How to Avoid Sore Hands from Mountain Biking

Numb hands? Tingly fingers? Sore wrists? Here's the why, and how on preventing it

Many riders suffer from sore hands and wrists as a result of cycling, and sometimes it can be so painful that it even puts you off the saddle. Well, we just can’t have that!

There are three contact points between your body and your bike: hands, feet and bums. It’s important to be aware, and take care of each of these three points so that you don’t suffer discomfort and can work on your overall riding performance.

Mountain biking is all about off-road fun. Whether it’s aggressive trail shredding, technical obstacles, fast and flowy tracks, or all of the above.

When you’re riding over rough and uneven terrain, the shock is absorbed through your forks and your arms. So it’s important to ensure the shock that travels through your body, is conducted in the safest way possible. Otherwise, constant pressure on your hands and wrists can lead to painful and uncomfortable sensations such as tingling, numbness and even weakness in the hand movement.

Before we look at possible solutions to these problems, let’s look at what the causes are…

If you do have a diagnosed condition with your hands, wrists or fingers then please consult with a healthcare professional.

The Ulnar and Median Nerves

There is a complex network of muscle, tissue, tendons and bones just within the hand alone. The Ulnar and the Median nerves are the key focus in terms of cycling, they’re the two you’re most likely to strain on the bike, causing pain.

The Ulnar nerve runs through the wrist and down the outer side of the hand. Ulnar nerve problems for cyclists even have a name: Handlebar Palsy. This is when there is excessive compression or hyper-extension of the Ulnar nerve, which mostly affects the side of your hand, your ring finger and your pinkie. This can result in numbness of the fingers, and a weak sensation in your hand overall.

You may have heard of Carpel tunnel Syndrome. It’s when there is excessive compression or hyper-extension of the Median nerve. This nerve is responsible for the feelings of the thumb, index and middle finger where similar pain and numbness can be felt to that of the Ulnar nerve.

For those who “deathgrip” their way down a trail, you’re more susceptible to Median nerve damage because a lot of weight is distributed to the inside of your hand. Resting your index finger on the brake lever can help relieve some of this pressure, and give you a little more control in emergency braking situations.

There are a few things you can do to help prevent the compressions and hyper-extension of these nerves in your hands. They’re all quite simple and you can do them yourself by making minor adjustments to your set-up, and do some stretches and strength exercises.

Riding Position

Many wrist and hand problems stem from your riding position and weight distribution on the bike. Here’s how to check your riding position to ensure your wrists and hands are safe…

  • Stand your bike against a wall, or ask a friend to help you, and climb onto your bike.
  • Adjust the saddle to a comfortable riding height, and sit down with your feet flat on level pedals.
  • Grips the bars as you usually would when you ride

At this point, you want to make sure your arms are as straight as possible, with all your bones aligned through your wrist and hand.

If you find your wrists are bent in an unnatural position, then your body weight is all on the wrists which can cause compressions in the Ulnar and Median nerves.

To overcome this, try relaxing your shoulders back, and slightly bend the elbows as this will reduce the pressure on your hands.

Weight placement also depends on your saddle position. Try tilting your saddle backwards a little to reduce the forward pressure of your body on the bars.

Cockpit Set-up

An incorrect cockpit set-up is another common cause of hand pain. In the same position on the bike as before, with your hands on the bars, ask yourself… Are your brake levers tilted too far forward, or back? Is your dropper post remote just a little out of reach?

Minor adjustments to your levers and remotes can help prevent any awkward movements for your hands when you ride. For mountain bikers, gear shifters are commonly fixed in a more downward position as the rider usually stands up, or rides in a crouching position.

Grips and Gloves

There are a variety of grips on the market that offer assistance to these aches and pains in the hands.  We’ve not tested all of these personally, but here are some examples of grips designed to help ease the pain:

Ergon GP1 – Grips like these aim to spread out the pressure we put on our hands through a wider surface area.

ODI Ruffian – These grips have the traditional shape of a bike grip, but made from a super soft compound which acts as an anti-fatigue material to keep your hands light for movement, even when death-gripping!

Most gloves are available with a varying degree of padding and protection, and like the grips, it’s down to riders preference for what works best for you. Sometimes trial and error is the only way forward.

Stretch and Exercise

In addition to making those minor adjustments to your bike set-up and riding position, it’s a good idea to get into the habit of regular exercise to help build strength in your wrists – though do this gradually, a three hour ride when you’ve been sticking to twenty minutes thus far is going to shock your body!

Stretching before and after a ride is a good habit to get into, too – it helps increase blood flow, and decreases the risk of damaging tendons and ligaments.

It’s important to take care of your hands and wrists when riding. Be mindful of your positioning on the bike, and how your bike is set up otherwise you could cause damage to your nerves which cause uncomfortable pain and numbness in your hands.

If you experience prolonged discomfort, it’s always best to seek out professional healthcare advice.

You may also like:

How to set up your MTB suspension

How to set your MTB Tyre Pressure

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