Biking is a great way to get outside and get some exercise. As with all activities, there is a risk for injury. Injuries have different causes such as trauma or overuse. The hand is no exception to overuse with an activity such as biking. The hand contains two nerves, the median and ulnar nerve, that control the ability to bend your fingers and wrist. Bikers who frequently ride, or ride for long durations, may develop numbness or tingling in their ring and small fingers. This may be due to pressure on the ulnar nerve at the base of the palm. This area is called Guyon’s canal.
Picture your nerve like a garden hose. If you bend or put pressure on a garden hose, does the water come out properly? No! This concept can give you an idea of how our nerves work when we place an excessive amount of pressure on them. Over time, your nerve can become damaged by this pressure, affecting sensation and the muscles that the nerve controls. It can cause those muscles to become weaker and even atrophy (become smaller).
How do I know if I’m placing too much pressure on my hands during biking?
Do you experience “pins and needles” in your ring and small finger during or after riding?
Do you experience aching or throbbing on the small finger side of the hand?
Some simple modifications you can make to reduce pressure on your ulnar nerve and help with the hand pain are as follows:
- Avoiding leaning forward and pressing through your palms during the entire ride
- Switch hand positioning throughout the ride
- Try cushioning or wider bike handles
- Avoid extreme wrist positions
If you experience any of these symptoms, it would be beneficial to talk to a local hand therapist to prevent further damage. They may be able to fabricate a protective orthosis to wear during bike rides, provide an exercise program or refer you to a hand surgeon.
Madisson Miller, MOT, OTR/L, CSCS is a member of the American Society of Hand Therapists.