Prevent wrist pain from cycling

January 22, 2019 4 min read

Prevent wrist pain from cycling

It can take some time and effort to get your bike fit perfect, but it’s absolutely worth it for a safe and comfortable biking experience. If you don’t feel confident with tinkering with your bike then make sure you get into a bike shop where a passionate cyclist can do the work with you to get you rolling the roads in total comfort.

One of the most common issues when it comes to cycling pain is in the wrists, whether it be aches, tingling or numbness, the cause usually links back to your bike setup being slightly askew.

Also referred to as handlebar palsy, wrist pain when cycling happens when the nerve that runs under your thumb to your fingers (ring finger and little finger) becomes compressed. This compression can happen because you have too much force or weight through your hands, or from staying down on the drops too long.

As well as pain, numbness or tingling your wrists may feel weak, which slows down your reaction times or restricts motion when you want to change gear or put on the breaks.

Check your bike

  • Frame size
  • Saddle height
  • Handlebar height
  • Grip

If your wrist issues only occur when you are riding then the first thing to do is look at your bike set up and see if you can adjust the load. If everything is flowing correctly you should not need to put any weight through your wrists when you ride, instead your balance will come from your seat. To know if your bike setup is to blame check it by lightly resting your hands on the handlebars on flats and light climbs when you are out on the bike. If you feel yourself falling forward then something about your bike setup needs to be adjusted.

Go through the following to determine what might be causing your wrist pain. Only change one thing at a time. Test the results on a gentle ride to get a feel for the change and see if there are any improvements.

Frame size

Even if your frame is only slightly too long in the top tube you can be overstretched, which puts strain on your wrists or causes wrist hyperextension. When choosing a frame size make sure you look at the tube length, which is not adjustable, before you look at the variables like height and handlebar angles.

Saddle height

If your frame is the right size the next thing to consider is your seat height. If you are falling forward it’s an indication that your seat is too high. Usually incorrect seat height is the culprit for knee pain, but it can cause wrist pain as well. 

Having the right position for your seat also means you can ride longer and put more power down as you are getting the most out of your muscles. To know if your seat height is correct, make sure your leg is fully extended from hip to heel when the pedal is at its lowest point. Getting this right will prevent injury and keep your cycling motion smooth and painless. 

Handlebar height

It’s not just about aerodynamics, if your handlebars are too low then you will be forcing pressure through your wrists. If you are new to cycling and still finding your legs, have your handlebars higher to help with your balance and handling. The more experienced racers like to drop the bars a little to improve speed and energy output, however, you need adequate core strength for this to be effective. 

Low handlebars are really only helpful during a race or time trial. For long rides and everyday cycling take an upright position to help ease the pressure on your lower back and hands. 

Grip

If everything on your bike looks great then it’s time to look at your grip. Holding on too tight might be the cause of your aches and pains. Relax your upper body while you ride and let your seat do the hard work for balance and even steering. Soften your elbows and let your shoulders drop. Make sure your wrists are not extended or flexed when you grip. You don’t need to hover on the breaks all the time, enjoy the road and your time on the bike.

If you are using drops make sure you break frequently and switch up between the drops, top and hoods. Each position has a different effect on your nerves and blood flow, so moving around makes sure everything gets a chance to move effectively and releases pressure before it becomes a problem.

More help

High quality bar tape with gel inserts can help reduce road vibrations while padded gloves can also help reduce nerve compression

If you are especially sensitive to grip positions reducing blood flow and pressing on nerves it might be due to the size of your hands or rate of circulation. In this case consider anatomic bars, which can offer more position options or experiment with inserts and shims that can help reduce the distance between the levers and the bar so you can reach without straining and gain more control.

If you find your wrist pain occurs off the bike as well as on then you might need to consider other factors, like office ergonomics and keyboard positioning.

If none of these tips help alleviate your pain do seek help from an allied health professional.

Hours in the saddle that are pain free? That’s freedom! 


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