How to Avoid Sore Hands from Mountain Biking


Hand on mountain bike handlebar with gloves

Even the most hardened veteran mountain bikers will agree with me when I say: some discomfort in your hands is to be expected from bike riding. Since biking is a strenuous activity, it’s pretty normal for riders to feel sporadic numbness or aches. However, if you’re left with hand pain after every biking session, then you might be dealing with a bigger problem.

You can avoid sore hands by riding in the correct position and make sure your have a professional check if your mountain bike fits properly. Get ergonomic handlebars or use tape and gels to reduce strain on your hands. Warm up your hands and shoulders before you ride by doing arm cicles, wrist curls, and wrist stretching.

There are some things you can do to prevent injury and get more comfortable during mountain biking. All it takes is to target the cause of the problem and apply the proper solution. I’m here to help you understand hand pain in depth and give you some valuable tips on how to combat it before it puts a complete damper on your enjoyment and performance.

Off-road biking is fun, but your hands take a lot of shock from the varied terrain full of technical obstacles. To ensure that you’ll stay on the trails far off into future, make sure that you prioritize safety and glean from what other bikers have learned.

Common Mountain Biking Hand Issues

If you’re experiencing pain, soreness, numbness, or tingling in your hands and wrists, it’s highly likely that you’re suffering from one of the conditions below.

Handlebar Palsy

In the medical field, this condition is referred to as ulnar neuropathy. In the biking community, it’s more commonly known as handlebar palsy.

When you grip your handlebars too tightly for prolonged periods of time, your ulnar nerve (in the Guyon’s canal) gets compressed. When this happens, your pinky and ring finger will weaken. As a result, you might feel tingling in your fingers, and eventually numbness.

Similarly, you might suffer from handlebar palsy from your form. If you tend to hyperextend the ulnar nerve when tackling a downward terrain, you’re going to suffer from the same symptoms.
Once you start noticing that you have this condition, it can be difficult to resolve if you don’t address it right away.

Remember:

As a general rule, it’s always better to consult your healthcare provider to get everything thoroughly checked out. It will also do you a world of good to follow the preventive measures that I’m going to discuss as we move on in this list.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

This condition stems from the compression of the median nerve, which runs along the carpal tunnel (in your wrists). Because it gets irritated and inflamed, this space tightens. Shifting your weight onto your hands when you ride down a trail puts a lot of pressure on this area.

Many cyclists suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome, and they describe it as a tingling feeling and subsequent weakening of the entire hand.

This condition is cumulative – meaning, the symptoms will worsen over time. That’s why it’s of utmost importance to address it immediately once symptoms start occurring. Otherwise, the strain that you’re putting your hands under will result in graver injuries.

What Causes Hand Pain?

If the symptoms above seem all too familiar to you, then it’s time to track down where the problem is coming from. Some troubleshooting on your part is required. Check out the possible causes below.

Bike Fit

Riding on a bike that has not been adjusted to your body’s specifications is a one way ticket to pain city. Your weight is most likely unevenly distributed because the handlebars are too low or the saddle is too high (depending on the type of bike).

This particular configuration makes the rider lean forward too much and puts a lot of pressure on their wrists even when they’re not riding down a slope.

Is sizing really that important?
Yes. In the same vein, a bike that is a little too big for you will cause a lot of strain as you stretch out to reach the handlebars.

Your Form

If your bike has already been altered to fit your measurements and you’re still experiencing pain, then you should pay attention to your form. Observe how you grip your handlebars. Are you a tight gripper?
If so, you will have to deliberately relax your hands. Drop your shoulders and make sure your arms are not extended.

Improper Riding Style

The thrill of mountain biking comes from undertaking sloped, rocky, and slippery trails. If you haven’t gotten your techniques down and you’re struggling to find comfortable positions when riding on a varied terrain, it will put a lot of strain on your hands.

Cyclists train not only to improve their strength and endurance. They also do this to perfect their riding style in order to stave off aches and pains.

Heavy Backpacks

This is one I got from a friend, he told me he got sore hands from carrying a heavy backpack. The weight pressed on his arms causing more strain on his hands. He got rid of the bag and after a while the complaints were gone.

Off-bike Factors

When you’re off the trail, examine your hand placement throughout the day. Do you spend a lot of time typing on a keyboard or playing the piano?

It’s essential that you explore the exacerbating factors to your condition and not attribute it all on mountain biking. Hand care is not something we all think about on the daily, but you, as a cyclist, should examine your working environments more closely.

Missing Gear

As with any activity, getting the right tools is essential for getting the job done. In this case, you’re dealing with hand pain. Luckily, there’s biking gear that are specifically designed to boost the rider’s comfort and lessen his or her chances of getting in any physical mishaps. Perhaps the reason for your discomfort is that you’re lacking the proper equipment.

Treatment options

As you can see, there are plenty of reasons why you might be experiencing hand pain when mountain biking. Now, it’s time to explore your solutions. I also recommend to consult your doctor!

Correct Your Riding Position

To assess your current riding position, climb on your bike and keep it stationary. You may do this leaning against a wall or asking someone to balance your bike upright for you.

Put your feet on the pedals and hold the handlebars the way you normally would. Check if your arms are straight and aren’t flexing too much. If so, you’re in the clear.

If you find that your wrists are bent, then some adjustments are in order. Relax your shoulders until your elbows are slightly curved. This is to ensure that you’re not putting a lot of pressure on your median and ulnar nerves.

Bent elbows makes it more likely for your arms to absorb the vibrations from the road instead of your wrists, acting like a suspension. Always remember to keep your elbows tucked in to maintain this position.
Keep your spine in a neutral position as well. Do this by relaxing your back and engaging your core.

Relaxing your abdominal muscles will make you slouch. This position will put a strain not only on your hands, but also on your bum and shoulders.

Remind yourself to keep a looser grip on the bars. Beginners tend to clutch the bars more tightly, and this will results in hand pain.

Have Your Bike Professionally Fitted

This is something you can do yourself, but it can be very tedious. To be on the safe side, it’s always better to leave it to the pros. Have them take your measurements and adjust your bike for you.

The problem could be a matter of only being a few millimeters off, and having to readjust the frame and other bike components like the saddle will give anyone a headache.

Bike shops will also set up your brakes for you. Braking is something you’ll do a lot in mountain biking. If your hoods and levers aren’t properly fitted, you’re bound to get painful hands.

Improve Your Work Environment

Make sure you’re working in a more ergonomic space – meaning, make sure that everything that you’re frequently using is adjusted to accommodate your height and reach. This may mean swapping out your old office chair for a new one, and getting a height-adjustable desk and ergonomic keyboard.

Working with our hands is second nature to us, but you have to pay attention to your work habits now that that your hands are in a more compromised state.

Shift Your Hands Frequently

Moving your hands around will restore blood flow to them and get rid of numbness, so get shaking! As you’re riding, make sure to also shift your hand placement according your pace and the terrain you’re facing.

This is extremely important if you intend to bike for hours, so vary your hand positions every 15 minutes or so to free up your carpal tunnels. This is very akin to defensive riding, wherein a motorcyclist predicts and adapts their riding style according to their environment.

There are a bunch of hand positions you have to learn to incorporate into your riding technique, two being on the hoods and the drops. Drops are particularly good for descending trails. It will take some practice, but you’ll be safer in this position with the added grip on the brakes.

Wear Gloves

Perhaps the most apparent workaround to sore hands is getting yourself a pair of high quality riding gloves. Once you get a pair that fits you well, this should help absorb some shock when you ride over bumps or pot holes.

Wearing gloves that are too tight will cut off the circulation to your hands, which is what we’re mostly trying to avoid here. It might even be prudent to get a half size up because gloves tend to shrink after washing. Riding gloves also helps your grip on the handlebars, especially if they have outer coverings that offer traction.

Gloves are the first layer of protection for your hands. They should keep your hands safe from gravel rash should you ever stumble. After that, it’s all on your technique in keeping blood flowing to your hands.

Use Bar Tapes and Gels

Novice bikers will use handlebar tape for aesthetic reasons, but their function goes beyond that. Bar tape is used for control, but more importantly, for added comfort. It helps reduce the vibrations on your hands as you tackle difficult terrain, keeping them from going numb.

High quality bar tapes are usually made from cork, leather, and synthetic materials like nylon and polyurethane.

You will have to rewrap your handlebars every once in a while, so bikers go through quite a bit of bar tape throughout the span of their riding campaigns.

Bar tape is supposed to feel a little tacky, but not enough to completely adhere to your gloves. This is to make sure your hands stay in place when you’re sweaty or it’s raining.

Gel inserts, on the other hand, are placed under the tape for extra cushioning. They’re a great option if the padding from your gloves do not provide enough comfort.

Do Hand-Specific Stretching and Exercises

Stretching is advised before you do any activity, and mountain biking is no exception. Usually, when we think of biking, the legs seem to do all the work. But you know that’s not the case at all.

Your arms and wrists have are also very much engaged in this activity, so you would do well to make them feel nice and limber before a ride.

If you attempt to hit the road while your muscles are still stiff, you’re bound to run into some problems. Here are some helpful exercises you can do target your shoulders and get them ready.

1. Arm circles
Stand straight and hold your arms out straight in front of you. Curl your fingers into your palm, but don’t ball them up. The point of this is tense up your forearm muscles.

Then circle your arms for up to 40 reps, but make sure your shoulders are doing all the work. Gain enough momentum to rock your body slightly, and keep your feet firmly planted on their original position.

2. Wrist curls
Have some light weights handy (2 lbs. should do) and take a seat with your legs slightly apart. Hold a weight in one hand and let it rest on your lap. Then carefully drop your wrist toward your knee, keeping your palm upright.

Pull up the weight up, making sure that your wrist is bending comfortably. If this is too painful, stop immediately and try it again with lighter weight.

Do this for up to 10 reps per hand. Then do the same thing only with your palms facing downwards for another 10 reps per hand.

3. Wrist stretch
Hold out one arm straight in front on you with the palm parallel to the ground. Then curl your fingers downward.

Then mildly push back your flexed hand with your other relaxed hand. Hold that position for half a minute. Then do the same thing only with your fingers curling upward for another 30 seconds.

Repeat the same process for the other hand.

Work out the Rest of Your Body

It might seem counterintuitive, but making sure the rest of your body is in tiptop shape contributes greatly to the condition of your hands when mountain biking.

Weak back and abdominal muscles, coupled with inflexible legs, will put a lot of strain on your hands because they have to compensate for those infirmities.

Our bodies work as a whole unit, and you have to maintain your overall fitness if you expect to get any improvement with your hand pains. Hit the gym as a supplemental activity to mountain biking.

Conclusion

As a cyclist, there is no need for you to power through discomfort. There is a plethora of things you can do to prevent and alleviate painful hands from riding. I’ll tell you this: your hands deserve a lot of care, especially since we use for them almost everything that we do.

Ruben

I always had a thing for extreme sports and love almost anything that involves bikes and boards. I work part-time as a designer in the tech industry and work on my blogs whenever I can.

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