Common Cycling Injuries
Arm And Wrist Pain In Cyclists
Causes of arm and wrist pain in cyclists
Wrist pain is a common cycling injury and it happens when there is hyperextension of the wrist, especially when you are riding ‘DROPS’ or ‘HOOKS’ position for prolonged periods of time. Pain and numbness of your ring and little finger (handlebar palsy) may also happen due to compression of the ulna nerve in that region.
Design of an ergonomic gestural interface for professional road cycling (source).
Allow your wrist to relax in a more ergonomic position such as the ‘RAMPS’ or ‘TOPS’ positions to prevent wrist pain and numbness. Most of the time, cyclist have to alternate their hand and wrist position as they negotiate inclines and change their gears or apply brakes as they ride.
Carpal tunnel syndrome may occur due to compression of the median nerve in your wrist. You may experience pain and numbness in your thumb, index, middle and half of your ring finger. It is worse when riding on uneven ground or cobblestones.
Elbow pain may occur due to undue stress to the elbow over long periods of cycling. This may occur on the outside (lateral) or inside (medial) side of the elbow, depending on the position of your arms and wrist while you ride your bike. This pain is mostly related to inflammation of tendons in your elbow, also known as tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) and golf elbow (medial epicondylitis).
This tends to resolve with adequate rest and care. If elbow pain is related to numbness in your ring and little finger, this may be due to compression of the ulnar nerve (cubital tunnel syndrome) as it winds around your elbow.
What can happen if wrist or elbow pain is left untreated?
Niggly or simple wrist and elbow pain may deteriorate to something more chronic and debilitating if left untreated. This may reduce your cycling time and level of enjoyment. Surgery is rarely needed to manage these injuries.
It is important to cycle using cycling gloves as well as tape across the handle bars. This allows for a more comfortable grip and prevent injuries. Alternate your hand and wrist position as you ride your bike so that areas of stress can be allowed to relax and recover during the course of the ride.
If the pain persists, consider adjusting the handle bars and have your bike fitted by a professional. You may be experiencing these upper limb symptoms due to bearing too much weight on your hands and wrist. A saddle that is too high or handlebars that are too low can be causing these symptoms as well. A bike that is too big or a top tube that is too long may also leave you stretched out and focus too much strain on your elbows and wrists.
If you are experiencing finger weakness or numbness, please see an orthopaedic surgeon to exclude a nerve compression. A nerve conduction study is done to diagnose both carpal tunnel syndrome and cubital tunnel syndrome. Both these conditions have a good chance of recovery with changes in physical activity and rest. If this fails, a small surgical procedure may be required to release the compression on these nerves so that they may recover.
Most wrist and elbow conditions recover within several days or a week of rest.
What to do now while waiting for diagnosis/treatment?
If you are having persistent or worsening wrist pain despite adequate rest and self-care, consider taking anti-inflammatory medication to reduce the pain and swelling in your wrists.