Have you ever been riding your bike and felt a tingling sensation in your hands? Or maybe your hand started to go numb? This is common with many cyclists, and the good news is that there are ways to prevent numb hands while cycling. It can be scary the first time it happens, because you’re worried that something is seriously wrong. Usually this isn’t an indicator of a serious issue, but something that can be stopped with a few changes. Occasionally my hands would go numb while riding my bike, and I wanted to know what caused it and how to stop it. Here’s what I discovered…
What causes numb hands while cycling? Usually numb hands are not due to a serious illness, but because of a pinched nerve in your hand. Resting your hands on the handle puts pressure on the palms and wrists of your hands, and this can cause a nerve to become pinched or irritated which causes hand numbness, weakness, and irritation.
The Details of Numb and Tingly Hands While Biking
Each one of your hands has nerves that control the movement of your fingers, hands, and wrists. These nerves also supply sensory information to your brain. When you’re out on a bike ride the pressure placed on your hands and wrists can hinder how these nerves work. This can cause numbness or that tingly sensation you feel.
A common nerve that becomes pinched while cycling is the ulnar nerve. The ulnar nerve is connected to the little finger on your hand, your ring finger, and runs through your wrist all the way up your arm. Fun fact – the ulnar nerve is the largest unprotected nerve in the human body. In fact, it’s the same nerve that you feel when you hit the “funny bone” on your elbow. For many cyclists, this is the nerve that gets pinched while riding. It’s most common for it to get pinched while riding a road bike, because of hand positioning in the drops and hoods.
Another important nerve in your hand is the median nerve. It goes through your wrist, and is connected to your thumb, middle finger, ring ringer, and index finger. It’s not uncommon for this nerve to also get pinched while cycling.
What You Can Do About It
Hand numbness can happen to even the healthiest of cyclists. By taking the proper precautions many cyclists can stop and prevent this problem from occurring. By ignoring the problem the symptom can get worse. Ignoring it can cause the numbness to start more frequently and last longer. I can’t recommend enough that you try out some of the solutions below. I mention later in this article, but if you feel pain in your hands even when you are not riding than you should seek out a doctor to get a diagnosis.
Without saying anymore, here are ways you can prevent your hands from going numb while bicycling.
Not all bike paths were made the same, and some routes can be bumpy. The vibration of riding a bike can be one of the causes for your numb hands. While riding hard and especially when its bumpy you may be gripping the handlebars extra hard. The vibration and your grip can do a number on the nerves in your hand. Cycling gloves with padding are an easy way to relieve some of the pressure from your hands. A study done in 2011 showed that cycling gloves can reduce the pressure on the ulnar nerve from 10 to 28 percent. Cycling gloves help!
Cycling gloves not only add padding to help prevent your hands from going numb, but they also can protect your hands while riding. In addition, they provide more grip to make sure your hands don’t slip off the handlebars. While slipping from the handlebars may be a more serious concern for mountain bikers than bike commuters, the gloves padding will help reduce the stress and vibrations on your nerves.
Make sure to get a pair that fits your hands, because a size too small won’t help your numb hand situation. The brand HTZPLOO makes a great pair of cycling gloves (see on Amazon) with extra padding which will help with road vibration and hand fatigue.
Double Wrap Those Bars
I love to choose the right color of handlebar tape to match my bike, but handlebar tape is more than just a cosmetic. It also helps with grip and absorbing shock. When you roll over a bumpy patch of road the handlebar tape should help absorb the vibration that your hands would otherwise be feeling. If your tape is worn out and torn than you should replace it so that it can properly do its job. The more you’re able to reduce the vibration and shock in your hands the better.
Another technique is to double wrap your handlebars with bar tape. In fact, professional riders will often double wrap their handlebars when they know they’ll be racing on a route that is known to be bumpy (i.e. riding on cobblestones). If numb hands are an issue than you can try this method out.
If your bicycle doesn’t have handlebar tape than you’ll want to make sure your grips are comfortable and good shock absorbers. I recently put OURY grips on my Mountain Bike and I am happy with their feel and shock absorbency.
Proper Wrist Position
It’s important that your wrists do not bend when grabbing the handlebars. You want them to be straight with your forearms. Nerves start in your wrists and arms and travel through the wrist into your hands. The bend in your wrists can be what is causing a nerve to become pinched.
Get a Bike Fit
A true bike fit can help you to ride faster, feel more comfortable, and stop your hands from going numb. The right bike fit will be different from cyclist to cyclist, because it depends on multiple factors such as your age, height, and even style of riding.
There are a number of things you can tweak on your bike that may be attributed to the hand numbness. One of these is your saddle. You want to make that your seat is nice and level. If the nose of the saddle is pointed downward it will put unnecessary weight on your hands, wrists, and arms. Other adjustments that can help include raising the handlebars, adjusting the stem length, moving the seat backward, lowering the seat, and repositioning the hood for your shifters and brakes.
A bike that isn’t fit properly to you can not only cause your hands to go numb, but also cause other injuries. Many bike shops offer bike fits. They’ll dial your bike to perfectly fit you. Here’s a simple video from the Global Cycling Network on how you can make sure your bike is properly fitted to you.
Wide Tires Make a Difference
As I am sure you’ve begun to understand, the bumps of rough terrain are one of the reasons cyclists develop hand numbness. The more your bike is able to absorb the shock of a ride, the more your hands will thank you. One of the ways you can do this is by adjusting the size of your bike’s tires. If you’re on a road bike it can make a noticeable difference jumping up from a 700 x 25mm tire to 700 x 28 mm. Depending on the type of bike, look into upgrading to a set of wider tires. The wider they are, the more comfortable the ride will be for your hands.
If you are worried about speed, don’t be. Wider tires don’t influence the speed of a bike, but will only change the feel of your ride. Your speed won’t change.
Adjust your Hands
This tip won’t work for every cyclist, but for those of you with handlebars that allow it you should regularly readjust your hands into various positions. With a typical road bike you can change from hands on the top of the handlebars, to the hoods, and than into the drops. Holding onto the drops is the worst position of the three as it puts the most pressure on your wrists and hand, and causes the wrist to extend the most. Try not to stay in this position all of the time.
It’s easy to lock into a particular hand position during a ride, but have found that moving my hand positioning prevents the pins and needles in my hand from occurring. The movement relieves pressure from one spot on your hand, and also increases the blood flow in your hands.Intentionally move your hands and their positioning while riding from time to time.
Don’t Forget to Stretch
Cyclists often think of stretching their legs, but they should be stretching their wrists too. These simple stretches can help strengthen your hands and wrists, and prevent hand numbness. Here are two easy stretches:
- Wrist Extensor Stretch – Put your arm straight out so that your elbow is straight. Make a fist with your hand on this arm, and with your other hand press your fist hand down. You should feel the stretch on the top of your forearm. Hold for 30 seconds.
- Wrist Flexor Stretch – Extend your arm outward keeping your elbow straight. Grab your right hand with your left, and slowly bend your wrist backward. You will feel the stretch along the bottom of your forearm. Hold for 30 seconds.
Your hands can be numb, because you’ve got a death grip on your handlebars. While riding you should try to keep the upper part of your body as relaxed as possible. You need to grip the handlebars enough that you won’t slip off them, but not so hard that it feels like you’re attempting to crush them. While climbing and ascending in the saddle, relax your grip so that your hands can rest.
It is also important to not lock your arms straight while holding onto the handlebars. Make sure that your elbows are bent, because they will help mitigate shock while on bump roads.
Another way to give your hands a break is by standing up while you’re cycling. Especially during longer rides you can alleviate the weight on your hands by switching to this position.
Maybe Something Else is the Cause?
Bike riding can definitely be the cause of numb hands, but is it the root cause? There are lots of other activities that can cause and contribute to hand and wrist issues. Do you spend a lot of time at the computer typing and using the mouse? Are you a pianist? If you’ve been experiencing hand issues while on the bike, it could be worth it to see if there are other factors that are contributing to it. Make sure your other activities are ergonomic friendly.
Go to the Doctor
It is possible that your hand numbness is completely unrelated to the bike. There are a multitude of medical conditions that can cause your hands to go numb. Everything from diabetes to Raynaud’s disease to Lyme disease. If you’ve taken a tumble and fallen the wrist pain could be from an injury sustained from the fall. All this to say, if your hands are numb frequently and long lasting than it would be wise to get a doctor to check it out.
Can cycling cause carpal tunnel? Yes it can. The pressure on your wrists and gripping your handlebars can contribute to carpal tunnel. By applying the steps in this article you can help prevent this from happening. I would also suggest seeking medical advice if you have carpal tunnel syndrome.
Should I wear a wrist brace while cycling? A wrist brace can give you support and compression while riding. It can also force your wrist into a proper position while riding. Many times a brace is used to allow your wrist to rest. Even with a great wrist brace you can’t prevent every vibration from jarring your wrist while on a bike ride. Check with your doctor if you need a wrist brace for cycling or if you should just take a break from cycling until you fully heal.
What is cyclist’s palsy? If you suffer from pins and needles in your hand while cycling it can be because you have “cyclist’s palsy” or “handlebar palsy.” This is a condition that occurs from the inflammation and compression of the ulnar nerve near the pinky side of your palm. This can result in some of your fingers clawing up and weak hand grip. The methods presented in this article can help prevent and treat this condition.
Can aero handlebars help my hands? Absolutely! Aero handlebars not only help cyclists get into a more aerodynamic position, but they also allow you to rest your arms. By placing your forearms onto aero handlebars you can reduce the pressure on your wrists and handlebars. The downside of these types of handlebars is that they can reduce your stability on a bike and place your hands far away from the brakes. They are genuinely frowned upon during group rides.