Have you ever lost feeling in your fingers after a long ride? Here’s what to do about nerve compression syndrome in the hand.
Nerve compression syndrome in the hand is characterized by loss of feeling and function in the fingers, usually the pinky and ring finger. It’s most common in cyclists and triathletes who spend many hours training on bikes, which can lead to specific overuse injuries. The symptoms described above signal a nerve compression injury.
The ulnar nerve runs just beneath the skin on the lateral, or outer, side of the hand, through a small area called Guyon’s canal. The problem comes from the pressure the bike’s handlebars put on that part of the hand during a long ride.
The primary symptom is numbness in that outer part of the hand. Sometimes muscular function can be disrupted, which leaves the rider looking like Mr. Spock.
Remove the pressure. Normal function should return to your hand soon after a long ride. During a long ride, however, change hand positions every 15 minutes or so to prevent excessive pressure on the ulnar nerve. Rotate between every grip option on your handlebars (use your drops and hoods), and even alternate riding one-handed every now and then to keep the pressure off the nerve.
Strengthen your core. A more powerful core can reduce some of the pressure your body weight puts on your hands and handlebars. Increased core strength is always a plus, anyway. Add some extra core work to your training regimen, especially planks.
Lower your saddle. A lower saddle may take some weight off your hands. Experiment with your fit, or ask the folks at your local bike shop to help you out.
Try gloves. Cycling gloves add some padding between the handlebar and your ulnar nerve.
When To Call A Doctor
Resting and relieving the pressure on the ulnar nerve is usually enough to fix the problem. If you have persistent numbness or loss of muscle function even after you’ve removed the pressure, see a doctor to make sure something else isn’t affecting the area.
New York City sports medicine specialist Jordan D. Metzl, M.D. is a 29-time marathon finisher and 13-time Ironman. His book, The Athlete’s Book of Home Remedies, has more than 1,000 tips to fix all types of injuries and medical conditions.