Cyclist’s palsy is also known as handlebar palsy and this alternate name gives a good hint of the cause of this type of injury. It has to do with the way cyclists grip the handles of the bike, and how much pressure they put on their wrists and palms according to the position of the seat and the pedalling style.
The main symptoms of cyclist’s palsy are:
- Clumsiness in hand and fingers movements;
- Inability to perform fine movements, such as pinching or typing on a keyboard;
- Numbness in the thumb and palm.
This type of injury is not threatening, but it restricts the mobility of the hands, with a negative impact on the most basic daily activity. So, what causes these unpleasant symptoms? There are two possibilities.
One of them is the compression of the ulnar nerve which runs along Guyon’s canal (on the pinky side of the hand); the other is the compression of the median nerve which runs through the centre of the wrist (this particular condition is also called Carpal Tunnel Syndrome).
How Does Cyclist’s Palsy Occur?
The main cause of cyclist’s palsy is the continuous shock absorbed by hands during intensive training and long distance cycling races. This is valid both for road cycling and for off-road and mountain cycling, and it can occur even after just one race.
Why do some cyclists experience it? A part of the problem is not riding a bicycle adjusted precisely for your body type. The way a cyclist sits on the seat, puts their feet in the pedals and keeps their body posture during training or racing influences the amount of pressure put on the hands and wrists and the position of the hands on the handles.
Professional cyclists not only have a professionally adjusted bike to fit their height and weight, allowing them to keep a correct posture; they also have a custom made handlebar on the bike, designed according to the way they usually grip the bars.
Thus, cyclist’s palsy is completely preventable – it all depends on how you adjust your bike, and the way you grip the handles. Before we move on to treatment, here are a few helpful tips for avoiding cyclist’s palsy:
- Wear Padded Gloves
Padded gloves are very useful for cyclists. They absorb sweat, preventing your hands from slipping off the handles and suffering an injury. More importantly, these types of gloves offer protection to the areas of your wrist and hand which receive the full blast of the shock while riding the bike.
- Opt for Custom Made, Foam-Coated Handles
The next thing you should consider is investing in a bike handlebar which is custom made for you. The team specialising in designing handlebars will study your grip and hand position on the handles on a stationary bike and will create an ergonomic model, which offers you maximum comfort, protection and safety.
- Change Your Grip Position during the Race
It is important to avoid applying continuous pressure on your wrists, thumb and palm while cycling. The simplest way of doing that is by constantly changing the position of your hands on the handles. Most importantly, learn the best types of grips for flat road, uphill/downhill and off-road cycling.
Treatment of Cyclist’s Palsy
The first thing you should do once you note the first symptoms of cyclist’s palsy is to take a break from cycling for a few days and, while recovering, have your bicycle or handlebar adjusted to prevent another occurrence. If the symptoms are associated with pain, you can take over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen. These drugs also help reduce the swelling and inflammation in your hand – the main cause of the pressure applied on the nerves.
However, if you do not see any improvement of your condition after a few days, you should consult a doctor. In the first phase, the doctor may administer a local injection with corticosteroids directly into the Guyon’s canal.
In the most serious case, after assessing the degree of nerve injury through an examination called nerve conduction testing, the doctor may recommend even surgery to restore the full functionality of the nerve.
As you can see, the consequences of cyclist’s palsy can become quite serious. At the same time, it is very simple to prevent its occurrence, so please remember the golden rule in cycling: always ride on a bike that is professionally adjusted for your body size and weight.