Are you an avid cyclist who loves to hit the road or the trails but struggles with hand and wrist pain after long rides? Say goodbye to that discomfort and get ready to enjoy your rides to the fullest!
I’ve put together the ultimate cycling checklist to help you prevent hand and wrist pain and keep you pedaling pain-free. From adjusting your bike’s fit to strengthening exercises, I’ve got you covered.
Don’t let hand and wrist pain hold you back from enjoying your passion for cycling. Follow my checklist and get ready to feel the wind in your hair and the joy of the ride!
What is the Structure of the Hand and Wrists
The structure of the hand and wrist is composed of different bones. The hand and palm consist of five metacarpal bones, one for each finger. These metacarpal bones articulate with the top row of the carpal bones, which results in the formation of the hand and palm.
On the other hand, the wrist is formed by a complex of eight bones called carpal bones, which articulate with the distal forearm bones, namely the ulnar and radius.
What Causes Hand and Wrist Pain from Cycling
Hand and wrist pain can be a common problem for cyclists, especially those who ride frequently or for long distances. The pain may be caused by several factors, including:
1. Handlebar or Cyclist’s Palsy
Cyclists’ palsy, which is also referred to as handlebar palsy or ulnar nerve pain, is a prevalent problem among cyclists.
The pain is commonly experienced in the inside or underside of the hand, particularly in the ring and little fingers, as the ulnar nerve runs from the arm to the wrist, palm, and fourth and fifth fingers.
According to Dan Guillemette, a physio at Team Jayco Alula and Team Bike Exchange-Jayco, underlying neck issues can contribute to ulnar nerve problems.
This is because the arm nerve originates in the neck, and tight shoulder muscles can limit the nerve’s movement, making it difficult to find a comfortable position for the hands and elbows while riding.
To address this issue, Guillemette focuses on treating the root cause of the pain rather than just the hand. By addressing underlying neck and shoulder issues, cyclists can reduce the risk of ulnar nerve pain and other hand and wrist discomfort associated with cycling.
2. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition caused by pressure on the median nerve that runs through the wrist. This can cause pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness in the hand, wrist, and fingers.
The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway in the wrist that allows the median nerve and several tendons to pass through. When the space within the tunnel is reduced due to swelling or inflammation, it can compress the nerve and cause symptoms.
Cyclists are at risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome due to the prolonged pressure and vibration that their hands and wrists are subjected to while cycling.
The pain and loss of movement that are commonly associated with carpal tunnel syndrome can extend beyond the wrist and into the thumb, causing significant discomfort and hindering daily activities.
To prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, it’s important to maintain a comfortable grip on the handlebars while cycling, use gloves with padding, and ensure that the bike is properly fitted.
If you experience symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, it’s important to seek medical advice and treatment promptly to prevent the condition from worsening. In some cases, surgical intervention may be necessary to relieve pressure on the median nerve and restore normal function of the hand and wrist.
3. Traumatic Hand and Wrist Injuries
Cycling can also cause traumatic hand and wrist injuries, such as broken bones in the wrist, hand, or scaphoid. These injuries can result in prolonged pain while cycling if they don’t heal properly. In some cases, they may even lead to degenerative issues, including bone death.
If you’ve recently crashed and are experiencing persistent pain around the base of your thumb and fingers, Dan Guillemette, a physiotherapist, recommends going for a CT scan to diagnose any fractures or injuries. It’s important to address these injuries promptly to prevent any long-term issues.
Past ligament damage can also lead to hand and wrist pain from cycling. To address this, Guillemette suggests wrist-strengthening exercises such as hand weights and gyroscopic ball exercises. This can help build strength and improve flexibility, reducing the risk of future injuries.
How to Stop Wrist & Hand Pain from Hurting when Cycling
Cycling is a great form of exercise, but wrist and hand pain can be a common issue for many cyclists. The good news is that there are several things you can do to alleviate this pain and prevent it from occurring in the first place.
Check your Wrist Position
Maintaining proper wrist position is essential when it comes to cycling. It not only helps prevent fatigue but also avoids any potential injury or long-term damage to your hands and wrists.
During long rides or intense cycling sessions, it is common to slouch or slump forward. When this happens, the wrists tend to bend or curve, leading to unnecessary pressure on the nerves and muscles in the hands and wrists.
To avoid this, it is crucial to maintain proper wrist position throughout the ride.
One effective way to maintain proper wrist position is by adjusting your grip often. Changing hand positions on the handlebars frequently can help distribute pressure evenly and prevent wrist fatigue.
It’s also essential to keep your wrists straight at all times, as this helps reduce the risk of injury and prevents numbness or tingling in your palms or fingers.
Another helpful tip is to ease up on your palms. If you find yourself sinking into your palms too heavily, it’s time to lift yourself up using your core strength. This will help keep your torso in position and reduce any unnecessary pressure on your hands and wrists.
Ignoring numbness or tingling in your palms or fingers is a big no-no. If you experience such symptoms, it’s crucial to change your grip right away to avoid long-term damage.
Numbness or tingling can be a sign of nerve damage, which, if left untreated, can take months to heal. Repeated nerve damage can also lead to harm to the muscles in the hand, which can have long-term effects.
Dial In your Bike Fit
When it comes to cycling, your bike fit is just as crucial as your wrist position. A poorly fitting bike can cause weight distribution problems, leading to pain and discomfort in the wrists and hands.
That’s why it’s essential to dial in your bike fit to ensure proper weight distribution and prevent unnecessary pressure on your wrists and hands.
According to Jason Williams, a human performance sports scientist and bike fit specialist, out-of-sync weight distribution can lead to wrist and hand pain when cycling.
If your position on the bike causes your weight distribution to shift more prominently onto your wrists and hands than the saddle, you’re likely to experience problems.
Try paying attention to a few key points in bike fit, such as:
Check your saddle position
Proper saddle position is crucial when it comes to achieving optimal weight distribution on your bike. A poorly positioned saddle can cause an excessive amount of weight to be transferred to your hands and wrists, leading to pain and discomfort.
That’s why it’s essential to check your saddle position regularly and ensure it’s adjusted to suit your body and riding style.
According to experts, if your saddle is too high or the nose is pointed too far down, it can result in a significant amount of weight being transferred to your hands. This is because your weight will be shifted forward, and your hands will bear the brunt of the pressure.
To avoid this, it’s important to check the angle of your saddle regularly. In general, if your saddle is angled down by more than 5 or 6 degrees, it may lead to wrist and hand pain.
However, the exact measurements will depend on your body type and the saddle you’re using.
Look to your handlebars
Another factor that can contribute to wrist pain when cycling is the position of your handlebars.
Reaching too far for the handlebars or having them positioned incorrectly can cause excess pressure on your wrists and lead to discomfort. To avoid this, it’s important to pay attention to your shoulder angle and hand placement.
Experts recommend aiming for a 90-degree angle at the shoulder itself when cycling. This will help prevent locking out your elbow and putting excessive backward bending in the wrist.
Additionally, if your hand placement or hoods are significantly wider than your shoulders, it can cause you to roll your wrist outward, placing weight on the meaty part of your palm. This can lead to numbness and tingling in your pinky and ring finger, as this is where the ulnar nerve passes through.
If you find that you need to roll your hands significantly forward to grip the brakes and shifters, it can also cause pain and discomfort. While rotating the brake levers can provide some relief, it may not be enough to address the issue.
In some cases, a new handlebar may be necessary to promote natural alignment and reduce wrist pain.
See a professional
Getting a professional bike fit is one of the best ways to avoid wrist and hand pain when cycling.
Some riders may prefer to go into a fitter they trust and get their bike fit figured out before shopping for a bike, while others prefer to buy a bike they like and get it fit retroactively.
Regardless of your approach, getting your bike properly fit can make all the difference when it comes to preventing pain and discomfort.
A professional bike fit involves making adjustments to various components of the bike, such as the saddle height, handlebar position, and pedal alignment.
These adjustments can help ensure optimal weight distribution and promote natural alignment, reducing pressure on your wrists and hands.
Getting a professional bike fit can also help you ride longer and farther without experiencing pain points. Even minor discomfort in your hands and wrists can quickly become a significant issue, especially during long rides or intense cycling sessions.
By addressing the issue upfront through a professional bike fit, you can avoid unnecessary pain and discomfort and enjoy the many benefits of cycling.
Be Aware of Aero
According to experts, mimicking pro riders’ preference for turned-in brake hoods and narrow handlebars can lead to discomfort and pain.
It’s essential to be aware of your body type and riding style when choosing handlebars. The width of your handlebars is one of the most important factors, along with the angle of the hoods and shifters.
Even if little weight is going through your hands, an awkward hand position can compress nerves and tendons, leading to pain.
Experts believe that both narrow and wide handlebars can cause hand and wrist pain if not correctly matched to your body type.
A narrow-shouldered rider on wide handlebars or a broader cyclist on narrow handlebars could both put their hands in an unnatural position, leading to discomfort.
However, some experts suggest that wider handlebars are less likely to cause hand and wrist pain as they provide a broader base of support than needed, taking tension off and reducing discomfort.
On the other hand, using handlebars that are too narrow for your shoulders can lead to compression in the radial or ulnar nerve, causing discomfort and pain.
Therefore, it’s important to consider your body type and riding style when choosing handlebars.
It’s advisable to consult a professional bike fitter who can help you find the right handlebars for your body type and riding style, ensuring proper weight distribution and reducing pressure on your wrists and hands.
Equipment plays a crucial role in preventing wrist and hand pain when cycling. One of the main causes of discomfort during long rides is road buzz, which can cause the muscles in your hands and wrists to tire, tighten, and ache.
To reduce road buzz, experts recommend finding the right road bike tire pressure or mountain bike tire pressure. A lower pressure that doesn’t lead to punctures can help dull road buzz and reduce discomfort.
Investing in the best road bike tires or best mountain bike tires can also improve comfort and reduce pain. Higher-end tires tend to be faster and more forgiving than cheaper options, reducing pressure on your hands and wrists.
Experts also recommend going as wide as possible with your wheels, as they can be made laterally stiffer and more compliant vertically, reducing vibrations and discomfort.
For mountain bikers, optimizing your suspension setup or investing in one of the best suspension forks can also relieve hand and wrist strain.
Additionally, wearing track mitts or summer cycling gloves can help reduce the “repeated vibrational load” on your hands and wrists, while upgrading to the best handlebar tape or handlebar grips can boost cushioning.
However, experts caution against adding too much cushioning, as the optimal amount of bar tape depends on the diameter of your hands and the size of the handlebar.
If the diameter of your bar doesn’t match your hand, consider changing the diameter of the bar or using bar tape or grips to influence the diameter.
If these options don’t resolve your hand and wrist pain, experts suggest trying a carbon handlebar or frame. Carbon can transmit fewer vibrations to your hands and wrists, reducing discomfort.
However, it’s essential to assess each person individually before concluding what’s causing their discomfort. Adding more stiffness to an already stiff carbon frame can aggravate hand and wrist pain, so it’s essential to consider your individual needs and preferences.
Crank Up your Mileage Slowly
Long rides can be problematic, especially if your body is not conditioned for them, such as when bikepacking. According to experts, sustained pressure through the hands can cause irritation to nerves and other structures, leading to discomfort and pain.
To avoid this, it’s essential to strengthen and train your core muscles to alleviate the pressure put on your hands and wrists. As your core muscles fatigue, more weight is placed through your hands, exacerbating discomfort and pain.
By taking a holistic approach to your body and strengthening your core muscles, you can reduce pressure on your hands and wrists and enjoy a comfortable and enjoyable ride.
Experts also caution against sudden increases in mileage, as the loading stimulus you put through the tissue can far surpass what it can handle, leading to discomfort and pain.
Therefore, it’s crucial to gradually increase your mileage to give your body time to adapt and adjust to the new demands placed upon it.
When to See a Doctor in Wrist and Hand Pain
Wrist and hand pain can have many causes, from overuse injuries to arthritis, and it’s important to know when to seek medical attention. Here are some signs that you should see a doctor:
If you have severe or intense pain that does not go away, it’s important to see a doctor as soon as possible.
If your wrist or hand is swollen, it may be a sign of an injury or infection that requires medical attention.
Numbness or tingling
If you experience numbness or tingling in your wrist or hand, it may be a sign of nerve damage or a pinched nerve, which should be evaluated by a doctor.
If you have difficulty moving your wrist or hand, or if you have lost strength, it could be a sign of an injury or underlying medical condition.
Redness or warmth
If your wrist or hand is red or warm to the touch, it could be a sign of infection or inflammation.
If you have had pain in your wrist or hand for an extended period of time, it’s important to see a doctor to determine the underlying cause and prevent further damage.
Overall, it’s important to listen to your body and seek medical attention if you have any concerns about your wrist or hand pain. Your doctor can help diagnose the cause of your pain and recommend appropriate treatment options.
Types of Handlebars to Prevent Hand and Wrist Pain while Cycling
The type of handlebars that can help prevent hand and wrist pain while cycling is those that offer multiple hand positions, allowing you to change your grip and relieve pressure on your hands and wrists. Some handlebars that may be more comfortable for riders include:
These are straight bars that run perpendicular to the bike’s stem and provide a more upright riding position. They can be a good option for riders who prefer a more relaxed riding position.
These handlebars have a curved shape that extends below the stem and allows riders to assume a more aerodynamic riding position. They offer multiple hand positions on the tops, hoods, and drops and can be a good option for road cyclists who want to change positions frequently.
These handlebars are designed to provide a more natural grip, reducing pressure on the hands and wrists. They come in various shapes, including flat, curved, and angled, and can be a good option for riders who want to minimize pressure on their hands.
Ultimately, the type of handlebars that are best for preventing hand and wrist pain will depend on your personal preferences and riding style. It may be helpful to try out different handlebars and grips to find what works best for you.
Stretching Exercises to Prevent Hand and Wrist Pain
Engaging in wrist and hand exercises can enhance flexibility and minimize the chances of injuries. Stretches are particularly useful for preventing pain or discomfort in the area.
Nevertheless, people experiencing inflammation or significant joint damage should refrain from exercising without seeking advice from a healthcare professional. Engaging in exercise, in such cases, could worsen your wrist or hand condition.
Before attempting any new stretches or treatments, always consult your doctor to ensure that it is safe to do so. It is also essential to determine the underlying cause of any wrist pain before embarking on any exercise routine or treatment plan.
Praying Position Stretches
Perform the praying position stretches while standing. Begin by placing your palms together in a praying position in front of your face, with your elbows touching each other. Your arms should touch from the tips of your fingers to your elbows.
While keeping your palms pressed together, slowly spread your elbows apart while lowering your hands to waist height. Stop when your hands are in front of your belly button or when you feel the stretch. Hold this position for 10 to 30 seconds, and then repeat the stretch.
To perform the second part of the exercise, extend one arm in front of you at shoulder height, with your palm facing downwards.
Release your wrist so that your fingers point downwards, and use your free hand to gently grasp your fingers and pull them back towards your body. Hold this position for 10 to 30 seconds.
This routine helps to stretch and loosen the muscles in your wrists, hands, and forearms, promoting better flexibility and range of motion.
To perform the Extended Arm exercise, begin by extending your arm with your palm facing upwards towards the ceiling. Use your free hand to gently press your fingers downwards towards the floor.
Then, slowly pull your fingers back towards your body and hold this position for 10 to 30 seconds.
Repeat the same stretching routine with your other arm, and cycle through both stretches two or three times with each arm. This exercise is an effective way to stretch your wrists and forearms in the opposite direction, promoting better flexibility and reducing the risk of injury.
Perform the Clenched Fists exercise while seated by placing your open hands on your thighs with palms facing upwards. Close your hands gradually into fists without clenching them too tightly.
With your forearms touching your legs, lift your fists off of your legs and bring them back towards your body while bending at the wrist. Hold this position for 10 seconds before lowering your fists and slowly opening your fingers wide.
Repeat this routine 10 times to improve your wrist strength and flexibility.
Perform the desk press exercise by positioning yourself in a seated position and placing your palms facing upwards under a table or desk. Apply upward pressure against the underside of the desk and maintain this position for 5 to 10 seconds.
This workout routine is effective for developing the muscles that extend from your wrists to the inner part of your elbows, improving your overall strength.
Tennis Ball Squeeze
To enhance your wrist strength, hold a tennis ball or stress ball and give it a firm squeeze for a duration of 5 to 10 seconds. This activity should not cause any discomfort but rather provide a moderate level of resistance that helps to develop your wrist muscles.
Thumb exercises involve both push and pull movements. To perform the push exercise, form a fist and extend your thumb upward in a thumbs-up position. Apply resistance by using your thumb and hand muscles to resist the movement of the thumb.
Gently pull your thumb back with your other hand and hold the position before repeating the process.
For the pull exercise, make a fist and extend your thumb in a thumbs-up position. Apply resistance by using your thumb and hand muscles to maintain the upward position of the thumb.
Use your free hand to gently push your thumb forward while holding the position before repeating the process. These exercises help to improve the strength and dexterity of your thumb and hand muscles.
The Figure Eight exercise involves interlacing your fingers and performing a series of motions with your hands and arms. To begin, interlace your fingers in front of your body and tuck your elbows in.
Move your hands in a figure-eight pattern while allowing your wrists to rotate fully, with each hand alternating positions on top of the other. Perform this exercise for 10 to 15 seconds, rest, and then repeat the process.
While seated, raise your arms above your head and interlace your fingers with your palms together. Turn your palms upward until they are facing the ceiling while keeping your arms slightly bent or straightened.
Hold the position for a moment before bringing your arms back down, and then repeat the exercise. These activities help to improve your wrist mobility and flexibility.
The Eagle Arms exercise is derived from the Eagle pose and can be performed as follows. Begin by extending your arms forward in a parallel position to the floor. Cross your right arm over your left, ensuring that your right arm is on top.
Proceed to bend your elbows and position your right elbow in the crook of the left. The backs of your hands should be touching.
Move your right arm to the right and your left arm to the left until your right thumb passes by the little finger of your left hand, with your palms facing each other.
Press your palms together, lift your elbows up, and stretch your fingers, pointing them toward the ceiling. Make sure not to lift your shoulders as you raise your arms.
Hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds, then repeat the exercise on the other side. The Eagle Arms routine helps to improve your upper body flexibility and is a great way to release tension in your wrists and arms.
Closing Thoughts — Wrist Pain from Cycling
Don’t let hand and wrist pain put the brakes on your cycling adventures! By following the above tips, you can prevent pain and discomfort and enjoy a comfortable and pain-free ride.
Whether it’s adjusting your bike fit, using the right equipment, or incorporating stretching exercises, there are plenty of ways to keep your hands and wrists happy on the road or trail.
So hop on your bike and get ready to ride with confidence and comfort – the world is yours to explore!
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Hand Pain from Cycling — Frequently Asked Questions
Can using a bike with suspension prevent hand and wrist pain while cycling?
Suspension systems on bikes work by absorbing shock and providing a smoother ride, which can help reduce the strain on your hands and wrists.
Can cycling gloves with padding prevent hand and wrist pain?
Cycling gloves with padding can help prevent hand and wrist pain by providing cushioning and support to the hands, reducing the impact of vibrations and shocks that can cause pain and discomfort.
The padding in cycling gloves is typically located on the palms of the hands, where the majority of pressure is placed when gripping the handlebars.
When selecting cycling gloves, look for gloves with padding that are appropriate for your riding style and the terrain you’ll be riding on. For example, thicker padding may be more beneficial for rough terrain, while thinner padding may be sufficient for smoother surfaces.
It’s also important to make sure the gloves fit properly and aren’t too tight, as this can restrict blood flow and contribute to hand and wrist pain.
How often should I take breaks while cycling to prevent hand and wrist pain?
The frequency of breaks will depend on several factors, including the length and intensity of your ride, your fitness level, and your riding position.
As a general rule of thumb, it’s recommended to take a break every 30 minutes to an hour of riding. During your breaks, you can stretch your hands and wrists, shake out any tension, and take a few deep breaths to relax your muscles.
It’s also important to make sure you’re drinking enough water and staying hydrated during your breaks, as dehydration can contribute to hand and wrist pain.