Fixing Wrist Pain and Hand Numbness from Mountain Biking

I hear from a lot of riders who suffer from reoccurring wrist pain and hand numbness when mountain biking. This is unfortunate because, in most cases, it comes down to a bad cockpit set up and overall wrist position when riding. In this video I show you how your wrist should and shouldn’t look on the bike and show you how to use some unique kettlebell exercises to both teach you this wrist position and strengthen it.

While I address it in the video please note that the winged grips billed to help with this issue are not, in fact, fixing the problem and are instead letting you place even more strain on the wrists by artificially supporting bad basic wrist position. If you use those grips be sure to watch this video as I suspect that the short term reduction in pain afforded by those grips can come back to haunt you with bigger issues in the future.

-James Wilson-

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  1. David says:

    I have been running the Ergon grips for years. If you read and follow their setup instructions, the grips are not parallel to the ground as you implied in your video, but should be canted up to put the wrist in the straighter, neutral position that you are advocating. I tried the regular grips on my downhill oriented bike earlier this year and they hurt so I put the Ergons back on. After watching your video though, I am sure I was probably dipping my wrists so I’ll have to try the regular grips again with the better hand positioning and see what happens. Always enjoy watching your clips and the switch to platform pedals along with several of your exercises has made me a better rider in my 50s than I ever was when younger. Thanks and keep up the good work.

    Reply • October 26 at 10:11 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      I’ve had two DH riders with severe wrist injuries give up the Ergon grips after employing these training tips as they found the pain the grips were covering up was just weakness. Give it a shot, it may take a few weeks for the wrists to adjust but they will get stronger.

      Reply • October 30 at 11:48 am
  2. Gforce27 says:

    Interesting timing of this article, as I am going through this very thing: However, I concur with the above poster about the position of the grips. I have very bad ulnar nerve compression from years of mountain biking as well as 3 summers of cleaning salmon in Alaska. I just started mountain biking again, and it’s been really adding to the pain in my wrists and my elbows. I can’t type for long, and most unfortunately, I can’t play my guitar for weeks at a time. I put the ergo grips on my bike because I literally couldn’t ride with out pain that continued into the rest of my week. However, I canted them upwards so that my wrists are very straight. I will work on the things in your video, but I have to say, they are saving me a great deal of misery for the moment, and saving my wrists for my other passion!



    Reply • October 26 at 1:12 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      I’m glad that they are helping you, you may have a legitimate problem that they are useful for. However, in general the riders I come across simply have weak wrists and bad cockpit setup.

      You may also want to consider shorter rides and letting your wrists adapt as well, I know it isn’t popular to ride for 30-45 minutes and build up but it is the best way in my opinion to avoid overuse injuries when starting back with riding.

      Reply • October 30 at 11:51 am
  3. Wade says:

    I have to agree with the other posters – the Ergon grips help when they are set up properly, if they aren’t set up properly, they don’t do any good.

    The other thing that I believe (and used to do) was not being balanced on my bike. If you are leaned/stretched out too far forward, you put more weight on your arms and wrists (holding yourself up) – eventually you get tired and end up with pain/numbness in the wrist/palm. Shorten your stem, loosen the “death grip” on your bars and you can maintain the correct position (and no more pain/numbness) – ride in comfort, no problem…

    What size kettle bell did you use for the exersice?


    Reply • October 26 at 10:11 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      My problem with them in general is even if you do get them set up “right” then you can’t deviate from that position to accommodate changing body positions on the bike. My wrist position when sitting down is slightly different than when standing up and both of those can change depending on if I am going uphill or downhill. Since most riders simple have weak wrists and cores, the real answer should lie there first and only if that doesn’t work should you look for artificial support.

      Anyways, that’s just my take on them. Like clipless pedals they can be useful for some riders but they tend to get leaned on too hard by riders who simply need to get stronger.

      And that was a 12 kg kettlebell in the videos but I usually use a 16 kg in my own training when doing bottoms up stuff.

      Reply • October 30 at 11:55 am
      • Wade says:

        You’re going to make me try regular grips again – well at least want to if I can strengthen wrests to my satisfaction. My problem is my kb is on the weavy side.

        Thanks again.

        Reply • October 30 at 6:30 pm
        • bikejames bikejames says:

          No problem, let me know how it goes.

          Reply • November 2 at 10:16 am
  4. GUs says:

    I find the ESI Chunky grips to work very well. Although I still get numbness (no pain)it helps it set in later in the ride and I recover quicker when shaking it off.

    Reply • April 8 at 9:26 am
  5. John W says:

    Again, a good treatise on a subject near and dear to my riding issues.
    FYI what you didn’t touch on was wrist position right-to-left (not up and down).
    If you take your wrist in it’s absolute neutral position and then move your arms out and away as you would if you were gripping your bike bars, the angle presented is going to be anywhere from 20*-30*, depending on many factors. Most bars have a sweep around 5*-12*. Definitely not what your wrist wants for in a “neutral” position.
    I have minimized wrist pain (on longer rides) by going to an alt bar, at around 25*. It takes some setting up and getting used to, but it helps a lot.
    Thanks again for your lessons.

    Reply • October 3 at 9:48 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Thanks for the feedback. I agree that the bars can affect wrist position in negative ways but the “neutral” position refers to the wrists regardless of where the arm is in space. I like to have less sweep on my bars because it puts me closer to the stem, which for me makes the steering more responsive and also easier to stand up to pedal. But I can also maintain a neutral wrist in that position as well. One of the things you learn real fast with KBs is how to keep your wrist neutral while moving your arm or else the KB just grinds the crap out of your wrist bones.

      Glad you like the posts and keep the feedback and opinions coming…

      Reply • October 7 at 10:35 am
  6. Jeremy M says:

    Hey James – Thanks for the video.

    After watching this a while back I began working on my wrist position and had gotten to the point where my wrists were pain free (I never had issues with numbness). However, I recently started to develop pain in my thumbs, specifically the CMC and to a lesser extent MP joints. The pain is significantly worse on the right side, and I have started to develop some shoulder pain on the right side now as well.

    Should I be looking primarily at wrist position for thumb joint pain, or are there other more likely causes you’ve seen?

    I’ve also recently come to the realization that my fork either needs an overhaul or to be replaced – rides are noticeably rougher than earlier in the season – perhaps that is related.

    Reply • October 5 at 8:37 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      You may be leaning to much on your handlebars to support your torso. You want to have some pressure on the palms do you can steer but you don’t want to be leaning on the bars either. This puts a lot of pressure on the thumbs and/ or the wrists so in some ways it is caused by the same problem – fatigue in the core causing the rider to use the handlebars for support instead of for steering.

      Hope this helps, your hands are a window into your core strength and often times issues there can be traced back to a weakness further up the kinetic chain.

      Reply • October 7 at 10:28 am
  7. Andrew says:

    I have the winged grips set up to force good wrist position. I wasn’t enduring any pain or problems before,just needed new grips. What I noticed is an imediate profound performance improvement in handling. My agility has improved 25%, I brake way less and have shaved minutes of my 20k record times. Is it possible for hand position to make such a difference?

    Reply • June 12 at 4:52 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Yeah, it can. But remember that you should build your wrists up and learn how to hold that position yourself rather than relying on the grips to do it for you.

      Reply • June 15 at 11:08 am
  8. BeatriZ says:

    Hi James, thanks for your post, I follow you a lot and started training Kettlebell because of you.

    I always have pain (in long tracks) in the joint of my fingers, already changed cockpit position, worked a lot on rebound and compression of the fork but It still always happens. I am a girl so I have a natural bad position on the bike (my shoulders are not so strong so it seems that I ride mostly behind the handlebars than on it) Do you have something to add on that? Thank you!

    Reply • January 27 at 3:20 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      I would say that after doing some kettlebell training and getting your wrists and shoulders stronger you won’t have the same issues. Lack of strength and stability is a limiting factor on the trail which is why strength training is a must for us. You can also look into some Steel Mace training, I’ve had a lot of fun with it and great results with my grip, wrist and shoulder strength.

      Reply • January 27 at 12:42 pm
      • BeatriZ says:

        Thanks a lot, I will take a look! 🙂

        Reply • January 28 at 4:11 am
  9. Colin says:

    Hi James

    I´ve been suffering with numbness since switching to a 29er. My take on this is that the bike is too big for me and the handlebars are too wide and I´m stretching forward. I don´t understand why a 47 year old man who has been riding bikes all his life now finds that he has to change his riding position. What do you think?

    Reply • April 6 at 12:26 pm

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