The good news: It is more than likely that you are able to solve numb hands while cycling.
Avid cyclists will know that the hobby can get a little bit tough on various areas of your body, particularly if you are not taking the correct steps to protect yourself against the issues that can be caused by longer rides.
While many people place a lot of their focus on the legs, the rider’s hands are also extremely important. After all, if cyclists hands go numb then the constant shifting can put you in less efficient positions and it can also be a hazard, adversely affecting steering and braking.
What is Causing My Hand Numbness?
There are several nerves in your hand and if they are compressed then you will start to feel that tingling sensation. The ulnar nerve runs through the bottom of your wrist and to your pinky and ring finger, where as the median nerve runs through the middle of your wrist and to your thumb, index finger, middle finger and ring finger.
It is much more common to have the ulnar nerve pinched on a road bike due to the hand position in the drops and on top of the hoods. To prevent numbness setting in you need to ensure that your wrist and hand position is in line with your forearm. If there is a bend in your wrist it will cause a pinch in the nerve and your hands will go numb. If you adjust your position and you find that you are unable to get your forearms, wrists and hands flush it may be an issue with your bike fit.
Another common problem is having a poor bike fit. If your handlebars are in the wrong position or your saddle is at the wrong angle, you will find that you are putting extra pressure on your hands to maintain your posture. Specifically check the angle of your seat with a level. Generally speaking your saddle angle should be between 0% to a maximum of -3%. Any more than -3% and too much of your body weight will be held up by your hands which can cause them to go numb.
Sometimes the issue is not just the saddle but a cumulation of many factors. For instance, even small things such as the shifters being angled out to the side too much will cause your wrists to bend ultimately pinching the nerve. Perhaps you were watching the Tour De France and saw how low some of the handle bars were in relation to the saddle and you figured, “hey I could drop my bars down, be more aero and go faster,” not realizing that you just added more pressure on your hands.
There is a quick simple test that you are able to perform to determine if there is too much pressure on your hands. Grab a friend, get on a trainer and do a good warm up, after your warm up is complete start to bike at your Functional Threshold Power or at a quick pace that you would not be able to sustain for any longer than an hour. Once you have found that pace, make sure you are in the drops and have your friend standing in front of you ready to catch you while you quickly throw your hands back to your hips (envision grabbing the top of your butt cheeks).
If your bike fit is set up properly you should be able to hold that position without raising your torso, falling on your face or arching your back. In essence this little test tells you that you are at a perfect balance point and do not have too much weight on your hands. If you topple forward then it’s likely that you need adjust the saddle position backwards more to relieve some of that pressure on your hands.
Thankfully, there are plenty of additional measures that you can do to prevent hand numbness cycling.
If you would like to learn more about bike fit purchase “Bike Fit” by Phil Burt who explains hand numbness, knee pain and more.
The most obvious solution for numb hands cycling is a decent pair of well fitting gloves with a fair amount of padding to spread out the pressure on the hands. Cycling gloves protect your hands when you are riding, thus ensuring that they don’t succumb to numbness when you are on the road, but will also offer that extra little bit of grip to ensure your hands don’t slip off the handlebars at a crucial moment.
It is important to make sure that the gloves fit your hands correctly, as a lot of discomfort can be caused by having the wrong gloves. If they feel tight in the shop they are going to get even tighter when used, especially after a couple of washes.
Handlebar Tape and Gels
A lot of people see handlebar tape, particularly the types used on road bikes, as more of a cosmetic issues than something that can help with your hands, but that isn’t always the case.
There are a variety of tapes and gels on the market that are designed to reduce the amount of vibration your hands feel when riding, which in turn means that your hands don’t end up going numb.
While the tape will be subject to wear and tear, most are fairly easy to buy and aren’t particularly pricey, so it can be replaced as and when needed.
Dynamic stretching is important before you undertake any physical exercise, and cycling is no different. While your legs will usually be your main focus, you should be sure to take a little of time to stretch the muscles in your arms as well.
Place particular focus on wrist exercises and make sure you feel nice and loose before you get on the bike. If your muscles are stiff, then you are quickly going to find you run into issues, which could lead you to overcompensate or adjust your weight so that you are placing even more pressure on your hands.
Body limitations can play a part in causing that tingling feeling in your hands but make sure you exhaust all previous suggestions before exploring if your body has a weak core, you are not flexible enough in your hamstrings or have back issues.
Ultimately, if hand numbness is your problem there is a solution. Find which combination of the suggestions work for you. Are there any other things that can help with numb hands while cycling?