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Cycling Hand Pain

In cycling your hands are 2 of the 5 contact points with the bike, and cycling is one of the few sports where the hands are used for constant weight bearing. We haven’t really evolved to cope with this, so it is a wonder that more cyclists do not present with hand and wrist issues.

Many cyclists with hand and wrist pain, or local tingling and numbness, find their problem is worse when riding downhill (when there is more pressure through their hands), or when the terrain is very bumpy (vibration is known to be a risk factor for injury in manual handling).

Firstly, we need to consider the position of your hands. Hold your hand up in front of you, then clench your fist. Look at how your wrist is slightly bent back. There is probably no deviation of your fist towards or away from your thumb. This is the position your hand adopts to produce a strong and secure grip and will be the most comfortable position when gripping the handlebars on your bike.

If your knuckles are bent too far back towards you when holding the bars, you will overstretch the tendons on the underside of your hands and potentially compromise the blood supply to these soft tissues. Try to position your hands in a more neutral position as described above.

If the centre of your wrist is in constant contact with the handlebars, you may be compressing the Median Nerve which will cause tingling and numbness of your thumb, index and middle fingers and weakness of your thumb (Carpal Tunnel Syndrome). A slight adjustment to the position of your hand on the bars may be enough to alleviate this pressure.

Clenched Fist

Tingling, numbness and pain on the little finger side of your hands, particularly when holding on the hoods or in the drops, is likely due to compression of the Ulnar Nerve. Again, this problem may be resolved by wrapping your hands slightly further around the handlebars, or changing the area where you grip the bars so that the little finger side of your hand is not under so much load. In some cases, it may be helpful to change the angle of your handlebars, or the position of the hoods on your bars (maybe requiring a trip to your local bike shop).

Symptoms in the hands while cycling can also be due to nerve compression issues in the neck, upper back and shoulder area. It is important to investigate these possibilities as interventions may need to target these areas.

Hand on Hoods

Other strategies that often help are:

  • Using cycling gloves with good quality gel or foam padding over the sensitive areas of your hands
  • Using thicker bar tape or 2 layers of tape
  • Raising your handlebars
  • Changing your hand position more often
  • Minimising downhill riding, or reducing downhill speeds
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