A reader recently got in touch about wrist pain their husband was experiencing whilst riding and she asked if I had any solutions.
Wrist pain whilst cycling is fairly common and in almost all cases can be solved.
When you lean forwards, with your weight on your wrists and hands, you may experience everything from pain, tingling or numbness in the hand and wrist. In more extreme, but still common and very treatable cases, pressure on this area can cause Carpel Tunnel Syndrome. This is the compression of a nerve that controls sensation in the hand and fingers.
Here are our top suggestions for ways you can overcome wrist pain whilst cycling:
Strengthen the muscles
Strengthening your wrist muscles is part of the solution. There are various exercises you can do and I’ve had fellow cyclists highly recommend a Powerball, for building up strength over time. This works not just in the wrist but also arms and shoulders.
Get a bike fit
This is the answer to almost any pain or discomfort caused by riding, or even pain caused by something else that is affecting your riding, is to look at bike fit.
When cycling, you’re repeating the same movement hundreds of times, stuck in the same position – so that position needs to be right for your body. A qualified bike fitter will be able to look at the way you’re sitting on the bike, and change it to improve comfort and efficiency.
Tiny movements make a huge difference. Moving a cleat a few mm’s forwards can eliminate knee pain – you’d be amazed. If you’re problems are in your arms, it may be that your saddle to bar drop is to great, pushing extra weight onto your hands and wrists. In this case, they may drop the saddle by 5mm, or raise the bars by adding spacers below the headset.
If your stem is at a negative angle (eg pointing downwards), you might want to try flipping it to give you a positive angle (pointing upwards) – this will again raise your bars, decreasing the pressure on your arms as you are encouraged to lean back, placing pressure on your sit bones instead.
Handlebars quite low, with spacers above could cause pain:
Try raising the bars, with fewer spacers above the headset:
Or, opt for a short, positive angle stem, like this MTB position:
Bike fits can range from ‘your mate, a mirror and a turbo trainer’, to £200 with a professional bike fitter. Shop around, and ask at your local bike shop as many will have a trained fitter in-store. We also published a list of London’s bike fitting studios.
If your bike doesn’t already have carbon forks, this could be a good upgrade. The majority of modern bikes come with a carbon fork, this is because manufacturers know that vibrations from rough ground can be jarring, and an alloy or steel fork will transfer all of those bumps to the rider’s hands, whilst carbon will absorb it. New carbon forks (such as these M:Part Road Forks) will set you back a little over £100.
It has been suggested that you can also add to the protection from carbon forks by adding carbon handlebars, as well. Only really very high end bikes come with carbon handlebars as standard. A carbon fork will dampen road vibrations before they get to the handlebars, so carbon handlebars are usually more about saving weight. If you’re racing, this could be important, but not so for the average commute – and it’s worth bearing in mind that if you upgrade to carbon handlebars, you’ll have to watch every knock or bash, and replace them after a fall (not so with forks, as these are less likely to suffer the same impact).
What could be more effective would be a change in the shape of your handlebars. Flat bar’s give you very little choice of hand position, meaning you’re stuck in one pose. Swapping to a drop handlebar gives you choice between the drops and hoods – so you can move around, decreasing the likelihood of RSI or wrist pain.
On the other hand, if you have drop handlebars now and find you get tingling from the drop between your bars and saddle, a more upright, flat bar position might help you.
Some riders swear by attaching clip on aero bars to reduce wrist pain, as you can rest on these occasionally to relieve pressure. However, you’re best off using these on rides away from traffic. Personally, I race on a TT bike, but on the rare occasion I’d ride the bike through town, I would not use the aero bars in city traffic:
New handlebars will set you back as little as £15. Swapping this contact point will make a huge difference to your position, confidence and handling.
Gel padded gloves
If you’re not already wearing gloves with gel padding, and struggling from pain in your hands and wrist, then you should absolutely get some. Gel padded gloves are designed with cushioning exactly where you need it. Clothing brands put a great deal of research into this, and you’ll definitely benefit from a glove upgrade.
Specialized (who also offer a Body Geometry Bike Fit service) put a lot of research into improving comfort for riders. Their answer is the Body Geometry Gel Mitt, which has padding on the grips as well as where the ‘heel’ of the hand sits.
The padding is designed to reduce numbness by relieving pressure from the ulnar nerve – which runs down your arm and to your little finger. The ulnar nerve is the largest unprotected (by muscle/bone) nerve in the body, and if it is pinched it can cause pain, so this extra protection will make a difference.
Have you made changes to your bike set up to address pain in your hands or arms? Tell us what you did…
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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.