If you’ve struggled with hand numbness while out cycling for a while, you probably tried various solutions to no avail. In fact, many cyclists, whether you are a complete beginner or an experienced cyclist, will experience hand numbness at some point in their ride.
Three of the solutions mentioned are going to be your key areas to focus on, but they definitely do not end there. Consider the ways to prevent hand numbness while cycling, in detail below, and be on your way to a more comfortable ride behind bars.
1. Check Your Bike Fit
A road bike fit by your local bike shop may not be the end-all-be-all for preventing hand numbness. But, when getting an experts advice on your bike fit, the fitter will consider all aspects of your position on the bike and make adjustments that could solve your problem.
For some cyclist, with complaints of hand numbness, the problem may have to do with the height of your seat/angle, the height of the handlebars, and or the handlebar stem.
In a previous post, I went into detail explaining how getting a bike fit at your local bike shop would be a good step towards preventing future bodily injury. You will want a bike fit to have your bike adjusted to the dynamics of your specific body and riding style.
Some cyclists might try fitting their bike themselves to save time and money. This may work for some, but for others, it may exaggerate their problem. For the best bike fit, seek a professional bike fitter to get the proper adjustments dialed in.
By the time you complete a bike fit professionally, you should have a pretty good idea what might be the underlying problem creating the hand numbness.
2. Relax On The Handlebars
Beginner cyclists, for instance, may grip the handlebars too hard starting out due to feeling unsteady riding and learning to change hand positions.
When a cyclist develops hand numbness during a ride, it may also come from placing too much weight on the handlebars, holding the handlebars too hard, or not tightening the core. The key is to learn to relax.
A good rule of thumb is to keep your hands relaxed by engaging the core muscles and bend your elbows slightly while keeping your hands in a neutral position.
The more experienced cyclist might put too much weight on the handlebars during longer rides and when sprinting for short distances.
One thing for sure is that everyone’s relaxed position will vary and it may just take time to adjust to a point where your hands don’t get numb anymore. Speaking from experience, I had to learn to relax my neck and shoulders as I was putting too much weight on the handlebars.
I came to discover later that another reason for hand numbness was because my handlebars were too low for my height. After making a few adjustments and learning to relax certain parts of my upper body, cycling became more comfortable on long distance rides.
3. Hand Position
In theory, there are 3 positions in which a cyclist can choose from while riding, which are gripping the tops, hoods, and or drops.
To prevent the hands from going numb, on a road or race bike, you actually have 5 positions in fact that you can utilize to change to. The five positions are as follows: drops, hoods, tops, hooks, and ramps.
It will be key for you to consciously remember to change hand positions while riding before the numbness occurs. Start out by gripping the handlebars slightly. Allow yourself to ease off the bars stretching your hands and flicking your fingers out to allow blood flow.
As you become more comfortable changing positions on the handlebars and remembering to give your hand a rest from time to time, take note of the angle your hands are positioned.
For instance, if your hands are on the tops of the handlebars, make sure they are in a neutral position similar to floating hands when you type on a keyboard. Bending the hands upward for long periods can pinch nerves and the carpal tunnel causing pain in the wrist area.
4. Arm Position
Making adjustments to your arm position while cycling is just as important as hand positioning.
The correct arm position a cyclist should ride in to allow less pressure on the hands is a relaxed bent elbow. Avoid holding arms straight out almost to the point of locking up to avoid unnecessary tension and pressure.
Having your elbow bent in a relaxed state will also help act as a suspension when riding on less than favorable roads. I often have to remind myself to slightly bend my elbows during longer rides because the natural tendency is to straighten the arms out.
Fatigue on longer bike rides may also cause you to forget proper arm positioning and technique overall and this should be a constant thing to be watchful of.
Another tip to consider when finding that correct arm position is to pay attention to the moment you feel pain or discomfort, that’s a sign that you need to adjust your position. Your arms should not be positioned in such a way that it causes pain during your ride.
5. Ride One Hand Behind Back
Many cyclists might forget that riding with one-hand-on, one-hand -off is not just for grabbing things from your jersey, bottle cage or looking back.
An additional tip to prevent or alleviate hand numbness is by riding with one hand on the handlebars and the numb hand behind your back.
To do this well and confidently might take some practice. Once you’re able to ride this way, practice holding your problem hand behind your back horizontally and stretch it out.
You can also just rest the hand behind your back as well. If you are going to do this with your problem hand, it also makes sense to switch hands and repeat the same method.
6. Gel-Padded Gloves
I find that there are some cyclists that feel that it’s not a necessity to ride with gloves and rather go without them. They may even be able to ride for long periods of time and not experience hand numbness.
For those that are considering riding with cycling gloves, the best thing you can do to prevent hand numbness for you is to wear gel-padded gloves.
I am an advocate of wearing padded cycling gloves on almost every ride. This is due to the fact the tendons in my hand get pinched easily holding the handlebars for too long. Wearing gel-padded gloves also helps to keep the hands warm during cold weather and allows blood to circulate better too.
One of the things you have to look out for is that the cycling gloves do no bend or constrict the nerves. You may be riding and going about your normal route and not even feel that your circulation is being restricted. You can prevent this by buying gloves that are a size up from what you normally wear.
7. Double Wrap Bar Tape
If you ever read or noticed pro cyclists with thicker than normal handlebars, there is a good reason for this. The rough terrains that pro cyclist encounter causes vibration that transfers to the handlebars and then affects the hands.
Most of us are not pro cyclists, but if you want to try another solution to prevent hand numbness, you can try double wrapping the bar tape like a pro.
When I get my handlebars wrapped at the local bike shop I prefer thicker and softer handlebar tape versus double wrapping the handlebars. I find that this is the best solution for me but you might try this as another option.
Double wrapping your bar tape may not look as sexy, but you can definitely decrease the road vibration that transfers to your hands.
8. Size Up Your Tires
It may surprise some of you, that just a small adjustment of your bike’s tires size could actually alter whether you develop hand numbness or not.
One great option to consider doing with your bike is to buy bigger tires. Going from the traditional road tire size of 700 x 25mm to 700 x 28mm or wider can greatly reduce your hand numbness.
Riding with wider tires help to absorb rough terrain and brutal road conditions making the ride more comfortable. I’ve personally experienced sizing up with a wider tire and noticed a significant comfort level riding with 700 x 35 mm tires on my gravel road bike.
Choosing to upgrade your tires is not just about preventing flats, as you will be doing your hands a favor and keep the road vibrations where they should be, in the tires.
9. Stand Up Cycling On The Pedals
In a previous post, I’ve mentioned the benefits of standing up on the pedals and it’s for a good reason.
The hands endure some of the weight-bearing we place on our bikes, so switching to a standing position can also help prevent hand numbness.
In addition to lightening up the load on top of the handlebars by cycling standing up, use this position to focus on other techniques riding. Some of the techniques you could work on is breathing, tightening the core and proper shifting.
Standing up cycling on the pedals will give you another position to help rest your upper body like the back, shoulders, arms, and neck. There are many times during a ride that I will switch to a standing position just to give my lower back, neck or hands a break to allow more circulation.
You might find that placing your hands on the hoods or the drops while standing up on your bike will be the optimal position to help prevent hand numbness.
10. Rule Out A Medical Condition
If after every ride your fingers and hands become numb, then there clearly could be a medical problem that should be addressed ASAP.
One of the most common issues that cyclists experience is ulnar neuropathy. This medical condition occurs when the ulnar nerve is compressed and the hand weakens resulting in a tingling feeling in your hand.
Other medical conditions that could lead to hand numbness include the following:
- Ganglion Cysts (In the wrist)
- Hand or finger trauma
- Physical ailments such as feeling sick, etc.
Why do my hands go numb when I ride my bike?
Anytime you constrict or bend your hands or wrist while riding your bike, the pinching of your nerves will cause numbness. This is sometimes called “cyclist palsy” or “handlebar palsy”. The medical term palsy refers to a type of paralysis or weakness.
Is cycling with hand numbness an indication of illness?
While cycling for long durations sometime results in hand numbness, it does not conclude that you might have a medical condition. Any exacerbation either on or off the could be contributing to the hand numbness.
Uncommon: Is there a difference in fingers going numb between cyclist using the hoods or drops?
In my personal experience cycling, speaking from a medical background, the only difference I’ve found is that it depends on which nerve is being pinched. For instance, if your ring and pinky fingers often become numb then the ulnar nerve is most likely being pinched.
If you find that your middle fingers feel numb then the common nerve that’s being compress is the carpal tunnel. This is the median nerve on the palm side of your wrist that when constricted causes the thumb and first three fingers to go numb.
In some rare occasions, you may have thumb numbness. I’ve have experienced this before but have since corrected this. This was just due to some unorthodox hand positioning. I rode my single speed bike hooking my thumbs off the flat bars to be more aero since I did not have drop bars.
Troy StampsTroy Stamps is an avid cyclist based out of California. Road cycling is his passion which he's been doing his whole life and he has even competed in some local races. He loves getting new people into the sport and teaching them how to change their life through cycling.
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