One of the most common overuse injuries involve a cyclist’s hands and wrists. Cycling gloves can alleviate a lot of the shock-related pain associated with riding but there are instances in which cycling gloves provide little or no protection. Common causes of cycling related wrist and hand pain have been listed.
Handlebar Palsy: Experienced as numbness or tingling in the ring and little fingers, handlebar palsy is a result of putting too much pressure on the ulnar nerve for an extended period of time. This can happen when a cyclist holds his hands down in the drops for too long, either compressing the nerve or over-extending it.
Handlebar palsy can last for weeks or even months, but it’s rarely a serious condition. To combat pain, try angling the seat away from the handlebars. Having your seat angled too far down can cause you to slide forward, forcing you to compensate by pushing back against the handlebars.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Carpal tunnel syndrome is experienced as an overall weakness of the hand and a tingling sensation along the thumb, pointer, middle, and ring fingers. The condition results from applying pressure on the median nerve in the carpal tunnel, which can happen when a cyclist grips the top handlebars tightly for a long period of time. Developing carpal tunnel pain can be a sign that your handlebars are situated too low, forcing you to bear your weight up with your hands. To remedy the situation, try raising your handlebars. Don’t ignore these symptoms. Seek professional help when required.
Generalized Soreness: Unfocused pain and general cramping can be brought on by a bumpy ride. An excessively jarring ride could indicate that your tires are over-inflated and therefore not absorbing a sufficient amount of shock. To fix this, check your tire pressure, and be sure to adjust it downward if you know you’re going to be riding over particularly rough terrain.
Alternatively, sore hands could be a sign that you’re gripping the handlebars too tightly. This happens often with beginning riders who aren’t yet comfortable in the saddle. Nervousness goes away as you gain confidence, but in the meantime, make a conscious effort to loosen your grip. Try flexing your hands and shaking them out every so often in order to release tension.
With a few prevention strategies, you can minimize the amount of soreness you experience and ward off unwanted overuse injuries. To prevent sore hands, it’s important to move the hands around during a ride. Keeping your hands in one position can cause them to cramp up. Make sure your bike has been fitted to you and that your tires are inflated properly. Always wear cycling gloves and invest in some handlebar tape. Lastly, never underestimate the power of stretching and rest stops.
Bike fit: A badly fitting bike is often the cause of many aches and pains that you might experience when riding, including hand and wrist pain. If you’re putting too much of your weight through the front of the bike, this can easily result in discomfort throughout your upper body. An excessively high saddle, low bars or a cramped or overly stretched cockpit can all result in poor weight distribution on the bike. Consider having a professional bike fit.
Keep it relaxed: Assuming you’ve optimised your position on the bike, you should also try to keep your upper body as relaxed as possible. You obviously need to hold your bars securely but avoid a “death grip”. When climbing in the saddle, you can almost just rest them on the bar-tops.
Bar-tape: Consider a double wrap of bar-tape or gel pads under the tape to give increased protection from road buzz
Anatomic bars: Anatomically shaped bars can provide a less stressful position for your hands and wrists, especially when you’re down on the drops. Also, it’s important to ensure that your bars are the correct width.
Regularly shift hand position: On road bars you’ve got at least three different hand positions so, make sure you regularly shift between them, moving from tops, to hoods and drops, adapting to the road, gradient and pace of riding. Even if road conditions and pace remain the same for extended periods, get into the habit of switching you hand position.
Brake set-up: Ensure that your brake hoods and levers are correctly set-up. Exact positioning comes down largely to personal preference but, if you are experiencing problems with hand or wrist pain, is worth looking at. Also look at reach to the brake levers as this can also cause unnecessary strain to your hands. Many set-ups allow you to adjust the reach using spacers. Mountain bike brake lever set-up is especially important, due to the hard and prolonged braking involved, and you should be looking for your wrists to be straight when in your descending position.
Dr Bharath k Kadadi
Consultant Hand and Upper limb surgeon
Bangalore Hand centre