Let’s face it: the more you mountain bike, the more aches and pains you encounter. I had a good run for a while, but that all came to a screeching halt these past few years. In a short time, I suffered from IT Band syndrome, neck pain, and wrist pain. Ouch! Learning what ailed me was the first step to pain-free pedaling.
About.com spoke with Dr. Zimmerman, attending hand surgeon, Curtis National Hand Center, MedStar Union Memorial, Baltimore, MD, about one of mountain biking’s most common maladies: carpal tunnel. (Ugh, and you thought only desk jockeys suffered from this syndrome!) Learn how to prevent this syndrome before it costs you your next mountain bike ride.
About.com: What is carpal tunnel?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by compression of the median nerve which provides sensation to the thumb, index, and middle fingers at the base of the palm just beyond the wrist crease. This compression causes nerve impulses to slow down as they pass through the area. Carpal tunnel syndrome is most often caused by surrounding tissues pressing on the nerve in this restricted area, but it can as well be caused by direct pressure on the nerve such as when leaning on your hands while riding a bicycle.
About.com: How is carpal tunnel diagnosed?
Slowing down and dampening of the nerve impulses causes a person to experience numbness in her thumb, index and middle fingers that often feels as if there is a lack of circulation in their hand, although the blood flow remains normal. Oftentimes a person finds that shaking her hand will allow some feeling to return to her fingers. Carpal tunnel can usually be identified from these symptoms in combination with several physician performed maneuvers. Nerve studies may be recommended to check on the electrical functioning of the nerve.
About.com: What steps should a cyclist take immediately after being diagnosed?
The first thing that should be done is to adjust the seat and handlebar positions in order to put the rider into a more upright position. Shifting more of the rider’s weight to the seat and raising the handlebars decreases the load that is put on the riders hands thereby decreasing pressure applied to the nerve. It is also important to wear well padded gloves to disburse the loads applied to the rider’s hands. Riding on a smoother surface until the symptoms abate is also helpful.
About.com: Are cyclists advised to continue riding with carpal tunnel?
It is acceptable for a cyclist to continue riding if they have carpal tunnel syndrome as long as the numbness in their hands returns within a few minutes after their ride. If the numbness persists for several hours or even remains permanently, the person should discontinue riding and seek medical evaluation to determine the severity of nerve compression.
About.com: How is it treated?
Carpal tunnel in a bicyclist is usually treated first by seat and handlebar modifications along with the use of biking gloves. If these changes fail to resolve the problem, a wrist splint at night can help decrease the pressure on the nerve. Oral anti-inflammatory medications and sometimes steroid injections can be beneficial. Minimally invasive surgery is effective in providing more room for the nerve. Following this procedure, cyclists are often able to return to riding within a few weeks.
About.com: How can cyclists prevent carpal tunnel?
There's no specific way to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome however shifting riding posture to a more upright posture and the use of bike gloves can decrease the pressure applied to the nerve. Frequent changes of grip while holding the handlebars can also help.