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  1. #1
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    numbness/weakness in hands after a tour?

    I did 300 miles in 5 days, finished Friday, and my hand, particularly my right hand, is still incredibly weak. I have some numbness in my thumb too. I find it especially frustrating since I play guitar, and I can't fingerpick at all right now.

    I'm definitely overweight at 215 lbs, that is probably a big factor in this, right? Should I just not consider touring again until I'm down to 190 lbs or less?

    Is this a typical symptom after a tour? How long will this last?

  2. #2
    cyclopath vik's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Galoot View Post
    I did 300 miles in 5 days, finished Friday, and my hand, particularly my right hand, is still incredibly weak. I have some numbness in my thumb too. I find it especially frustrating since I play guitar, and I can't fingerpick at all right now.

    I'm definitely overweight at 215 lbs, that is probably a big factor in this, right? Should I just not consider touring again until I'm down to 190 lbs or less?

    Is this a typical symptom after a tour? How long will this last?
    There are lots of ways to resolve this problem:

    - raise bar height to get less weight on hands
    - use different grips/bar tape to reduce pressure on hands
    - padded gloves
    - moving hands frequently on bars to maintain circulation and reduce pressure on problem areas
    - different bar setup/shape
    - shorter stem to reduce weight on hands

    It's hard to prescribe a specific solution to someone online.

    The one time I had significant hand numbness on tour it lasted months so I spent a bunch of energy ensuring that wouldn't happen again and it has not been a problem again.
    Last edited by vik; 07-28-14 at 04:38 PM.
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    djb
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    vik pretty much sums up the issue, as much as can be said via an unseen setup.
    Bottom line is that most likely your bars are a certain amount too low, or too far forward, or both. When a bike is setup properly for you, you should be riding with little weight on your hands. I recall the comment in the road bike section a long time ago that when riding, someone should be able to smack your hand away from the bars and you wont wobble all over--or in other words, you should be riding with relaxed arms, with not too much weight on each hand. I recall this comment every once in a while when a pothole catches me unawares and Im not looking, and WHAMMO happens--with my drop bar bike, the setup is perfect, with just the right amount of seat to bar drop and seat to bar reach that I can ride all day without wrist or neck issues, and not lose control if I hit a pothole and my hands get knocked off the bars. My flat bar bike (slight raisers with an angle to be truthful) is a bit too low still compared to my dropbar bike, so it isnt as comfortable all day--problem is Im at the top of the spacers, plus I have an Ortlieb handlebar bag mount that I dont want to remove again (and screw up the cable) so I just live with it not being perfect. If I used this bike for long days a lot I would make a stem change to bring the bar up a bit.

    like vik says, bottom line is that its worth the time and money changing stems, or whatever, to get the weight off your hands a bit. Sometimes only a cm or two will make the world of difference.

    good luck. you dont want to screw around with long term hand issues.

    ps ergo style grips can help distribute pressure more evenly on hands, helped with me.

    re gloves, its interesting, I have always always ridden with gloves, but last summer was on a tour and it was so so hot I didnt wear them most of the time. It was on my drop bar bike and made me realize even more how well setup that bike is for me, as my hand comfort didnt suffer at all without gloves--a good indication that having proper seat to bar drop and distance/actual weight on hands is so important (ps, the weight on the hands will lighten somewhat the more fit you are, ie the more consistently strong you pedal, as harder pedalling takes a bit of weight off your hands and bum)
    Last edited by djb; 07-28-14 at 02:41 PM.

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    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    If you get the core strength up your hands dont have to support your upper body on their own ..

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    Good information, all, thanks. I'll play around with the setup of my bike and look at buying a different stem for it. The one that came with the old Trek 520 is fairly long.

    I don't ride with gloves, I haven't for years and years. They never seemed to add any to the comfort of my ride, so I stopped wearing them. I put extra-padded Giant bar tape on the bike right before the tour, and my hands were all over the drop bars in different positions to try to alleviate numbness, but it is definitely true that quite a bit of weight is on my hands.

    Unfortunately that means I'm going to have even more weight on my butt, which means getting numb crotch even more often....oh well!

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    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    bars = to saddle height and a shorter stem , double wrap the tops of the bars with padded tape, perhaps?


    you can get off the bike and take a break more often stand on the pedals to give the tush a break ..

    stop and take a drink stand up for a little while.


    keep up the perfect saddle search ..
    Last edited by fietsbob; 07-28-14 at 07:27 PM.

  7. #7
    cyclopath vik's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Galoot View Post
    Unfortunately that means I'm going to have even more weight on my butt, which means getting numb crotch even more often....oh well!
    I wouldn't make that assumption.

    It does mean striking a balance between weight on the butt and hands as well as how you ride.

    I had saddle issues for a long time, but have now found several saddles that work for my tender behind. I can't recall the last time I wore padded bike shorts and now my butt is happy all day even over periods of daily riding for extended periods.

    It's worth trying a variety of saddles until you find ones that work well for you. It may take some time, but it's worth the effort.
    safe riding - Vik
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    Senior Member irwin7638's Avatar
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    All the recommendations I have heard will help some. The one thing that eliminated numbness for me was switching to Nitto Bosco Bars. They are different, but the nerve endings that give us problems never come in contact with those bars. They also provide a much larger range of body positions during a ride.
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  9. #9
    <riding now> BigAura's Avatar
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    I had the same numbness issue and I wasn't overweight (5-11/162). I rigged my bike to an upright riding style. I also double-taped my bars and don't wear gloves.

    Last edited by BigAura; 07-29-14 at 06:04 AM.

  10. #10
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    I'm not a doctor and I don't generally see one, but what you're experiencing sounds like nerve damage. I've experienced that before, and it may take months to heal. If you're "lucky" it's muscular damage, which will heal more quickly. Time and rest are probably the only cures. If you lose weight in a healthy manner, you'll probably heal more quickly. If there's no pain or swelling, there's probably no need for ice or medication. Good luck getting better. Hopefully it doesn't affect your livelihood.

    Ditto all the preventive measures above. Hopefully those will solve the problem. Obviously you're not the only one it's happened to.

    Have you checked your blood glucose or A1C levels? Some drugstores like CVS have free clinics for that. An athletic loved one of mine was recently diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and peripheral neuropathy was one of the early signs.

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    Quote Originally Posted by vik View Post
    There are lots of ways to resolve this problem:

    - raise bar height to get less weight on hands
    - use different grips/bar tape to reduce pressure on hands
    - padded gloves
    - moving hands frequently on bars to maintain circulation and reduce pressure on problem areas
    - different bar setup/shape
    - shorter stem to reduce weight on hands

    It's hard to prescribe a specific solution to someone online.

    The one time I had significant hand numbness on tour it lasted months so I spent a bunch of energy ensuring that wouldn't happen again and it has not been a problem again.
    +1

    These are terrific suggestions...been there, done that and I donīt want to go through it again!

    I had to end my first tour because of the numb hand/weakness problem and it did go away, but it took several weeks. The solution was to get risers on my stem so that my handlebars were about 2.5" up. I thought I was doing it because I donīt like to ride with my rear in the air and head down, but it turned out that my body was telling me that it wasnīt a good position (for me). Iīm also a few (cough, cough) pounds overweight, but that really doesnīt make much of a difference. My seat was also raised a bit on another tour, strictly by accident during the reassembly, and the two items made a world of difference. It really is all about fit.

  12. #12
    Senior Member Northwestrider's Avatar
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    A vote for a more upright riding position.

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    Quote Originally Posted by andrewclaus View Post
    Have you checked your blood glucose or A1C levels? Some drugstores like CVS have free clinics for that. An athletic loved one of mine was recently diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and peripheral neuropathy was one of the early signs.
    As a Type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetic, I find that difficult to believe. The classic indicators for Type 1 diabetes are lethargy, excessive fluid consumption, and excessive urination. Neuropathy in diabetics is generally caused when blood sugars are elevated for long periods of time. Left untreated, a Type 1 diabetic would likely enter a coma before neuropathy became a problem. I believe that neuropathy could be a problem for undiagnosed Type 2 (non-insulin dependent) diabetics, however.

    In any event, it seems unlikely that the OP would have coincidentally developed diabetic neuropathy during the course of a five-day bicycle tour. More likely, he's just riding with his hands in a single position for long periods of time. For me, numbness is usually caused by having my wrists bent at an unnatural angle. I'm most likely to have problems on flat-bar bikes. Replacing a straight bar with one that has more sweep solves the problem. I usually don't have problems on drop bar roads bikes, though if the controls are placed incorrectly there can be issues.

  14. #14
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    BigAura, I could see setting up my 1983 Trek 520 like that. What is the brand of that sprung leather seat? Which brand bars? I think that's the setup I want to switch to for my next tour.

  15. #15
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    I just got on the bike for the first time since the tour, and I was surprised how much it feels like an upright riding position. So I had my sister take a couple of pictures of me leaning against the garage door, one on the top of the bars and one with my hands on the brake levers. CAM00088.jpgCAM00087.jpg

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    A little personal experience might help.

    Two years ago in July I was trying to cram a lot of miles into a short time span, 2000 miles into 17 days. By the end of the stretch my hands were 'sore' all the time. The last three days I rode 160 miles each day. By day three, loaded riding for the first half of it, I could barely hold onto the handle bars were hands hurt so darn bad. They weren't numb but they just hurt like crap. I wasn't wearing cycling gloves at the time. I had the following two weeks completely away from the bike due to a trip I was on. I got back home and before I left a week or so later for my first bike trip I bought cycling gloves. As I was in the bike shop I was laughing at the gloves I was seeing. The area around where my hands were hurting earlier is the area that seemed like the gloves provided the least protection. I bought them anyways and have been using them ever since. Granted I now have around 20-25,000 miles on the same gloves, maybe even more. The left one is still providing plenty of protection but the right one is starting to let me down. I have been noticing in this trip my right hand, in the same area as before wants nothing to do with holding onto the handlebars at times. My hand doesn't get numb but without the gloves on it feels like I have a freakin' callous in the area in question.

    Cycling gloves can work wonders to relieve hand problems. You may not think they are sexy but they doesn't count when it comes to relieving pain/numbness problems. You can have the sexy, I'll have the comfortable feeling hands.

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    OP: Trying frequently switching hand positions whenever possible. I was dealing with some wrist pain last year and found switching hand positions ever minute or 2 really helped. Try riding one handed for long periods of time too to give you hands a break. If you do this enough, it doesn't give your hands time to get numb

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    Good suggestions above. I think you'll find a solution. I just wanted to add one more suggestion on the padding issue... I use Specialized Bar Phat (gel pads) under Cinelli Gel/Cork tape, which is makes for a cushy grip. (Fizik makes gel pads as well...)

    If you are going to try to stay with drop bars you might want to change to oversized 31.8 mm bars with flat tops. This change made a huge difference in comfort for me and seems to spare the ulnar nerve when on the bar tops. Adding inline brake levers to the bar tops makes the this position even more safe and comfortable.

    Finally, in addition to raising your stem you may want to work on strengthening your core and focus on supporting your body more with the muscles of your core rather than your hands. Bending your elbows slightly helps too.

    Good luck!
    Last edited by mm718; 07-30-14 at 08:21 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Galoot View Post
    I did 300 miles in 5 days, finished Friday, and my hand, particularly my right hand, is still incredibly weak. I have some numbness in my thumb too. I find it especially frustrating since I play guitar, and I can't fingerpick at all right now.

    I'm definitely overweight at 215 lbs, that is probably a big factor in this, right? Should I just not consider touring again until I'm down to 190 lbs or less?

    Is this a typical symptom after a tour? How long will this last?
    $.02 this is a function of conditioning and not anything specific to your bike although your arms look too straight. In other words how often do you ride back to back 60mile days for five days straight?

    It seems pretty common for folks to look for quick fix causes behind overuse injuries when the problem is usually going too far too hard for too long for the first time when it takes months to years to cycle through stress and recovery resulting in higher base level fitness.

    You now have feedback from your trip saying five days of back to back 60milers causes nerve damage. Next trip consider a rest day every three days or breaking up the days mileage with more breaks.

    When I was young and light I got various overuse injuries and numb parts that took days and weeks to recover from. Eventually I started paying attention to prevention instead of how hard I could ride each day. One thing became obvious, holding a static position/posture was a guaranteed way to set the stage for nerve damage in hands and perineum. After a few hours riding I'd notice I hadn't changed hand or seat position for 15minutes. So while X miles in Y days may be one way to define ones limits it may also be X minutes Y times a day for stress requiring recovery or point pressure leading to nerve damage.

    Instead of "trip, no trip" go for a ride and see all the ways you can stretch and change positions on the bike. You just might find some clues that you're starting to grind away into a fixed position that starts the nerve problems.

    First times long distance riding I absolutely had to wear gloves to prevent ulnar nerve damage, then as I rode more and lighter on the bike, not weight but posture, I could ride without gloves but relied on them for skin protection.

    the changes needed may well be changing bar position to change hand position but my guess is that it could also be changing hand/arm/back/neck posture at key moments in the ride so as to stop static positions that accumulate over the days ride. It may well be X minutes of accumulated point pressure per day and not Xmiles per day that's the problem.

    reviewing your photo I'd suggest getting a quill to clamp stem adaptor as it will give you more height reach options with out getting a noodly flexible quill stem. Next try a different posture where your pelvis is rotated down a bit flattening out your lower back and allowing your lungs to open up a bit. To me it looks like you're pushing yourself back away from the bars so as to not crowd your belly/knees. When I was skinny and young I could ride on the drops with my back parallel to the ground. About ten years ago I couldn't even ride on the hoods comfortably with my middle aged belly. Raising the stem up almost to seat height enabled me to maintain a stretched out back, albeit more upright, but more important to maintain bent elbows so road shock didn't punish my hands.

    changing your pelvis angle might bring other problems but the straight arms are not right.
    Last edited by LeeG; 07-30-14 at 10:43 AM.

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    I will add a couple of possible remedies not because I feel I have any particular expertise but because I have not seen them mentioned and they may have helped me.

    First, try moving the saddle a bit farther back on the rails. This moved my "ballast" to the rear and counterbalanced the weight on my hands. A shorter stem in conjunction with this may be in order.

    And in addition to moving your hands around on the bars try to be mindful of where you may be carrying tension in your upper body. I have a tendency towards neck pain. If I can be aware of tension building where my neck and shoulder join, I can will myself to relax that area. This drops my elbows a bit and takes some pressure of both my neck and hands.

  21. #21
    djb
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    Quote Originally Posted by Galoot View Post
    I just got on the bike for the first time since the tour, and I was surprised how much it feels like an upright riding position. So I had my sister take a couple of pictures of me leaning against the garage door, one on the top of the bars and one with my hands on the brake levers. CAM00088.jpgCAM00087.jpg
    caveat again, being the internet, as you can see you will get many opinions.

    that said, putting up these photos is a help.

    -it certainly doesnt look like the frame is too big for you, ie you are reaching too far forward, as you say, it does seem upright.
    your hands are in the way, but it appears that your bars are rotated forwards a bit, ie the hoods are quite a bit forward (compared to my bike) but also, it really does appear that your bars are below your seat level--even moving them up a few cms would make a difference. Your handlebar stem looks like a quill stem, so you can lower or raise it by loosening the bolt, but perhaps it is already at its max height (there is a hard to see line on the stem indicating not to raise it past that line)

    being a quill stem, to change the stem for a different one with a different angle (more upwards and/or forward) means you have to take your bar tape off etc etc, but a good bike store may have some different angled stems.

    as mentioned, depending on how much you ride, or plan to ride, is always going to be a factor here in terms of being familiar with being on your bike a lot. You have an issue so its not in your head, so getting your bars up a fair amount should help with this, simply be getting the weight off your hands a bit.

    If you enjoy biking enough to want to do more, look into changing the stem for one that brings your bars up a couple of inches and see how it is. You should be able to feel the difference right away.

    good luck

  22. #22
    Senior Member wsgts's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Galoot View Post
    I did 300 miles in 5 days, finished Friday, and my hand, particularly my right hand, is still incredibly weak. I have some numbness in my thumb too. I find it especially frustrating since I play guitar, and I can't fingerpick at all right now.

    I'm definitely overweight at 215 lbs, that is probably a big factor in this, right? Should I just not consider touring again until I'm down to 190 lbs or less?

    Is this a typical symptom after a tour? How long will this last?
    I weigh about 250, and have no problems with numbness in butt or hands. This was not always the case however, just finished RAGBRAI (444 miles) last week with the century and didn't have any numbness problems. I use double taped bars with padded gloves on all my bikes, and Brooks Narrow saddle. Maybe you should consult a doctor, don't recall ever having numbness that didn't go away within an hour or two.

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  23. #23
    <riding now> BigAura's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Galoot View Post
    BigAura, I could see setting up my 1983 Trek 520 like that. What is the brand of that sprung leather seat? Which brand bars? I think that's the setup I want to switch to for my next tour.
    The saddle is a Brooks B-67 (honey color) and the handlebars are Nitto North Road (CroMoly). I did cut 1.5 inches off each side of the handlebars to increase the cockpit space a little.

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    A simple way to test handlebar height.....You should be able to hold yourself in your normal riding position when you let go of the handlebars.....The stronger your core,the lower your handlebars can be.
    Everything should be as simple as possible...But not more so.---Albert Einstein

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by BigAura View Post
    The saddle is a Brooks B-67 (honey color) and the handlebars are Nitto North Road (CroMoly). I did cut 1.5 inches off each side of the handlebars to increase the cockpit space a little.
    This is tempting--but do you ever get numb crotch riding upright on that Brooks seat? If not, did you get it before with a regular unsprung saddle?

    djb, thanks for the excellent analysis! Short term, I can easily raise the stem, rotate the bars a bit and move the brake levers. Longer term, I can buy a different stem to move the bars closer.

    The numbness is mostly gone from my thumb and the strength is almost all back in my right hand, so I'm quite relieved. My back is just now recovering though. It was funny, on the 3rd day of the ride I nearly gave up due to low back pain, but I found that as long as I took some ibuprofen and kept pedaling, my back felt fine.

    My next long tour, I'll take it much easier for the first week. I don't regret doing 300 miles in 5 days, not at all! I won't go down the Big Sur coast again though...

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