December
13

How to fix wrist pain and hand numbness on the bike.

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.

If you have any questions about this video please feel free to post a comment below. And if you like this post please click one of the Like or Share buttons below to help spread the word and save a fellow rider from wrist pain and/ or hand numbness while riding.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

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  1. Wade says:

    Nice post and I have to integrate the bottoms-up kb exercise into my workouts but I’d maintain that a properly setup ergo grip will actually help a rider maintain good wrist position (at least show you what good position feels like). (I also believe that an improperly setup one actually hurts your wrist position because it promotes bad position.) I always thought my wrist position was pretty good even though my hands got numb until I got my ergo grips set up properly – and it does take a little while to get used to the correct position. I’ve also found a couple of other things promote better wrist position – a shorter stem and standing up but they may be just me…

    Reply • December 14 at 7:52 am
  2. Jim says:

    Good info James. Hand numbness has always been a problem with me dirt biking and mountain biking.Standing up while riding makes a huge difference for me and helps the numbness subside.Seems like those ergo grips would need to have 2 positions to be effective-one for sitting and one for standing….? I am going to start those KB bottoms up exercises next workout. Thanks!

    Reply • December 14 at 12:04 pm
  3. Rob says:

    James, the Ergon grip installation instructions tell you to angle them so that your wrists are straight, in the correct position that you demonstrate in the video.

    I’ve been riding with Ergon grips (and flat pedals) for years. My wrists are as straight as yours, and I barely have to hold the grips, even on rocky descents, because of the wider platform. As a result, my hands and forearms are relaxed, even after 2+ hours of riding.

    I’m sure if you set the grips up incorrectly, that you would, indeed, cause injury.

    The Ergon grips aren’t for everyone, especially if you do lots of jumping, but for the average trail/XC rider, they can be a viable option to relieve hand, wrist, and forearm pain.

    Reply • December 15 at 2:00 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      My only problem with what you’re saying is that the grips are set up when you are sitting down. your wrist position will change depending on the situation and you can find it compromised in them. For example, when you stand up to pedal your wrist position should “roll” forward slightly and it can’t do that with the Ergon Grips.

      I’d also like to point out that I’ve had two clients who used them and swore to me that they would never take them off (both had bad wrist injuries in the past). After using the tactics I described in this video they both ended up ditching them and found their maneuverability on the bike was improved and they had no issues with their wrists or hands.

      I’m just not sold on their value compared to simply building good wrist strength and understanding good wrist position on the bike. While some people who have those things can still benefit I’d say that 99% of riders are using them don’t need them.

      Reply • December 16 at 10:55 am
      • Rob says:

        After reading your response, I paid close attention to my wrist position while standing and pedaling. (And after reading your posts on standing and riding switchfoot, I’ve done both a lot this year.) In any case, my wrists stayed as straight standing as they did seated.

        Because the wing part of the grip is on the back of the grip, towards the ulnar aspect of the wrist, there’s nothing on the front of the grip to prevent my wrists from rolling forward slightly.

        I’ve also had the chance lately to ride bikes with normal grips and compare them to my grips. I guess I’m just in that 1% of riders who benefit/prefer Ergon grips.

        Reply • December 27 at 8:59 pm
  4. Kyle says:

    You can avoid hand numbness by using a blood flow stimulator before biking, these increase circulation and elasticity for hours. If the numbness is a result of an underlying issue beyond poor circulation than the increased blood flow will bring oxygen and nutrients to, and repair, damaged tissues.

    Reply • January 13 at 12:41 pm
    • J Willi says:

      What exactly are you referring to? How do you use it for pre-ride warm up?

      Reply • June 14 at 1:31 pm
  5. Luke says:

    As for the whole standing up situation that should not matter because standing up is generally just for short sprints and not long term riding, definitely not long enough to give you wrist pain just from that.

    Reply • December 6 at 2:49 pm
  6. liem says:

    what size kettlebell is that?

    Reply • February 29 at 8:37 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      I’m using a 16 kg KB there but you can start with a 12 kg.

      Reply • February 29 at 9:51 am
  7. neilB says:

    Hey James,

    apologies for another long comment

    thanks for yet another helpful video with the KB exercises and all. I know a lot of folk who get hand issues on hard rides.

    I have to think about the thumb too or it gets too much work – somewhere I read an expert opinion that the thumb itself isn’t very strong, it’s designed more for pushing an object into the palm so the fingers can grip that object – than for providing grip itself; an interesting point I thought.

    I’ve found that a good cue for getting the hand/wrist position right (and setting brake levers which do guide the wrist a lot) is to try taking the thumbs atop the bars whilst riding to see if the heel of the hand is still pushing the bike forward, if the heel of your thumbs and the thumbs themselves were holding you on – now you’re in the bushes. So, in essence grip with the small 3 fingers and keep first finger and thumb for brake and gears (or dropper lever on the left).

    Maybe some 3 finger grip training might be a nice workout!

    There is a natural position for the wrist in side to side flex as well – so I also found that if the bars aren’t sweeping back enough (maybe they are tilted too forward, thus up), the grips can put excess pressure on the joint between first and 2nd metacarpal (thumb). Pushing elbows out sure helps me but, if they come in (e.g when moving rider weight back on the bike), in the thumb gets unwanted pressure right on that joint, especially if the bike tries to stop on trail obstacles.

    I did also have good results on wrist strengthening when working with Indian clubs – you mentioned them a while back. I can’t get the video up any more now.
    https://www.bikejames.com/strength/indian-clubs-the-best-training-tool-you-arent-using/

    By the way, I am still thanking you for that drop the shoulder to initiate the turn tip every fast corner I take! Clever cue that one.

    thanks man
    neil

    Reply • June 14 at 10:52 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Awesome comment and insights, thanks for sharing!

      Reply • June 14 at 11:12 am
      • NeilB says:

        Thanks James,
        I really appreciate what you do.

        Reply • June 17 at 12:09 am
        • bikejames bikejames says:

          No problem, I’m glad I can help.

          Reply • June 22 at 10:47 am
  8. J Willi says:

    Thanks again James….Good stuff as usual. Being that wrists are vulnerable when quickly exiting the bike, strengthening only makes sense.
    That said, one of the best investments I have made is the “sweep” handlebar. Something in the 20*+ range such as the LUV handlebar or the Answer 20. I have both and they put the wrist in about as neutral of a position as possible. No more tingling/numbness after 2+ hrs.

    Reply • June 14 at 1:40 pm
  9. James says:

    I would interested to hear and maybe see you thoughts on wrist position in terms of left right alignment. When I looked at my wrists they always look like they should be aligned straight but just don’t even with 780 bars and only get straight when I really bend my arms.

    Reply • June 15 at 2:13 pm
  10. Glenn Sinsigalli says:

    I use “bent” bars, Odessy Space bars 2, The angle of bars is more natural than the typical straight bars, and I do have carpal tunnel issues. I have done demo rides on straight bar bikes and had my hands go numb in 15-20 minutes. I know Gene Hamilton hates my bars, but he doesn’t have my hands!

    Reply • June 16 at 8:56 am
  11. John Higgins says:

    James, I’m sure that some wrist strengthening would be of assistance but hand and wrist numbness has more to do with bike set up / bike fit than muscle strength. Beginners can suffer due to being too tense on the bike – gripping the bars too tightly, and taking more trail impact into the wrists because they are not using their arms and upper body as part of the suspension.
    Numb hands can result from a reach and drop to the bars that is either too short or too long. Too short and the rider pushes back against the bars, creating tension, and too long and then the bars are used to support more upper body weight than desirable. Both lead to increased pressue which leads to vascular and neural compression, which you identified. So weight bearing is part of it. Another part is ergonmics, and that covers the rise and sweep of the bars, bar width (yes – they can be too wide), position of the shifters and brake levers, and the type of grips. Rotating the bars changes the sweep and rise of the bars and therefore the wrist angle. There is usually a sweet spot which feels “just right”. Levers that are rotated too high or too low require extra wrist flexing to operate, which can add to strain. Ergonomic grips are fabulous, but it takes a bit of experimentation to get the wing in the right place. They are designed to reduce nerve compression, not add to it. I’ve used them for years: commuting on a mountain bike, and recreational and competitive racing. Never any issue standing vs sitting, and they are a must have on any mountain bike I own.

    Reply • June 17 at 5:13 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Thanks for the insights, although I’d still argue that for more riders they are not needed and that bike fit has less to do with it than your strength and mobility. If you have the core strength to not put too much pressure on the hands then you won’t have those issues. If you have the wrists lined up straight so that the bones are taking the stress and not the tendons and ligaments you won’t have those issues. If your wrists are hurting maybe after or during a ride then maybe you are riding too far – pain is your body’s way of letting you know something is wrong and part of the problem is usually people trying to do more than their body is really prepared for.

      Your hands and wrists are designed to be a limiting factor and just like using a weight belt to cover up a weak core doesn’t really “fix” the problem, neither does using those ergo grips. Plus, since your hand and wrist angle should change when you stand up to climb there is not way that they don’t affect your upper body position and stability. You may not notice it because you are used to it but it is there.

      I do agree that some basic bike fit stuff can help but once you find what is comfortable and get your levers and stuff lined up so your wrists are straight and not bent at the handlebars then it is more a matter of movement and strength, not equipment. Or at least that’s what I’ve found.

      Reply • June 20 at 2:44 pm
  12. Hugo says:

    tanks
    great explanations now i have something to work from and stop my numbness.

    Reply • June 28 at 7:20 am
  13. Michelle says:

    Totally awesome! I’ve been getting a tingle in my fingers and have been doing exactly what you demonstrated NOT to do. Even when I imitated / mimicked the position while sitting on the couch watching your video the feeling came back. So obvious now. Thanks for that filming that video and sharing your tips and advice for both avoiding this problem and strengthening the hands and wrists.

    Reply • June 29 at 3:34 am

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James Wilson