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Thread: Handlebar Palsy

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    Handlebar Palsy

    About a week ago I started to lose strength and mobility in my right hand, specifically the thumb, ring and pinky. I kinda freaked out thinking it may be carpal tunnel, but there's no pain at all. I barely have enough strength to grab and turn the page in a magazine - really strange feeling.

    It got really bad on my ride tonight, and I almost ended up getting dropped on an attack I started because I wasn't strong enough to shift properly and shifted down instead of up.

    Did some research when I got home and I'm pretty sure it's handlebar palsy. Anyone have any experience with it, or any advice to correct it? I definitely put too much weight on my hands when riding. I also dropped my stem pretty low, so I'm going to raise it back to see if I can take some weight off of my wrists if I'm not leaning on them as bad.

    Thanks!

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    Administrator CbadRider's Avatar
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    I've had some numbness and tingling in my hands at times when I ride, but changing my hand position will make it go away. It's never carried over after a ride, either.

    You might want to look into getting a professional fit for your bike.
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    Senior Member nkfrench's Avatar
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    I've had cyclist's palsy/handlebar palsy from increasing miles/week too fast riding on chipsealed roads putting too much weight on my hands and not varying hand positions frequently enough.
    Eventually I had to take a couple of weeks off the bike so I could work a zipper, button clothes, grasp toilet paper, hold a fork or pen properly, use a doorknob, hold a piece of paper or use cash.
    I downloaded rehab instructions used for carpal tunnel and did the same hand exercises. I did not see a doc at the time because I didn't want to follow advice.
    After 2 weeks off the bike, I still had a little residual numbness tingling and weak fingers but couldn't stand being off the bike any longer.

    I've since had a nerve conduction test and the neurologist confirmed ulnar nerve irritation/damage wrist and below both hands. Quite possibly it's permanent but it's very minor. It is at the level where it's just nuisance not disabling or painful.

    I've had a custom bike fit. You can add another layer of handlebar tape with gel padding. Another LBS recommended handlebar bar end plugs that deaden road buzz (forgot the brand, haven't tried).
    Some brands of bike gloves are better than others.
    Raising the handlebar height a few mm will help too. My backup bike is aluminum frame with c/f fork, seatpost, drop bars. My good bike is all c/f. The backup bike has a slightly higher handlebar (one spacer) and it actually seems a little smoother.
    Others will suggest wider tires. My good bike won't take tires wider than about 25 and I didn't notice much improvement from the 23's. Backup bike has 25's.

    BTW I never had this problem when I was riding my old bike with downtube shifters. They forced me to move my hands around a lot. Planting your hands on the hoods and keeping them there for miles and miles can be rough on them.

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    Thanks for the reply. I've got pretty much exactly what you describe - it doesn't necessarily hurt, but I just have no strength in my hand. I got better gloves today and tried to remember to move my hands around a lot when riding this evening. Will hopefully have time to move the bars up a spacer over the weekend. I think a lot of it comes from spending so much time in the drops. The stem is pretty much slammed, and for some reason I really like being down. I've got a long torso and short legs (6'3 with a 30" inseam), so it's pretty comfortable to stretch out; but I think that's putting even more pressure on the nerve.

    Really don't want to get off the bike, I'm just now able to hang on in the fast group ride! But if that's what it takes, that's what it takes.

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    Several years ago when I started riding, I would have my hands tingle from road buzz and from having too much pressure on my hands. It was very uncomfortable and I would move my hands often and all over the bars but that just was not enough to relieve the tingling of the hands. I finally raised my bars as high as I could get them and my hands thanked me.

    If my hands were so numb that I couldn't shift or operate buttons, I would put the bike in a corner and not ride again until my hands got better. If I had to ride, I would get a recumbent or something that didn't require me to put weight on my hands. Riding is fun but I don't want to imagine going through life without the use of my hands.

    One of my friends got what is commonly called drunkards elbow. He slept on his arm and damaged the nerves that operate the fingers. He had surgery done that routed muscles from the top of his forearm to the bottom of his hand and got use of his had again. He said that his mind had to rewire so that it could move the individual fingers that he wanted to move. After about 1 year he could move his fingers without have to have to think about which muscles to move.

    My advise is to stop riding until you get this sorted out. I don't like to spend money but maybe a bike fitting is in order.

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    Another option is to use aerobars. I use some clip-ons, they let me relax my neck and upper shoulders which is my main discomfort area but they also let me take the weight off my hands.
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    Senior Member Looigi's Avatar
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    FWIW, I found that less or no padding is works best for me...thin tape and gloves with no padding or no gloves at all. Without padding, my hands rest on the fleshy parts and I'm more aware of it. Padding tends to push up between the fleshy parts and impinges on the nerves. Some gloves are better in that they don't have padding in the middle at the base of the palm. Even so, I find I have less issues with no padding.

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    Senior Member EdgewaterDude's Avatar
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    I got this really bad after a 200K ride. In a way, it was really scary to not be able to turn a door knob or start the ignition in my car. I had to stay off the bike for almost two weeks. Not good at all.

    It's from putting too much weight on your hands, as others have mentioned. I had to go back and look at my fit, and found that my saddle has a little 'flare' at the back, which caused a slight lean forward, which caused me to lean more on my arms and hands. Ever since I tilted my saddle up a slight bit so the flare is flat, I've been good to go.

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    Senior Member Allycat24's Avatar
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    I have had ulnar nerve neuropathy off and on since a week long bike tour in 2008. I have mostly dealt with it by taking a break from cycling but this year the problem has gotten persistently worse, and now I have pain and numbness off the bike - a lot. I saw a neurologist who referred me to an orthopedic surgeon (hand and elbow specialist), who said my symptoms strongly indicate surgery - that if I ignore it any longer, I might have permanent nerve damage. So after mulling it over for a few weeks, I'm having surgery this fall (after my upcoming vacation). Perhaps I was just prone to this or if had a better bike fit, I would not have had it. I recommend you see a neurologist for tests, who can tell you how bad the nerve damage is. BTW, while the symptoms are mostly hand pain and numb fingers, the problem is the ulnar nerve is being compressed in the elbow. Good luck with your decision.

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    i rest my hands on the bars, I never grip tight. I rely on my stomach muscles for support more than my arms. That way I don't put so much strain on my hands.

  11. #11
    just another gosling Carbonfiberboy's Avatar
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    Instead of riding the drops, try this position:
    low_modified_hoods.jpg

    It's not obvious from that photo, but I have my bars rotated and hoods set so they form a level platform on top:
    bars_hoods.jpg

    I'm holding the side of the hood and my wrist is resting on the bar, so there's almost no weight on my hands themselves. If your forearms are horizontal, it's about as low as in the drops, plus your forearms aren't in the wind. Some people think this is faster.

    Make a major effort to keep your wrists straight.

    Climbing, it's easy to lightly grip the bar tops with straight wrists in almost a full tuck, forearms horizontal, knees in and coming up between your elbows.

    Also, move your saddle back as far as it goes. That will take weight off your hands. You might need a shorter stem.

    You can also support your torso with your core muscles. While pedaling in your usual position, consciously try to take weight off your hands by stiffening your core. You should be able to feel that happening.

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