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How to Prevent Hand Numbness While Biking


One animated hand holding the other on a painful red spot

Hand numbness while biking can be a frustrating and uncomfortable experience. It can interfere with your ability to enjoy your ride and even affect your safety on the road. Understanding the factors that contribute to hand numbness and taking proactive steps to prevent it can make your biking experience more enjoyable. In this article, we will explore the causes of hand numbness while biking, with a focus on pectoral tightness, and provide practical tips to help you prevent and alleviate this issue.

Understanding Pectoral Tightness and its Impact on Hand Numbness While Biking

Pectoral tightness refers to the stiffness and tension in the muscles of the chest, specifically the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor muscles. When these muscles are tight, they can pull the shoulders forward, leading to a rounded posture. This hunched or slouched posture can compress nerves and blood vessels in the neck and shoulder region, potentially causing numbness and tingling in the hands.

The Relationship Between Pectoral Tightness and Hand Numbness

When you ride a bike, especially for extended periods, your upper body is engaged in maintaining balance, steering, and absorbing shocks from the road. Pectoral tightness can adversely affect your biking posture and contribute to hand numbness in the following ways:

  • Shoulder Alignment: Tight pectoral muscles can pull the shoulders forward, causing misalignment and increased stress on the neck and shoulder region. This misalignment can compress nerves and blood vessels, leading to hand numbness.  All 3 nerves, the arteries and veins of your arms run under the pectoral muscles in an area called the coraco-pectoral tunnel.  Numbness from compression of this region is often mistaken for other conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome, thoracic outlet syndrome and disc bulging.

  • Limited Range of Motion: Stiff pectoral muscles restrict the range of motion in the shoulders and upper back. This limitation can result in poor posture on the bike, leading to excessive pressure on the hands and wrists.

  • Muscle Imbalances: Pectoral tightness can create imbalances in the muscles surrounding the shoulder girdle. These imbalances can alter the distribution of forces while biking, placing excessive strain on the hands and increasing the likelihood of numbness.

Now that we understand the relationship between pectoral tightness and hand numbness, let's explore some strategies to prevent and alleviate this issue.

Preventing Hand Numbness from Pectoral Tightness

Preventing hand numbness while biking requires a comprehensive approach that addresses both the underlying cause (pectoral tightness) and other contributing factors. Here are some steps you can take to prevent hand numbness caused by pectoral tightness:

Stretching and Mobility Exercises

Perform stretching and mobility exercises to alleviate pectoral tightness. Focus on stretches for the chest, shoulders, and neck to improve posture and reduce pressure on nerves and blood vessels. Some effective stretches include:

  • Chest Stretch: Stand in a doorway with your arms outstretched to your sides, palms facing forward. Place your hands on the door frame, slightly above shoulder height. Lean forward until you feel a stretch across your chest. Contract the muscles between the shoulder blades and the spine (traps and rhomboids) for 2 seconds and repeat 10 times.

  • Shoulder Rolls: Stand tall with your arms relaxed at your sides. Slowly roll your shoulders forward in a circular motion, then reverse the direction. Repeat 10-15 times in each direction.

  • Neck Stretch:  This stretch targets the anterior and middle scalene muscles that can pinch off the nerves of the hand as the nerves exit the spine.  Sit or stand with your spine tall. Tilt your head to the right, bringing your right ear towards your right shoulder. Reach with the right hand to the top of the head and pull the right ear toward the right shoulder.   Hold for 2 seconds, then repeat on the left side. Perform 1-2 sets of 10 repetitions on each side.

By incorporating these stretches into your daily routine, you can gradually improve the flexibility and mobility of your pectoral muscles, reducing the risk of hand numbness while biking.

Proper Bike Setup

Ensure that your bike is set up correctly to fit your body. Proper bike fit can significantly reduce the strain on your upper body and hands while biking. Consider the following adjustments:

  • Handlebar Height: Adjust the handlebar height to a comfortable position that allows you to maintain a neutral spine and relaxed shoulders.  At first, many cyclists are hesitant to use spacers to raise handlebars as you lose some aerodynamics.  However, the power that you gain while being in a more comfortable position may alleviate any doubt.

  • Reach Distance: Ensure that the distance between the saddle and handlebars allows for a slight bend in your elbows when gripping the handlebars. This slight bend can help absorb shocks and reduce strain on your hands.

  • Grip Size and Shape: Experiment with different grip sizes and shapes to find the one that provides optimal comfort and support for your hands. Ergonomic handlebar grips can distribute pressure more evenly on your hands, reducing the risk of ulnar nerve numbness (pinky and ring finger) that is common at an area of the hand/wrist called Guyon’s Canal.

If you're unsure about how to set up your bike properly, consider consulting a bike fit specialist who can assess your individual needs and make appropriate recommendations.

Gradual Adaptation

If you've recently engaged in activities that may contribute to pectoral tightness allow your body time to adapt. 

To prevent hand numbness during this adaptation period, consider the following:

Eccentric strength training can help alleviate pectoral muscle tightness by gradually stretching and strengthening the pectoral muscles. By intentionally emphasizing the eccentric phase of exercises that target the chest, individuals can improve muscle flexibility and reduce tightness.

Active Release Technique (ART) can be an effective method for relieving pectoral muscle tightness by addressing any adhesions, knots, or restrictions within the muscle and surrounding tissues. It can improve blood flow, flexibility, and range of motion in the chest area.

Ultimately, individuals experiencing pectoral muscle tightness may benefit from incorporating both eccentric strength training exercises and ART sessions into their wellness routine. It's essential to consult with a qualified fitness trainer and healthcare provider to develop a customized plan that suits individual needs and goals while ensuring safe and effective treatment.


Ergonomic Grips

Consider using ergonomic handlebar grips that distribute pressure more evenly on your hands, reducing the risk of numbness. These grips are designed to provide additional support and cushioning, minimizing stress on the wrists and palms. Experiment with different grip materials and shapes to find the one that suits your preferences and needs.

When choosing ergonomic grips, look for features such as:

  • Wrist Support: Grips with built-in wrist support can help maintain a neutral wrist position, reducing strain on the nerves and blood vessels in the hand.

  • Shock Absorption: Grips with shock-absorbing properties can help minimize vibrations and impacts from the road, reducing the risk of hand numbness and discomfort.

  • Comfort and Grip: Ensure that the grips feel comfortable in your hands and provide a secure grip, even in wet or sweaty conditions.

By investing in quality ergonomic grips, you can enhance your biking experience and reduce the likelihood of hand numbness.

Seek Professional Advice

If hand numbness persists or worsens despite implementing preventive measures, it is essential to seek professional advice. Consult us for personalized guidance and recommendations based on your specific situation. 

Remember that hand numbness while biking can also be related to other factors such as poor bike fit, handlebar height, and riding technique. Addressing these issues comprehensively can help improve your biking experience and reduce the risk of numbness and discomfort.

Conclusion

Hand numbness while biking can be a common issue, especially for individuals with pectoral tightness. Understanding the relationship between pectoral tightness and hand numbness is crucial to implementing effective preventive measures. By incorporating stretching and mobility exercises, ensuring proper bike setup, allowing for gradual adaptation, using ergonomic grips, and seeking professional advice when necessary, you can significantly reduce the occurrence of hand numbness and enhance your biking experience. Remember to listen to your body, prioritize proper form and posture, and enjoy the ride while keeping your hands comfortable and functional.


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