Last week RBR reader David W. asked: After about 30 minutes of riding, my hands get so numb and tingly that I can’t shift gears. My handlebar is level with the saddle. Can you help? — David W.
In the reader survey last week tingling and numb fingers and hands were the most common ache or pain while riding. Here are some additional suggestions:
Strong core. Reader Kerry Irons commented on the importance of a strong core. Your hands should rest lightly on the bars like you are typing, which means your core supports your upper body. Strengthening your core doesn’t mean sit-ups or crunches. These only strengthen the surface muscles that run up and down your abdomen. You need to strengthen the deeper muscles that run around your abdomen to form a stabilizing girdle. Two pages on my website describe and illustrate progressive core strength programs.
Soft elbows. Riding with slightly bent instead of locked elbows helps to lessens the load of your upper body on your hands when you riding over something rough.
Move hands frequently. Don’t wait until your fingers start to tingle. All of the time you are riding, every few minutes move your hands among five different positions: tops just outside the stem, bends outside the tops, brake hoods, hooks just under the hoods and the drops.
Practice. The above don’t come naturally; they need to become habits. Before you start a ride pick one to work on and consciously pay attention to it. Riding the trainer is a great opportunity, especially to see if you are riding with a strong core.
Bike design. An aluminum frame is stiff and transfers more road shock to your hands. Road shock is also increased by: a straight fork rather than one with some rake, radial spoked wheels vs. cross 2 or cross 3 laced wheels, 23 mm tires pumped hard vs. wider tires at lower pressure. Sure, radially spoked wheels with deep rims are marginally more aerodynamic and skinny, hard tires have less rolling resistance but neither of those matters if your limiter is your hands.
Specific cause. Cyclist’s palsy is tingling or numbness in the ring and little fingers. It’s caused by pressure on the ulnar nerve, which results from riding with your wrist bent and angled toward your thumb. Carpal tunnel syndrome is tingling or numbness in the thumb and forefinger and is caused by pressure on the median nerve. This can result from riding on the hoods with your wrist cocked and angled toward your little finger.
Too tight gloves. Try gloves one size larger, especially if you’re switching to gloves with more padding.
Medical attention. Because your hands get numb and tingly after only 30 minutes you may have a chronic injury. See your doctor.
Non-cycling (partial) cause. Cyclist’s palsy can be caused by pressure on the ulnar nerve on the inside of the elbow. Carpal tunnel syndrome can result from hand position while typing.
Post ride heat. Because the cause is compression a heading pad after a ride may relieve but not solve the problem.
We understand and accept pain caused by the exertion of riding like the buildup of lactic acid. But we shouldn’t have to put up with things like cramps and pain in the pressure points: saddle sores, numb hands and hot feet.
During the off-season you have time to solve these problems that can make riding no fun and may even cause you to quit a ride or even worse have to take time off the bike. Here are three resources:
Butt, Hands, Feet.
My eBook Preventing and Treating Pain in Cycling’s Pressure Points describes the multiple possible causes of pain in each of these pressure points, the different things you can do to prevent them, and what to do if you have a problem.
Butt, Hands, Feet is $4.99.
Stop Cycling’s Showstoppers.
My comprehensive eBook, Stop Cycling’s Showstoppers, covers pressure points, cramping, nutritional problems, training errors, weather like heat, cold and rain, discouragement and equipment problems. Showstoppers is $14.95.
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written nearly 30 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John's full bio.