Tips for Relieving Sore Hands on the Bicycle
Learning to Ride without Hand Pain
It’s not unusual for a cyclist to experience sore hands from time to time. It may be the muscles of the palm, the complex and delicate bones of the wrist, or the nerves and ligaments of the fingers that are affected. If the bike-fit is poor, and too much of the rider’s weight is on the bars, then discomfort will result*. (To do a simple test to see if you have too much weight on your bars, click here)
Assuming the bike size and set-up fit are good, then sound posture, clothing and equipment choices, plus one or two simple techniques usually provide a remedy. Follow this checklist, make habits of the suggestions, and you should notice improvements within just a few rides. If you do all of these and still experience discomfort, consult your coach, bike-fitter, or doctor.
- Keep your elbows bent. No straight arms – locked elbows are a sin on a bike! You’ll need to engage your core muscles to enable this. Making sure you have a light touch on the handlebars will help you activate your core and allow you to use your elbows absorb road shock.
- Relax your shoulders. This helps to keep the nerves from the hand and arm calm as they arrive at the cervical spine. As you get tired, it’s common to want to hunch your shoulders. Relaxing them instead helps relax the rest of the arm and hand, too.
- Wear gloves with a thin gel or foam pad in the palm. Find a glove that offers you the right amount of cushion, in the correct areas to protect the soft-tissues of the hand, without bearing on a nerve.
- Grip the bars only as much as is necessary, and use the available parts of the bar (tops, hoods, drops) to give your hands a change and a rest. Maybe consider a carbon bar, or a thicker, more cushiony wrap, which can help dampen vibrations and reduce nerve-irritation. On a flat bar, some riders like the ‘ergonomic’ grips, which incorporate a flattened section to ease pressure.
- On the tops or on a flat bar, have your thumbs in line with your fingers when opportunity allows (i.e. no need to brake or shift, a clear road ahead). Your Central Nervous System will recognize that this is inherently more relaxed than a vise-like grip.
- On a mountain-bike, consider dialing more plush into your suspension and/or lowering tire-pressure in accordance with the demands of the trail.
- Splay your fingers from time to time. This helps release any held tension.
- When off the bike, massage your hands, fingers and thumb muscles, or ask someone to sensitively do that for you.
- Consciously tell yourself to relax on the bike, especially the hands. Use a phrase like “Easy does it, nice and light.”
- In hot weather apply sun-screen to the backs of your hands.
- Use warm soapy water to clean any mud or dirt out of your pores, then use your favorite lotion to keep the skin moisturized.
Your hands thrive on habits of relaxed posture, self-monitoring, and healthy choices. Pay attention to the signals they are giving and seek professional help if these basic remedies don’t make a difference for you.
Weight on Hands Test: If the bike fit is good, you will be light enough on your hands that you can switch from hoods to drops and back again BOTH HANDS at the same time, slowly and gracefully. Do the test while pedaling at a moderate effort. If you need to shift one hand at a time or to jump your hands form one position to the other, you have too much weight on your hands and need adjustment to your bike fit.