Numb hands can ruin a ride, both because of the discomfort and the lack of control. A common and preventable cause of numb hands is cyclist’s palsy, also commonly known as handlebar palsy. It is the result of too much pressure on the ulnar or median nerve where they enter the hand from the wrist. Knowing its cause will send you on your way to finding solutions that work for your own handlebar palsy.
Where Hand Meets Handlebar
The ulnar nerve enters the hand at the wrist at the heel of the palm opposite the thumb. That pad on the heel is often where the hand rests on the handlebar. Inside that pad is the ulnar nerve, running through the Guyon canal and compressed by the bones of the wrist and hand. Enough pressure, and your pinky and ring finger go numb. More than enough pressure can lead to a fully numb hand.
The median nerve enters the hand at the wrist between the ulnar nerve and the base of the thumb through the carpal tunnel. Too much pressure here and you will feel your index and middle fingers go numb. The numbness can occur in conjunction with ulnar nerve numbness.
Solutions to Handlebar Palsy
Ensuring your hands contact your bars at an angle that allows your wrist to lay naturally is ideal. Any hyperextension of the wrist puts additional pressure on the nerves entering your hands. Resting your hands on the handlebar with as little bend as possible at the wrist lets the nerves lay unimpeded into your palms.
Changing positions on your handlebars during the course of a ride can alleviate symptoms of handlebar palsy. On a road bike with drop bars, if you feel numbness coming on, move to a different position that takes pressure off of the heel of your palm. On a flat bar bike it is a bit more difficult because there are more limited positions. If you often have handlebar palsy and frequently ride a flat bar bike, consider adding bar ends for an additional position. Remember to position them correctly. Perpendicular to the ground is not correct; The should face forward at an angle that allows your wrists to rest naturally.
Padding your hands will also help relieve handlebar palsy. This can either be done with padded bar, doubled up bar tape, gel pads under the bar or padded gloves. Try gloves on first to make sure they fit comfortably; too loose and they will cause blisters, too tight and they can cause even more numbness. Some overly padded gloves can also cause numbness by concentrating pressure on extra large pads.
Moving your saddle down and back can also relieve pressure on your hands. Beware that other positional problems may arise if you go this route. Whatever changes you make, do them incrementally.
If these solutions do not work, seek out a bike fit expert to examine your position. Additionally, you may want to seek out a health professional to determine exactly what is happening in your nerves. They can give you exercises to relieve abused nerves.
Understanding the nerves that cause handlebar palsy will give you a better idea of what causes it and how you can fix it. These simple fixes are effective and easy to try out. If the problem persists, go to a professional for an objective and knowledgeable view so you can keep riding in complete control.