Keep Your Hands Pain-Free On Your Ride
If you thought numb fingers were a normal part of riding bikes, think again. There are plenty of riders – from beginners to pros – who assume that a bit of hand or wrist discomfort comes with the territory. But that pain may be part of a larger problem. Occasional numbness or twinges are to be expected, but if you’re finding yourself shaking out your hands and massaging your wrists after every ride, it’s time to focus on injury prevention before things get even worse.
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We talked to Greg Robidoux, a bike fitter and physical therapist, to get his tips for better comfort while riding.
Get a Proper Fit
“It’s not uncommon to feel some hand discomfort or even some numbness on a longer ride, especially if the bike doesn’t fit you appropriately,” Robidoux explains. “Bike fit is a huge issue with hand pain and numbness, because of having too much pressure on the hand.” He adds that a lot of bike fitters will simply raise your handlebars to release that pressure, but this doesn’t always work. “Sometimes, you need to do something like raising the saddle a little, or even changing the saddle.” Bike fit is frequently the pain culprit for roadies, Robidoux says, since their issues tend to stem from handlebar vibration, as opposed to over-gripping problems that plague mountain bikers.
Check Your Shifting
Really pay attention to shifter placement. Even if you’ve had a bike fit, the shifters can slip, which might be forcing your wrists to sit at an awkward angle. “They should really be in line with the forearm so the actuation of the brake is just curling the fingers, not cocking the wrist up when trying to brake,” Robidoux explains. “The levers should also definitely be easy to reach.” If you’re a mountain biker, make sure your levers are set so you’re not always holding the brakes in a death grip – and that you’re using appropriate gloves.
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Get a (Proper) Grip
You can’t overestimate the importance of grip. “The grip represents two of the five contact points to the bike,” Haas says.“You are always in contact with your grip while riding, so it is necessary that it fits to your hand to maintain fun and comfort.” This may mean splurging on a new set of grips for your bike, and not just relying on the ones it came with. “A good grip supports the rider as much as possible without disturbing the freedom of movement,” Haas explains, and your riding style determines which grip is best for you. A cross-country mountain bike used for bike touring may require a platform-style grip, while using that same bike to shred downhills may be best served by a more rounded grip. Roadie? You can still switch your it up: Robidoux recommends a tackier bar tape.
The best thing you can do to prevent numbness while riding is simple: Move your hands around. Not only will this help with pain, because you’re not putting pressure on just one spot, but it also increases blood flow, which helps decrease numbness. “One thing people don’t realise is that they keep their hands in one place and don’t move them around,” Robidoux says. “Changing hand position – riding on the tops, the hoods, the drops – and moving hands frequently, is huge.”
Fix Your Environment
Your bike might not be to blame for your wrist or hand pain. Office workers might be dealing with carpal tunnel, and that pain is just coming out on rides. “Make sure your setup at work is ergonomic,” which helps eliminate inflammation-causing tension, Robidoux says. That might mean changing your seat or desk height, or the angle of a keyboard. “The reason carpal tunnel is such a problem is because there’s a lot of nerves, muscle and blood flow. And when something becomes inflamed, it restricts all of the other tissues.”
Find a Helping Hand
If the pain or numbness is recurring, it might be time to seek medical help. “If you have hand pain or numbness – especially numbness – you should get it checked out,” Robidoux says. “The reality is, anytime the onset is within the first eight kilometres of your ride, that’s not normal.”