Cycling is an efficient, low-impact workout and can be a good alternative for running. What may surprise some recreational cyclists is that positioning your hands and wrists incorrectly on the bike can lead to hand and wrist pain and even carpal tunnel syndrome. The pain can be the aggravation of underlying arthritis, tendinitis or cartilage tears.
Carpal tunnel syndrome also is very common, and riders of all ages and all levels of fitness can find themselves at risk for developing it. Symptoms can be pain with movement, or numbness and tingling in the fingers. Pressure on the hand and wrist from incorrect positioning on the handlebars will contribute to and exacerbate these symptoms.
Tips for avoiding carpal tunnel:
- Keep the wrists straight and change positions on the handle bars.
- Avoid pressure on your palms and wrist for long periods of time. Remember that your legs and core muscles should be doing the work, so keep the pressure off your hands.
- Make sure that your handlebars and seat are positioned at the proper height.
- If you start feeling pain in your hands, take a break from cycling. Rest and take over the counter anti-inflammatories if approved by your physician.
- If the pain doesn’t improve, see a specialist for the right diagnosis and treatment.
As springtime approaches and weekend warriors and children alike dust off their bikes, I remind you about the importance of braking properly. If you need to brake suddenly and feel like you may fall off the bike, there is a natural tendency to put your hands out and use them to brace your fall. Landing on your hands could lead to a broken wrist, so it’s better to try and fall on your bottom. I am often asked whether wearing wrist guards will help avoid these types of injuries. I do not recommend wearing wrist guards to my patients. Wearing wrists guards while biking can impair steering, which could potentially increase the likelihood of a fall.
Remember no matter how old you are or how experienced a cyclist you are, wearing a certified bike helmet is a must. If you want to confirm your helmet is up to current safety standards, visit the Snell Memorial Foundation’s website.
Biking is a great form of cardiovascular exercise, and by remembering a few simple tips you can enjoy those weekend bike trips and avoid common injuries.
Dr. Michelle Carlson is an orthopedic surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery. She specializes in treating sports-related hand injuries and fractures, pediatric hand conditions, hand disorders in women, and neurologic injuries in the upper extremity. Dr. Carlson is the director and founder of the Children and Adolescent Hand and Arm (CHArm) Center.