Why Does My Hand Fall Asleep When Riding A Bike?
A girl riding a bike on a dusty rode.

A lot of cyclists, both novice and pro ones occasionally experience the feeling of their hand or hands falling asleep when riding a bike. Chances are that you’ve experienced this tingling sensation or numbness yourself and that you want to find the answer to the question: Why does my hand fall asleep when riding a bike? If this is exactly the case, you’ve come to the right place.

Your hand falls asleep when riding a bike due to numerous reasons. Most of these reasons boil down to some kind of nerve compression. The numbness in your hand and fingers happens when you put too much pressure on your hands. You usually do this because you have an improper bike fit or an improper riding technique, or both.

Since the reasons why your hand falls asleep when riding a bike are plentiful, we suggest that you read our article in its entirety. You will also find a lot of useful pieces of advice on what to do to prevent the feeling of numbness in your hand when cycling. If you are keen on both cycling and hiking, you may also enjoy reading our article on whether biking helps hiking.

Why does my hand fall asleep when riding a bike?

The problem of your hand falling asleep when riding a bike is not uncommon. The cause of this issue can be attributed to numerous reasons, all of which point out to certain nerve compression. Biking affects these three nerves that control the function of your hand:

  1. The median nerve – this nerve goes from the shoulder to the hand, passing through the carpal tunnel which is formed by the carpal bones of the wrist. When your hands are bent and pressed against the handlebars for long, you often put excessive pressure on this nerve.
  2. The ulnar nerve – this nerve is the largest unprotected nerve in your body and it runs through your arm into your hand. It runs through the pinky and adjacent ring finger’s side of your hand. The ulnar nerve enables you to grasp objects, including gripping the handlebars. The feeling of numbness and tingling in the pinky and ring finger are often caused by direct pressure on this nerve.
  3. The radial nerve – this nerve runs through your arm and controls your ability to extend your wrist, as well as your ability to position your hand.

The feeling of your hand falling asleep can occur in one or both hands. To know how to tackle this issue, you need to observe how long the sensation of numbness lasts, what type of terrain it occurs on, and whether it lasts once you are off the bike. Do you like snowboarding in addition to cycling? Do you notice that your feet sometimes go numb in your snowboard boots? You can find out why this happens in our blog.

Nerve compression

Numbness and tingling in the hands are typically caused by compression of a nerve pathway or a restriction of circulation. These two types of compression are the most common ones:

  1. Carpal tunnel compression – this is the compression of a carpal nerve, which is the little section of the median nerve. In certain instances, this compression of the nerve needs to be surgically released. Carpal tunnel compressions are common with cyclists since they are holding onto the bar and absorbing road vibration all the time. This type of nerve compression affects a lot of people, including musicians. Read this interesting article on what instrument you can play with carpal tunnel.
  2. Compression of the nerve pathway proximal to the hand area – this compression can refer to compression of the nerve pathway through the forearm, the elbow, the shoulder, or even your neck. These types of compression can manifest as the symptom of your hand falling asleep, or pins and needles in your hand.

Too much weight on your hands is the primary reason for nerve compression that causes your hand to fall asleep when riding a bike. In the next two paragraphs, we will explain how improper bike fit and improper riding technique can create hand discomfort when riding a bike. Make sure to also check out our blog, since we’ve also got some expert answers on why cyclists have skinny arms.

Improper bike fit

A proper bike fit enables you to establish a neutral and balanced riding position. Next are some of the ways how improper bike fit can compress your nerves and put excessive pressure on your hands, wrists, elbows, neck, and shoulders.

  • Handlebars are too high or too close to you. This position of your handlebars often causes you to move your upper body forward and down. In this position, your hands are pushing back against the handlebars. This position can cause your hand or hands to fall asleep and often goes hand in hand with shoulder tension.
  • The saddle on your bike is too far forward. This position of your saddle doesn’t allow your glutes and hamstrings to lift the weight off your hands. Instead, you transfer too much of your weight to the handlebars. Such unnecessary weight creates compression on your hands. If you can ride with no hands without tipping forward off the saddle, your saddle is in the right position.
  • Handlebars are too low or too far away. This position again means that you transfer too much of your weight from your saddle to the handlebars. In this position, hand numbness often goes hand in hand with neck tension. To alleviate the numbness, you need to transfer weight back into the saddle.

Improper riding technique

Holding on really tightly to the handlebars using your hands, arms, and shoulders is an improper riding technique. Together with rigid elbows and raised shoulders that you use to brace against the handlebars, this incorrect technique is also known as bracing. This improper riding technique can cause numerous problems including:

  • Numb hands and fingers
  • Sore elbows and wrists
  • Sore neck and shoulders
  • Lower back issues

To kick the habit of bracing you need to put a lot of effort, especially if you’ve had that habit for many years. Some of the following tips can help you acquire a proper riding technique:

  • Get a proper bike fit that will encourage you to ride in a neutral riding position.
  • Activate your abs, glutes, and inner thigh muscles. These muscles will help you support and balance yourself.
  • Your shoulders, elbows, and wrists should feel loose and relaxed. If you start feeling pressure in one of these places, get the support of your body back into your core to avoid bracing.

A cyclist riding a bike.

How to prevent my hand from falling asleep when riding a bike?

First and foremost, in order to prevent nerve compression and a subsequent feeling of your hand falling asleep, you need to have a proper bike fit and a proper riding technique. Next are some extra tips on how you can prevent your hand from falling asleep when riding a bike.

Move your hands

On a flat and straight road, you should develop the habit of moving your hands every couple of minutes. In general, you should shift your hands according to the terrain and road conditions. Road conditions depend greatly on the weather, so make sure to learn how to deal with bad weather and find out if trek bikes can get wet in our blog.

If your bike has drop bars you can shift between the next three hand positions:

  1. Hoods – you assume this position when your hands are on the brake hoods. Most cyclists ride in this position for the majority of their ride. In this position, a rider has access to the brakes and shifters.
  2. Drops – this is quite an aggressive position that can strain your back and neck. You shouldn’t stay in the drops for extended periods of time. This is a suitable position when you are descending, as it enables you to have better control of the bike. You adopt this position when your hands are on the lowest curved part of the handlebars.
  3. Tops – in this position your hands are between the hoods and the stem of your bike. From this position, you don’t have access to brakes. That is why this position is suitable for riding at slower speeds and it relieves pressure on your back.

Wear gloves with padding

A quality pair of cycling gloves will make your ride much more comfortable. When you ride a bike, vibration itself put a lot of pressure on your nerves, especially if you grip hard. Wearing cycling gloves can ease the pressure, but you need to make sure that they don’t fit too tightly. If you want to know whether you can use gym gloves for cycling, check out our blog.

Final tips

We hope that we’ve managed to explain the main reasons why your hand falls asleep when riding a bike. Follow our tips on how to prevent this from happening. Also, remember that simple stretching and strengthening exercises can do wonders for your hands.

Don’t forget the importance of strengthening your core as well, since a strong and stable core can reduce the amount of pressure on your hands. Finally, make sure to check our blog for more tips on various extreme sports and enjoy your bike ride!

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