Dealing with my Hand Numbness while Riding

By Peter Wendel

Usually about 10 miles into my rides, I start to feel some hints of numbness in my hands. Left unchecked my hands will get numb to the point that I question whether I can operate the shifters and the brakes.

This video by AskDoctorJo does a good job of explaining the issues and showing how you can relieve the pain.  I’ve also done a bunch of reading and am pretty sure my numbness is coming from nerve impingement in my neck.  The forward lean of my body and more upright orientation of my head contribute.  It is the inner fingers (index and middle) that are most effected.   Switching hand position frequently and different types of padded-palm biking gloves have had no effect on this tendency to go numb.

My MD suggested keeping my head down with eyes on the pavement below me and only looking up every few seconds.  While it may keep my neck alignment in a position to theoretically avoid the numbness, it doesn’t really offer a very interesting view and I don’t feel safe if I’m not focusing on other riders and hazards ahead. And it didn’t really stop the numbness either, so not a solution. 

My massage therapist suggested ‘nerve flossing’.  I never knew that was a thing, but it seems to work in this situation.  Here’s how it works for me –

While riding, I sit up straight, spine and neck stretching upwards, with one hand still on the corner or on the top bar of the handlebars.  I extend the other arm completely out to the side, palm down and raise my shoulder until I can feel the anterior deltoid muscle roll up and stretch just a little.  Sometimes twisting my arm thumb up and back down to level will engage the deltoid in the right position. In my riding style this muscle gets a workout when I am engaging my core on climbs.  Once my arm is in this position, I slowly flap my hand up and down to the full extent of its range, palm down.  I count the reps and usually begin to feel relief by the time I reach seven reps.  I go to ten reps and then switch arms, as needed. If the numbness is being particularly stubborn, I repeat the pattern but this time with the palm up.  With palm up, I only do the extension by rolling my wrists outward or fingers pointing down.

I do take a little bit of flak from fellow riders and I try to be careful that my numbness relief exercise is not mistaken for a turn signal.