A couple of weeks ago, our very own Dr. Klion competed in a mountain bike race. As he had increased his training mileage for the event, he had noticed that his wrist was sore, but didn’t find this unusual as almost all cyclists often experience pain in the hand, wrist, and finger region due to excessive pressure placed on the handle bars. It was only after the event that he learned he had broken a bone in his wrist.
Other symptoms that can occur from pressure and overuse include numbness and tingling. Common cycling syndromes are described below.
Ulnar neuropathy – known to cyclists as “handlebar palsy” – results from compression of the ulnar nerve, which controls sensation in your ring and little finger, as well as hand strength with gripping. Holding the lower section of drop-down handlebars can compress the ulnar nerve.
The constant pressure on the hand’s median nerve that comes when resting one’s hands on the top of the handlebars can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. In this case, typical symptoms are numbness or tingling in the thumb, index, middle and ring fingers, as well as a general weakness in the hand.
As with handlebar palsy, the most immediate and effective action is to change your hand position, use well-padded gloves and lessen the pressure by loosening your grip.
It may take months for the symptoms to resolve; rest, stretching exercises, and anti-inflammatories usually help to relieve the symptoms.
More importantly, you must adjust your equipment and habits! Proper bike fit is essential; adjusting the handlebars, seat, and pedals to your fit is the key to preventing most cycling overuse injuries, a third of which happen to the hands and wrist.
By sitting in a more upright position, you will take weight and pressure off your hands and wrists. During long rides, take rest stops, and change your hand position often. As often as possible, shift your weight from the center of your palms to the outside edge. Padded gloves and good shock-absorbent handlebar grip/tape will help protect your hands from injury.
Like any other part of your body, your hands and wrists will benefit from a short session of hand and wrist stretches before you hit the road.
In order to prevent injury, listen to the moral of Dr. Klion’s story; pay attention to any signs of physical discomfort and seek medical advice if the symptoms do not abate.