Numb Hands Whilst Cycling?

When you ride do you find you ever get numbness in the fingers or hands?  I know I do, especially on longer rides and it is actually very common!

When I first started cycling I was on a group ride and it had been explained to me the various hand signals that I may see being used and what they meant.  Obviously it takes a while to get to grips with these but most are self explanatory.  However, the kind gentleman who I was following during the ride had pointed out holes, parked cars to indicate he was moving out into the road, and indicated slowing but when he started shaking his right hand I went into panic mode and was frantically searching the road surface for some kind of debris or obstacle and there was nothing.  Shortly after we stopped and I asked what he was indicating to and he said nothing his hand was numb ha ha (yeah I felt a bit stupid).  But I find myself doing the same thing when I get numb hands by shaking them out.

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So what causes this when cycling?  There are a number of things that can cause this but the two most common being handlebar palsy (otherwise known as cyclists palsy) and sometimes carpel tunnel syndrome though this is more rare.  Sounds a bit medical right?  So if we take it back to basics a little both are effectively caused by compression of nerves (radial, medial and ulnar) and this is largely because when riding you may (mostly unknowingly or unintentionally) find you are putting pressure on your wrists/hands when cycling.

There will be instances that are unavoidable such as poor road surface or roads that are cobbled as they will inevitably cause vibrations that will travel up the bike frame to the bars and ultimately your hands and this can also cause tingling and numbness over a period of time.

There are many things that can help with this, such as:

  • Bike fit – I am a huge advocate of a proper bike fit!  The smallest of changes can make such a positive difference to your riding experience, prevent injuries and give more enjoyment whilst riding.  I won’t go into detail here but I do have a separate blog posts that goes into the importance of a bike fit in more detail that you can read here.  With regards to numbness you could find you may benefit from checking brake and handlebar position, which could play a part especially if they are too high/low or close/far from you.  It could also be related to seat height.
  • Strong core – the better your core, the less you will be leaning heavily and applying pressure on the handlebars when cycling so there is work that can be done off the bike to see benefits whilst on it too.  A good strong core should be able to see you able to ride using just fingertips or even hands free – though maybe practice on a turbo and keep safe on the road!
  • Gloves – I do believe this is personal preference.  I always wear gloves when riding but I know others who don’t like or feel the need for them and neither is right or wrong but could protect you in the case of an accident.  However, if you do suffer from numbness in the hands or fingers then the padding in some gloves may be of a benefit to you.  The padding in the gloves are normally placed exactly where you will have more pressure in the riding position and done so in order to stop compression of the nerves that cause this. My glove of choice is from BioRacer and you can find them here.
  • Arm position – you may have cycled before and heard the term chicken wings?  You should not be in a position where your arms are fully out stretched and rigid.  You should have relaxed shoulders and a slight bend in the elbow and be able to hold the bars and move your arms a bit like a chicken wing.  This is a result of a relaxed upper body position.
  • Hand/Handlebar position/movement – when I ride I ride on my hoods but when climbing I shift my hand position to the tops so you naturally have pressure on different areas.  I rarely (if ever) use my drops but that would be another position also.  You would be less likely to experience this if riding in a time trial position or using TT bars because of the position on the bike being so different and having different pressure points.
  • Handlebars – the bike I currently ride has aerobars and I find these to be the most comfortable I have used whilst cycling as there is more surface area to navigate and use for different riding positions.
  • Bar tape – not just to look good but also for comfort and you will notice a difference if using super thing tape on your bars.  I am currently riding with Specialized bar tape but I am also a fan of Lizard Skin too, both of which have a cushion that I find comfortable.

Happy cycling!

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