5 Tips to Prevent Cyclist Nerve Damage

My first road-bike ride was a white-knuckle experience.  I was so worried I would fall off, or get going too fast and not be able to stop. So I grasped onto the bars as hard as I could, never letting go. 

You may know where this is leading, but that night at work my pinky and ring finger were tingling.  They were so numb, actually, that as I carried trays of drinks and food, I couldn't feel the center of balance under the tray and was wibble-wobbling giant trays all over the place.  I mentioned it to one of my bartenders who is a triathlete and he said, "Oh, yeah, that's pretty normal."

In a way, he's right - tingling or numbness in the hands after an intense ride is COMMON, but it's not normal. It's nerve damage, and it can be long-lasting or even permanent if not treated.  My tingling fingers lasted WEEKS - which was pretty scary. 

Nerve damage in the hands and fingers is considered an "over-use" injury and is treated with rest.  But this doesn't mean you need to literally stop cycling, it just means you need to give your hands a break from the constant pressure on one area.  

 

Tingling/numbness in the pinky and ring finger indicates too much pressure on the wrist under those fingers, affecting the ulnar nerve.  Too much pressure on the palm-side of the wrist affects the median nerve, resulting in tingling in the thumb, pointer and middle fingers. 

The Cure?

  1. If you feel tingling during or after a ride, it means you need to change up your hand position more often. There are tons of options: 

 

2. Along with #1, be sure to keep a bend in the elbows. Locking out the elbows pretty much ensures you are gripping too tightly on the bars, so keeping a gentle bend will put less stress on the wrists/hands, transferring the weight closer to the body (forcing the abs to hold more body weight)

3.  Strengthening your core (ab) muscles will help you hold the body upright without as much weight on the hands.

4. Wear padded gloves; my favorite pair cost only $12 and last two years.

5. Also, this may be obvious, but don't wear rings, they can cut into the blood circulation to the fingers and also put pressure on the tiny finger nerves.

 

Besides prevention, if you already HAVE some nerve damage from cycling or anything else, you will want to be extra careful not to put excess pressure on the affected nerve, and talk to your doctor about if you need to take a break from cycling. Worst case scenario, you may even need surgery to repair damage - so if the tingling/numbness doesn't subside within a week or two, ask a professional.