If you've experienced numbness or pain in the wrists or hands on the bike, carpal tunnel syndrome could be the culprit. While carpal tunnel syndrome is most often associated with long hours on a computer, it's also a common injury among cyclists.
The carpel tunnel is a small space at the base of your wrist. It's surrounded by the carpal bones on the top of the wrist and thick connective tissue on the bottom. CTS, which is an overuse injury, occurs when the median nerve on the palm side of the wrist is compressed. The median nerve and flexor tendons that bend your fingers pass through the carpal tunnel.
When this space becomes narrow, generally from inflammation nerve compression, it can cause pain, tingling or weakness in the thumb, fingers and hand. In some cases, the symptoms can extend up the arm to the wrist, elbow and shoulder.
CTS is a cumulative condition that develops gradually over time. Symptoms on the bike are exacerbated by what you do off the bike. Computer work and hobbies that require delicate hand movements—knitting, playing music, jewelry making, cooking etc—can contribute to the pain.
Although the symptoms of CTS are in the lower part of the arm and hand, the underlying problem is often in the shoulder. Rounding of the shoulders shortens the front shoulder and neck muscles compressing nerves in the neck, which can be felt all the way down to the fingers. Since the shoulder is the largest joint in the arm, if its function and position are compromised, the smaller joints in the arm chain such as the elbow and wrist will be put under more strain and are more likely to be injured.
Improving shoulder position and improving your strength can relieve CTS symptoms on and off the bike. Try these three exercises to get started.
3 Exercises to Strengthen and Reposition Your Shoulders
Arm CirclesStand with your feet hip-width apart and pointed straight ahead. Use a mirror if available to ensure that your load bearing joints—ankles, knees, hips and shoulders—are vertically aligned with each other. It's common to have the hips forward of the shoulders.
Curl your fingers into your palm keeping your wrist straight and your forearm muscles engaged. Your hand should be extended, but not in a fist. This is called the "golfers grip." Raise your arms out to your sides at shoulder level. Keep your palms down and your thumbs pointing forward.
Pinch your shoulder blades down and together. Don't allow the shoulders to come up and the neck muscles to tighten. Circle your arms forward and make sure all of the movement comes from the shoulders. Keep the elbows locked out and straight. Circle your arms in front and behind your body and try to maintain a speed that causes the body to rock slightly back and forth.
Complete 20 to 40 circles forward, then rotate your shoulders back so that your palms are up and thumbs are pointed backwards. Circle the arms backwards for another 20 to 40 repetitions.
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Stand against a wall with your feet hip-width apart and pointing straight ahead. Using the golfers grip, place your pinkies at your temples with your thumbs pointed straight down. Keep your upper arms parallel to the ground and don't let your elbows drop. Bring your elbows towards each other to touch, if possible. You should feel a stretch across your back.
Take your arms back to the starting position and bring your elbows all the way to the wall if you can. Repeat 25 times.
Start in the same position as described in the first two exercises. Interlace your fingers together and press your palms away from you and extend your arms until your elbows are straight. Bring your arms up over your head and look up at your hands. Watch for common errors such as the elbows bending, hips moving forward, rib cage lifting, abdominals tightening and lower back arching. The movement should only take place in the upper back and shoulders. Once you've raised your arms as far as possible and you're in good alignment, hold the position for one minute.
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