How to Avoid Hand Numbness When Cycling

Avoid the tingling sensation with these expert-backed strategies.


Staying in any position for too long can lead to some discomfort. And spending hours in the saddle is no exception. One common complaint that many cyclists have, according to Kevin Schmidt, physical therapist, bike fit specialist, and founder of Pedal PT: hand numbness.

Whenever you feel a tingly sensation, which often accompanies numbness, that means you’re compressing a nerve, Schmidt explains. And when it comes to hand numbness, that means you’re likely putting pressure on one of three nerves: the radial, median, or ulnar nerve.

If this numbness or tingling happens during more than a couple of rides, it’s probably time to make a bike fit or posture adjustment.

3 Causes and Fixes for Hand Numbness When Cycling

Common Cause #1: Wrist Position

Too much backward bending in the wrist itself can cause compression in the carpal tunnel, where a nerve of the hand and wrist comes through, Schmidt says. This often results in tingling in the thumb, index, and middle finger, specifically. However, keeping your wrists totally straight can also lead to issues.

Quick fix: Check Wrist Flexion

“A lot of times, people assume the wrist should be straight when they’re holding the handlebars,” Schmidt says. “But that’s actually a compressive position.”

The most open position for the nerves is about 10 to 20 degrees of flexion (or backward bend). If you have creases in your wrists, that’s when you’ve gone too far into the flexed position.

Keep an eye on your wrist position throughout your ride to maintain that optimal bend, but also, move your hands and wrists around as you pedal. Staying in the same position for hours can also cause aches, so switch it up as you go.

Common Cause #2: Pressure on the Hands

If you feel a tingling sensation in your pinky and ring finger, it’s likely stemming from too much pressure in the hands, toward the outside of the palm. This extra pressure could stem from a few parts of your body in relation to your position on the bike.

Quick fix: Check Saddle and Handlebar Position and Your Posture

All cyclists should check their saddle position. “The saddle is sometimes too high and it’s also saddle nose down,” Schmidt says, which causes you to dump your weight into your hands. Adjusting your seat can help you hit the goal of about 30 percent of your weight in your hands and 70 percent on the saddle, Schmidt says.

While getting a professional bike fit is the best way to find the right saddle height and position for you, you can also try the sit-up test to make sure it’s not titled too far forward. With your bike sturdy (setting it up on a trainer will do), sit on the saddle and take your hands off the bars. Let your body go loose. If you feel yourself sliding forward while sitting or while pedaling slowly, it’s time to make an adjustment.

If you feel steady and comfortable on the saddle but still experience hand numbness, consider your posture as you ride. “You want your back flat,” Schmidt says, not rounded. By maintaining a neutral spine and taller chest, you’re better able to engage your core, which takes some pressure off your hands. Your arms should also be loose, elbows slightly bent, so you’re not riding with stiff arms.

Hand Numbness Could Be Caused by a Tight Neck

Finally, a handlebar that’s too wide can cause you to roll your hands in to make the bar feel more narrow. That puts more pressure on the nerve that leads to pinky-side hand numbness, Schmidt explains. To check your handlebar width, measure (in centimetres) from the centre of one shoulder to the centre of the other. The total centimetres (or total, plus two) is how wide your bars should span.

For how far apart to place your hands on the bars, do a simple trick from Schmidt: Stand about four feet away from a wall. Fall toward the wall and catch yourself with your hands. The distance between your hands equals how far apart to place them on the bike.

Common Cause #3: Neck Strain

Neck pain can also lead to hand numbness, Schmidt says. So if you feel aches in your neck, along with the tingling sensation in the hands, it’s best to address the pain point first.

Quick fix: Pay Attention to Body Alignment

Another reason to avoid a rounded back: It strains the neck as you try to look up at the road ahead. “Think chest up, chin slightly down when you’re riding to keep everything nice and straight,” Schmidt says.

You can practice this neutral spine position by grabbing a broom stick or similar object. (Schmidt demonstrates this in the video above.) Place it behind the back, grabbing the top with one hand, and the bottom with the other. Your head, back, and glutes should touch the stick. From here, hinge forward by sending your butt straight back, and maintain all points of contact with the stick. This is the position you should maintain on your bike. Practice the alignment while you’re off the saddle, and it will become more second nature while you’re on it.

To really nail strong body positioning on the bike, it’s crucial for cyclists to know how to hinge (the broom stick method offers a great way to practice). Not only does it help you avoid aches and pains from your head to your feet, but it also helps you get into the proper sitting position and allows you to ride more efficiently.

A few exercises can also help you get strong through the hinge, including deadlifts, good mornings, and glute bridges.

Finally, sometimes we’re forced to hold a more hunched-over position when the handlebars sit too far from the saddle, Schmidt says. The goal is about 90 degrees between the shoulder and the torso as you reach for the bars. If you’re beyond that, it often puts more pressure on the neck, leading to aches and numbness. In this case, a bike fit adjustment is also the way to go.

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