Numbness in hands after a few miles of biking.
August 23, 2013 5:27 AM   Subscribe

Actually, just the left hand. I know a professional bike fitting is my best bet, but I wanted to get any other ideas first.

My left hand gets the "pins and needles" sensation after a half hour or so of riding. I'm guessing it's only the left because the right is moving around more while doing most of the gear-shifting. I've raised the handle bars a bit higher than the seat to try to take some weight off the hands and also experimented with moving the seat forward and backwards.

I've read this article which was linked in a recent askme, and tried a couple of the adjustments it suggested, e.g tilting the seat a bit up from level.

Anything other ideas? As I said, I'll be getting a professional fitting at some point if I can't de-bug this on my own.

This picture
shows the current bike set-up if that helps.
posted by Right On Red to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Nicely padded bike gloves work wonders!
posted by Dr. Wu at 5:30 AM on August 23, 2013 [4 favorites]

Seconding the professional fitting. I found it very worthwhile. In my case, the main problem was that my wrists were angled down. Moving the brake/shifter mount back on the handlebars took care of my wrist numbness, by allowing my wrist to stay in a straight line.
posted by jeffjon at 5:32 AM on August 23, 2013

Is your left arm slightly shorter than your right? You can rotate the handlebars slightly so that the left side is closer to your body than the right.

Other than that, concentrating on your posture (as described in that Sheldon Brown article) will really help. A lot of my comfort issues on the bike were resolved when I started paying attention to how I was supporting myself.
posted by backseatpilot at 6:03 AM on August 23, 2013

I get this, but it's because I have carpal tunnel. Like the article you posted mentions, I can't use flat handlebars anymore, because they force my wrist to bend in uncomfortable ways. Would you consider using drop handlebars instead?
posted by LN at 6:07 AM on August 23, 2013

Is that the only time you get that sensation in that hand?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:15 AM on August 23, 2013

Are you riding a flat bar? Drop bars offer more positions, and those positions can change which parts of your hand get the pressure.
posted by Wild_Eep at 6:27 AM on August 23, 2013

Bar ends might help because they'll allow you to change your hand position. It looks like you've got an adjustable stem and your seat height is not high so you shouldn't be putting that much weight through your wrists. A professional fitting might help but unless you're really reaching forward onto the bars I think the problem lies elsewhere. It's not an easy solution, but losing weight - if that was relevant - might help.
posted by MuffinMan at 6:36 AM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

IANABF (I Am Not A Bike Fitter) but… You should definitely try rotating your levers back.

Your seat is considerably lower than your handlebars. Therefore, unless you are a particularly unusual shape (very long torso, very short upper arms), your forearms are raised up towards the bars (hands higher than elbows). Then your wrists must be significantly angled down for your fingers to grab onto the levers.

The Sheldon Brown article you link to says:
Wrist angle.
Numbness can also be related to poor wrist positioning. Generally, the wrist should be held so that the hand is pretty much in line with the forearm. If your hand is bent upward from the forearm, the nerves can get pinched, causing numbness. [emphasis added]

As he writes, aim for your hands to be in line with your forearms. But in your case the problem won't be the hand being bent up, but bent down.

You might have read about getting weight off your hands, but given the relaxed geometry of your bike and the relative position of the seat and the handlebars I doubt this applies to you at all. A professional road racer might have his or her seat as much as 15cm / 6" higher than their handlebars, and then place their hands even lower in the drops, with their arms reaching way out in front of them and their back almost parallel to the ground. By contrast you will be sitting very upright, and thus nearly all of your weight will be borne by your bum, and not your hands.

Rotate your levers back (I'd suggest parallel with the ground as a starting point) and I think there's a very good chance you shouldn't have any more issues.
posted by puffmoike at 6:38 AM on August 23, 2013

Along with bike fit, posture is important here with keeping weight off your hands. If possible, try exercises that work on your core/ab muscles. That can make a big difference.
posted by hey you over in the corner at 6:39 AM on August 23, 2013

Seconding the gloves and a different set of bars. I ride with my hands moving all over the place, but mostly on top of the shifter shrouds (the upright knob-parts similar to these).
posted by jquinby at 6:46 AM on August 23, 2013

A follow up to my earlier response…

Having looked at a few photos of women riding these sort of bikes I've almost certainly overstated the likely angle of your arm, but I still think it very likely that - after checking your wrist alignment - you may find it worthwhile rotating the levers upwards.

Getting the fundamentals of bike setup correct will do more for your comfort than anything else. Once you have got that sorted then depending on hand size and personal preference you might find you like 'ergonomic' grips (for which the correct initial setup is even more important).
posted by puffmoike at 6:50 AM on August 23, 2013

Yeah, I echo that your handlebars may be TOO high, especially with the position of your levers.

Also echoing bar ends (just an example, not a specific recommendation). I think grips like this could help too.
posted by supercres at 6:53 AM on August 23, 2013

Generally, the wrist should be held so that the hand is pretty much in line with the forearm.

Echoing this as super-important. Dropping your wrists, a natural tendency, can really make this problem worse. Retrain yourself to keep your arms a straight as you can.

Barends can help a great deal. They're cheap and they won't change the rest of the bike geometry much. You or a bike shop can add barend in just a few minutes. Very easy.

Changing to another bar style is a bigger deal in terms of riding position, but possible if you're willing to make the commitment. Drop bars (like on road bikes) are the biggest change, and would likely mean having to change your shifters too. I wouldn't recommend it as good value for money.

I have, however put bullhorn and moustache handlebars on hybrids before. Both work fairly well, each offering a secondary hand position. New handlebars are not a hard thing to do on a bike, but do need some specialized tools sometimes. Leave it to your LBS if you're not comfortable with it.
posted by bonehead at 7:46 AM on August 23, 2013

posture is important here with keeping weight off your hands.

Also good advice. One practice exercise for this is riding with your hands just off the bars, not quite touching. Your upper body is supported by your core, most of your weight on your pedals, a bit on the seat.

Pedal straps or cleats make this easier, btw.
posted by bonehead at 7:50 AM on August 23, 2013

Response by poster: Lots of good advice here. Thanks, all. I rotated the levers back as suggested and also switched to a pair of gloves with more padding.

Went for a quick one-hour test ride just now and can report that neither of these tweaks made any difference - got the same numbness at same point in the ride. I do keep my wrists in line with my arms as much as I can, and try to focus on keeping the weight of my hands.

As to whether this numbness only happens when I'm biking, I believe the answer is yes, though I think it's a good question and will pay closer attention to this.

The question about whether my left arm is shorter is also interesting - my arms are the same length, but my right shoulder is a tad lower than my left, which is something I'm always reminded of when having a suit jacket fitted. So this might, in fact, translate to an ergonomic issue on the bike.

I will try the bar-ends, I think. Cheap and easy. I'm not ready yet to switch out the stock bars. Also, I'll probably lower the bars back to where they were since raising them didn't solve the problem.
posted by Right On Red at 8:48 AM on August 23, 2013

Your seat tilt is not doing you any favours. Most women's seats are tilted down in the front. This will take the pressure off your pelvic area, tilt your pelvis, and allow you to roll forward in a more natural position without strain.

The other activities to try to figure out if it is a structural item in the wrist would be plank pose, pushup, bench press - basically anything that applies weight while the hand is at a 90 degree angle to the arm. I have one wrist that I fractured years ago, I cannot do long bike rides or the activities I mentioned before due to the structural weakness in the wrist. Not much you can do about that except change handlebars so you are resting on forearms.
posted by crazycanuck at 9:18 AM on August 23, 2013

I had a similar problem a few years ago when spending a lot of time riding my mountain bike on the roads while wearing a backpack. I switched to the exact grips supercres linked to above, and the problems went away.

Those grips allowed me to change the way I was holding onto the handlebars, from curling my thumbs underneath (the way I had learned as a kid) to a position where my thumbs are on top of the grips, pointing forward, with my fingers (lightly) grabbing around the ends of the grips. This way most of the weight is on the thumb pad rather than the heel pad (not sure if those are the anatomically correct terms), and the hand position is much closer to the one I use on my road bike. Bar ends would do basically the same thing, but I'm paranoid of catching them on a tree when riding trails.

Obviously, this is not to eschew all the good advice above, and YMMV, but it worked for me.
posted by partylarry at 9:51 AM on August 23, 2013

It would be useful to see a picture of you on this bike from the left. This would let us see how your wrist lines up as you ride and also to see if you are locking your elbow out or maybe even shoulder issues.

You may also be gripping the left side with a death grip. Try to consciously relax your grip. Some people find this easier with big fat grips like Ergons, but it looks like you've already go something like that on there.
posted by advicepig at 9:53 AM on August 23, 2013

Response by poster: The grips I have do look a bit like the Ergon ones. I may have had the fat part of the grip angled too far down. I just adjusted them so that the fat part is more parallel to the ground, which may make a difference.
posted by Right On Red at 10:20 AM on August 23, 2013

I do think a lot of this is related to grips/pressure/angles, but I've had similar issues caused by camelbak straps cutting off circulation at my shoulders. Just something else to think about.
posted by Big_B at 12:31 PM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

nthing Ergon grips. I got the sort with little bar ends so I can shift my hand position too. Pain and numbness went away!
posted by destructive cactus at 1:02 PM on August 23, 2013

Numbness can also stem from impingements in the shoulders and neck. So unless you address what that portion of your body is doing, then moving the wrists around may not make any difference. Based on your statement that your left shoulder is "higher," I would say there's a chance you have some pre-existing soft tissue tightness--or maybe it's structural (i.e., bone). A chiropractor or a massage therapist or an orthopedist with a specialty in the brachial plexus would be helpful in diagnosing this.

In the meantime, when you get the tingly sensation, shake the arm lighly, and reach your arm behind you, like you're going to scratch between your shoulder blades. Move your neck around, shake your shoulders.

(As I tell the newer riders on the triathlon team that I coach, you steer your bike with your hips, not with your handlebars. Learn to be low and loose on the bike--not high and tight.)
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 1:13 PM on August 23, 2013

I may have had the fat part of the grip angled too far down. I just adjusted them so that the fat part is more parallel to the ground, which may make a difference.

I only noticed your bike was fitted with these grips in the more recent photo that you posted.

A couple of friends' have bought bikes with ergo grips mounted at ridiculous angles. Whilst they hadn't complained of any discomfort, after I'd rotated them to a better position both declared they were much more comfortable. Here's hoping this might do the trick for you.
posted by puffmoike at 6:51 AM on August 25, 2013

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