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Can cycling cause carpal tunnel syndrome?

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Can cycling cause carpal tunnel syndrome?

Old 07-09-13, 11:49 AM
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SwampDude
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Can cycling cause carpal tunnel syndrome?

I'm experiencing contunuos mild tingling/numbness in the thumb, index finger and middle finger on both hands. My orthopedic doc says carpal tunnel syndrme might be the cause, but tests are needed for a diagnosis.

I haven't logged lots of computer keyboard time over the years, but I do cycle regularly. I'm wondering if cycling could be the cause of the problem?

Has anyone here been diagnosed with a carpal tunnel problem related to bike riding?
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Old 07-09-13, 12:02 PM
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Is that continuous, or only when biking? I sometimes get those symptoms if I allow the handlebar to press in the center of my hand near the wrist. Thicker padded gloves help a lot. So does keeping the pressure to the outside of my palm.
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Old 07-09-13, 12:49 PM
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It can be just about impossible to pinpoint the exact cause of a given person's Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, but if you have CTS, it can be aggravated by cycling. Signs of CTS will often be present in the thumb, index finger, middle finger, and the thumb side of your ring finger, so your symptoms seem like they fit. Your doc may send you for an electromyogram (EMG) and/or a nerve conduction study. Results from these can help a neurologist determine if your symptoms are caused by CTS.

Like KZBrian said, padded gloves can help prevent aggravation of CTS in some cases. Adjusting your grip and position on the bike so that you're not bearing much weight on the base of your palm may help, too. Change hand position from time to time. In the meantime, your doctor may prescribe time off the bike to give your hands a rest if you have CTS.

There are also other problems that can mimic the symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, although they're less common. If you look down, touching your chin to your chest, do you get a tingling or electrical shock sensation radiating from your neck? If so, tell your doctor ASAP since that can be an indicator of a cervical spine problem.

Disclaimer: I'm not a medical professional, but I have a nerve problem that was initially misdiagnosed as CTS so I've done a lot of reading. I'm a cyclist (duh), work with computers, and I'm a drummer, so I've got all sorts of causing/aggravating factors for CTS.
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Old 07-09-13, 02:00 PM
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Thanks for the replies.

I wear good gloves with the most padding I can find. My bike has padded bar ends and my grips are the style that provide a wide support area. I change hand positions frequently because I sometimes develop numbness from putting too much pressure on the hands; I consciously try to avoid this condition.

My doc mentioned a nerve conduction study, which he seemed confident would provide a definitive answer regarding CTS. He didn't suggest a spinal issue might be the problem, but I do have some arthritis (knees and fingers). I tried the chin-to-chest test but experienced no sensation of any type.

Sounds like cycling may aggravate CTS but not be the cause of it. Maybe my case (if it is CTS) may just be age related plus many years of cycling, weight training, home maintenance, etc.
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Old 07-09-13, 02:04 PM
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Disclaimer: I don't actually know what I'm talking about. : P

When testing out bikes last week the sales guy gave me a heads up saying sometimes the angle of the bars (now rather popular with city bikes) can cause CTS. Maybe he was wrong. You may not have these handles but thought it was worth tacking on in case someone else was curious and wanted to chew on that idea.
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Old 07-09-13, 02:05 PM
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Originally Posted by SwampDude View Post
I sometimes develop numbness from putting too much pressure on the hands; I consciously try to avoid this condition.
If you often do notice too much weight on the hands, a bike fitting might help. There are a several ways of lightening the load on your hands. One way is to move the seat back, so you're not falling forward so much - however that can lead to a long forward reach and you might need a shorter stem in that case. Another way is to raise the bars so you are sitting a bit more upright. Another way is to keep pedaling, since you may lean more on the bars when you coast. If your seat is tilted forward, make it level or even a tiny bit higher at the front, so you're not continuously sliding forward and pushing yourself back. But be careful not to raise it too much, or you'll get numbness somewhere even worse!

If you are using a flat bar, maybe rotating your brake levers up or down a little bit will give you a more comfortable hand position.

Last edited by cooker; 07-09-13 at 02:12 PM.
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Old 07-09-13, 03:04 PM
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Originally Posted by cooker View Post
If you often do notice too much weight on the hands, a bike fitting might help. There are a several ways of lightening the load on your hands. One way is to move the seat back, so you're not falling forward so much - however that can lead to a long forward reach and you might need a shorter stem in that case. Another way is to raise the bars so you are sitting a bit more upright. Another way is to keep pedaling, since you may lean more on the bars when you coast. If your seat is tilted forward, make it level or even a tiny bit higher at the front, so you're not continuously sliding forward and pushing yourself back. But be careful not to raise it too much, or you'll get numbness somewhere even worse!

If you are using a flat bar, maybe rotating your brake levers up or down a little bit will give you a more comfortable hand position.
Several years ago I started looking for more upright geometry, so I bought a Trek Pilot and a Trek fitness bike. These styles are more comfortable and, I thought, result in less pressure on the hands.

I'll try your tips on seat and bar adjustments, although it seems that moving the seat rearward would result in a longer reach and more pressure on the hands. Constant pedaling is already part of the program and Florida terrain requires minimal use of brakes.

Thanks to all for thoughtful responses. I am hoping for some breakthrough solution to help avoid CTS surgery and hanging up my bike.

Last edited by SwampDude; 07-09-13 at 03:08 PM.
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Old 07-09-13, 03:10 PM
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compressing the nerve, in the base of the palm, holding the bars is different issue

than the repeated trauma of say someone that spends their working lives on a keyboard ,
with repeated motions by the thousands..
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Old 07-09-13, 04:18 PM
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Originally Posted by fietsbob View Post
compressing the nerve, in the base of the palm, holding the bars is different issue

than the repeated trauma of say someone that spends their working lives on a keyboard ,
with repeated motions by the thousands..
I take it you're saying cycling doesn't cause carpal tunnel syndrome.

I've never been a data entry guy or someone who did lots of keyboard work. If biking and keystroking didn't cause my CTS, I don't know what might have.
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Old 07-09-13, 04:33 PM
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My CT came from computer work,but if I ride a bike with skinny tires and a crappy fork it causes it to flare up. Straight blade alloy forks are a no-no for me,as well as 23mm tires on anything but my front suspension BBU or full carbon SuperSix.
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Old 07-09-13, 04:36 PM
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probably need a specialist in that medical specialty , not a bike forum, then..
If the Insurance coverage is there.. of course.

Even chicken processors on the line at a packing plant do the same thing over and over again
to have an occupational repetitive motion injury ..

then, "right to Work" states,( no Union shop steward, for backup)
they get fired, and another one is used.



Musicians like Orchestral Violinists, .. plus, production line assemblers , etc, etc.
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Old 07-09-13, 05:45 PM
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What you're experiencing, is more than likely not caused by CTS, it's a simple lack of circulation. It's a common, but luckily, easy problem to solve. Check that your gloves are not too tight on your hands, and that you're not locking your elbows. Locking your elbows, holding the bars too tightly, or ill fitting gloves can all cause the tingling/numbness issue that you're experiencing. I experience it occasionally when I'm riding on rougher road surfaces, while using a tighter grip on my handlebars. To get rid of the tingle, simply sit up, and place the hand at the small of your back and make a fist a few times....then try to make it a habit of using a relaxed grip on the bars and keeping your elbows from locking.

Edit: Yes, more padding in the gloves can help, but if they are too tight...it wont help in the slightest. I use gloves with no padding, as I like to "feel" the road as I ride...it's a side effect of also riding a Harley.

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Old 07-09-13, 06:31 PM
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Originally Posted by SwampDude View Post
, although it seems that moving the seat rearward would result in a longer reach and more pressure on the hands.
I know it is counter-intuitive, but it does work. When you move your seat back, you are shifting your centre of body weight back. It balances you better over your feet.
If you move your seat forward, it causes you to sort of fall forward, like a person leaning forward at the waist without shifting his butt backwards to counterbalance. Sheldon Brown explains it well here in the section on saddle postioning: http://sheldonbrown.com/frame-sizing.html
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Old 07-09-13, 06:36 PM
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Originally Posted by Nihilum View Post
What you're experiencing, is more than likely not caused by CTS, it's a simple lack of circulation. .
The distribution of the numbness fits with CTS: the median nerve, that traverses the carpal tunnel, covers the palm, thumb, index and middle fingers and one side of the ring finger, as already pointed out.
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Old 07-10-13, 06:24 PM
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Originally Posted by cooker View Post
The distribution of the numbness fits with CTS: the median nerve, that traverses the carpal tunnel, covers the palm, thumb, index and middle fingers and one side of the ring finger, as already pointed out.
Just because you have have red spots that itch doesn't mean you've got chicken pox either. Same idea applies here.

When you flex a muscle, especially at a joint, the circulation in that area slows down. The same thing happens when you stand for long periods with both knees locked...the circulation slows down enough to actually cause you to pass out.

Im not saying that's what it is...Im saying that it's more than likely not CTS causing his numbness, just a simple mistake made my MANY MANY cyclists.

Also, someone recommended gloves with more gel padding...too much padding can cause the same numbness because when your hands are overly padded you tend to put more weight on them and grasp tighter than what is necessary...which constricts blood flow to the hands.
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Old 07-10-13, 06:31 PM
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Hw many years and hours are you riding on this bike?

if i have a problem with my hands on the bars I take them off the bars

and shake them a bit to regain circulation of the Humours, then alternate hands.
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Old 07-10-13, 08:58 PM
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Originally Posted by Nihilum View Post
Im saying that it's more than likely not CTS causing his numbness...
Sure, it's *possible* that something else could cause numbness. I don't know about *likely*, though. His symptoms are such that a trained physician who examined him in person suspects CTS is a possibility. Tests like nerve conduction studies and EMG's will help confirm it or rule it out.

As for causes... Like I mentioned earlier, it's really difficult to identify a single cause for any given person's CTS. Keyboard use is a common scapegoat, but the studies I've read can't confirm keyboard users have a greater incidence rate than others. They likely aggravate it and notice the symptoms, though. Women have higher incidence rates, possibly because their carpal tunnel tends to be smaller. Obesity also seems to have a statistical correlation to CTS. There are so many things that "might" raise your chances of CTS, but not many activities that can be proven to be a definite cause.
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Old 07-14-13, 03:39 AM
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How much do you ride? What's your posture like? Is your back to weak to support yourself? Too many variables that you've not provided.

First, be aware that CTS surgery isn't necessarily a 100% cure, it has a long down time, and unless you correct the cause of it, it is likely to return...necessitating another round of surgery. Don't let the doctor convince you that everything will be a-okay with surgery, and definitely get a second professional opinion beforehand (no pun intended).

For the here and now, have you received cortisone injections? If not, why hasn't the doctor suggested it? What, if any, exercises has the doctor prescribed? Have you tried massage treatment to breakdown the scar tissue?

What other activities do you participate in regularly? As mentioned above, spinal...likely cervical issues can cause tingling sensations and pain in the hands/fingers. How is your posture, do you slouch, hang your head low while reading or doing tasks...while riding? Are you constantly texting, cooking, using your hands for other tasks?

In addition to the adjustment tips above, have you tried riding without gloves? Do you need a larger gripping surface on your handlebars? Try double-wrapping your grips to increase the diameter of your bars. Stretch your palms and fingers to relieve hand tension...there's passive ways to do this so you can hold the stretch longer.

I can't emphasize enough the need to figure out what's causing your pain before considering surgery. A friend had surgery (twice?) and receives cortisone injections, unless she stops exacerbating the problem, she'll never heal, if that's even a possibility any more. You need to remember, doctors are trained to utilize conventional solutions, rather than alternative insights/queries.

I've had disc issues, and CTS symptoms...less use, strengthened posture, relaxed hands, and strengthened opposing hand muscles are great alternatives to surgery. To permit continued riding, one month I rode with pipe insulation taped around my handlebars to avoid grasping a smaller circumference bar. Grasping larger diameters helps to strengthen your hands...weightlifters wrap bars to gain hand strength since it's commonly a limiting factor in how much they are able to lift.
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