on the handbar is the main source of these problems. Bent wrists lead to nerve entrapment and therefore, pain/tingling etc. Possibly consider a flat bar so your wrist isn’t as angled.
If you’re on a road bike, a regular change of position of your hands on the handlebars can help. Be more conscious to move your hand positions more frequently.
Another contributing factor is saddle position. If your saddle is tilted down, you tend to slide forward placing greater weight on your hands/wrists. You want your saddle level, not tilted. If you need to tilt your saddle to feel comfortble when riding, then your reach is probably incorrect also. There may be adjustments needed to bring the handlebars closer to the saddle or higher so your not so stretched out. Adjust the bike so you sit in a more upright position, taking the weight and pressure off your hands and wrists.
Wearing padded gloves and handlebar tapes: These help absorb road jolts and vibration which is felt in the hands and wrists. [Gloves are an essential item when cycling. Not only do they absorb the vibrations felt from the road but if you come off your bike, it is an automatic response to put your hands out to protect yourself when you fall. Gloves give protection from hand lacerations and gravel rash. [ Don’t forget we use our hands for everything from opening the door, turning the key, holding your cutlery, to signing our name etc etc. These things are very painful to do when your hands are injured.]
If your going to do long rides, take regular breaks and as mentioned, perform some hand and wrist stretches before you go out riding. Prevention is better than cure.
Proper adjustments to the handlebars, seat, and the pedals are the key to preventing most overuse injuries.
I can’t emphasis enough how a good bike fit can affect you when your riding. If your on your bike enough, its worth getting a proper bike fit. Long term use of a bike which is incorrectly fitted will reflect in problems associated with you knees, neck pain, hand numbness etc. Its only when you up the anti and start doing some serious kilometers that you start noticing problems, most of which can be prevented.
I hope that I have given you some interesting and useful information here. I love finding little bits of useful information, And don’t let the negatives stop the positives. Your improved fitness from riding will improve your overall health and strength. It can also improve your mental well being. It also gives you that great satisfaction when you have achieved a challenging ride. So don’t forget to get back on the bike and have a great day. Be thankful, we’re cyclists. We know how to live!