Cycling wrist pain: What you can do to avoid it

Cycling wrist pain is a common inconvenience inflicting many cyclists. Also known as “handlebar palsy”, it is caused primarily when there is compression of the ulnar nerve. If you don’t know where the ulnar nerve is located, it runs from your ring finger to your little finger.

When the ulnar nerve feels compressed it can lead to pain, tingling, and numbness, which can make your hands weak. This can make harder for you to ride as the pain will make it harder to change gears or brake.

These symptoms of the nerve can also be occurred by hyperextension of the wrist, for example, if you are biking on rough surfaces or potholes for long periods.

If you’re suffering from these symptoms, you can minimise the pain by trying out some home-made remedies. If you don’t see any results, visit a physiotherapist.


1. Preventing cycling wrist pain with bike fit

If you only feel pain and aches on your hands or wrists when riding your bike, the first thing you should start doing it to take a look at your bike fit.

It’s highly likely that you may be exerting too much weight on your hands and wrists when cycling and this might be the main reason behind your pain. Maybe your saddle is too high and it is shifting your weight forward. Also, the handlebars that are at a lower position than recommended and this is putting extra weight on your wrists.

Other reasons for your cycling wrist pain may be your bike is slightly large and has a top tube that is too long. The bad design of your bike is stretching your hands out and straining your wrists.

While riding, you should not be shifting any of your body weight through your hands and wrists. You can easily check this by cycling on a flat road and climbing shallow hills with your hands resting lightly on the handlebars. If you’re leaning forward or falling, you need to adjust the position you ride your bike.


2. Look how you are holding the handlebars


If you’ve adjusted your bike and made changes to your cycling position, and still have pain on your hands and wrists, look how you rest your hands on the bar. Don’t grip the bars too tightly, relax your hands and elbows, and drop your shoulders. When cycling, your wrists should always be relaxed and not flexed or extended in any form.

Alter your hand position during cycling frequently using the tops of the bars. Anatomic handlebars provide a variety of hand positions such as wing-shaped aero bars and narrow bar.

Some cyclists prefer the narrow bars, while some people like the flat tops of wing-shaped aero bars.  So, experiment what suits you.  If your hands are small, look out for angled levers to avoid straining your hands or wrists.  This design will also give you better control on your descents.


3. Gloves and bar tapes can lessen cycling wrist pain


You should always wear gloves during cycling as it will protect your hands from gravel rash on your palms when you fall. Gloves can also alleviate wrist pain, particularly padded gloves.

The padding surrounding the base of the thumb cushions the ulnar nerve from pressure and prevents soreness. In addition, padded bar tape that has gel or form will provide extra protection from road vibration when riding on uneven or rough surfaces.


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