3 Causes and Cures for Numbness on the Bike

by Marc Lindsay
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3 Causes and Cures for Numbness on the Bike

Whether it’s your hands, groin or feet, numbness on the bike can wreck your ride. Here are a common causes and cures so you can cruise pain-free.

HANDS

Causes: Numbness in the hands can be the result of tension in the shoulders, road vibration or a handlebar reach that’s too far.

Cure: Beginners often have a hard time relaxing their grip on the handlebar, causing tension in the shoulders and arms. While riding, keep your grip light and loose, which can also prevent oversteering when you encounter an obstacle. Change hand positions frequently by rotating between the tops, hoods and drops to help relieve muscle tension and remind you to loosen up.

If road vibration is the culprit, try double wrapping your bars or using a thicker bar tape meant to decrease road chatter. While more expensive than an aluminum bar, opting for a carbon handlebar can also help decrease vibration in your hands. Upgrading to a wider road tire with a width of 25–28mm makes your ride less harsh over rough roads, which saves your hands, arms and shoulders as the miles pile up.

As for bike fit, if you’re reaching too far for the handlebars, numbness could eventually become an issue. Look at the height of your handlebars and stem length as common causes — particularly if you’ve opted for a fairly aggressive, low-position on the bike. A shorter stem and a few more spacers to shorten your reach could help solve the problem.

GROIN

Causes: Saddle numbness is often caused by compression of nerves and blood cells, resulting in a lack of blood flow to the perineal area. An ill-fitting saddle, a poor position or not alternating between sitting and standing enough are the primary causes for most cyclists.

Cure: To find the right saddle, pay attention to the shape of the saddle rather than switching to a bigger, cushy saddle with lots of padding. The shape of the pelvis varies greatly from one person to the next, which means some people respond better to a curved shape rather than a flat saddle — or vice versa. You can also opt for a cut out or a saddle with a channel designed specifically to relieve pressure from the perineum.

If the problem is caused by your position on the saddle, you may be putting pressure on the wrong parts of your body. Ideally, you’ll want to place most of your body weight on your sit bones rather than directly on soft tissue areas. To remedy this problem, make sure you aren’t sliding forward onto the nose of your saddle while you ride and keep your weight toward the rear of the saddle on your sit bones. Make sure your saddle is level and you don’t have the nose tilted down, which can cause you to slide forward, too. Some people find angling the seat so the nose is slightly up helps them stay in the right position.

A saddle that’s too high, not making an effort to stand every so often while you’re out on the road and replacing old or cheap cycling shorts are other easy fixes to help relieve pressure on this sensitive spot.


READ MORE > BIKE SADDLES | GEAR TO SPLURGE ON


FEET

Causes: Numbness and pain in the feet or toes is often due to poor fitting cycling shoes, cleat placement or a closure too tight.

Cure: Just like running shoes, the fit and comfort of a cycling shoe is highly individual. Before you decide on a purchase, make sure you try on several different models to determine which one fits you best. Pay attention to the width, toe box, height of the upper and comfort of the closure when making a selection. A shoe that’s too tight or narrow has the potential to cause numbness. Also, be aware that shoes with a taller upper have more arch support if that’s a feature you’re looking for.

In terms of cleat placement, align the pedal spindle with the ball of your foot as a  starting point. While this is the most efficient position for generating power, sometimes the pressure of the bony portion of the foot over the pedal can cause numbness. To remedy the problem, try sliding the cleat back toward the heel in small increments and put the ball of the foot slightly forward of the pedal spindle. This should help with foot numbness if shoe fit isn’t the issue.


READ MORE > ONCE YOU USE CLIPLESS PEDALS, YOU’LL NEVER GO BACK


Whether you opt for Boa dials, Velcro straps or a buckle closure, you’ll also want to make sure the closure evenly distributes pressure across the top of the foot. As your foot swells during your ride, you may want to adjust the closure to ensure it isn’t too tight, which can also cause numbness in the toes.

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  • Stuart

    Is this an ad masquerading as a news article?

  • Margaret Heller

    My hands get numb because I am bent forward and exercising while my head is upright – face to the breeze. Makes sense. You would not do any exercise with your head extended back. I now use my eyes more – looking up over my glasses.

  • Geeios

    #1 on the list should be proper bike fit. Most bikes don’t fit the rider. That’s different than fitting the rider to the bike. If the frame geometry doesn’t allow the rider’s Physiology to transfer weight to the pedals, the rider’s weight is on the saddle and bars causing the discomfort. If your bike fit involves the bike your riding, then it’s not a true fit because the bike’s geometry will limit proper physiology to take effect. Also most fitters don’t know what the proper physiology is they just know recommended angles and measurements. If they don’t start with saddle position, rider position, the other measurements can’t be properly obtained. If a fitter uses Retul, fitting you on the bike you ride, it’s a waste of your time and money. They don’t look at body position for proper weight transfer, they just look at angles and measurements. Raising or lower your saddle or bars, extending or shortening your stem, selling you a new saddle isn’t really a “fit”.

  • Bryant MacDonald

    Padded gloves. Very helpful for hand numbness and when you take that inevitable fall a lot less damage to your palms.

  • Gary

    Get a recumbent instead of a diamond frame then start riding in comfort .

  • Tim Wiles

    Marc: You talked a lot about “prevention”, which is good. But you really didn’t talk about a “cure” once you have numbness. I have numbness in my ring finger that won’t go away after a week-long 420-mile bike ride. Any ideas for cures once you have the numbness?

  • Bigaldepr

    Even us old timers that used toe clips had shoes with a rigid sole plate with nail on cleats. Since the sole is rigid moving the cleat fore and aft does not move the pressure on the bottom of your foot. Inserts inside the shoe can be used to distribute the forces on the bottom of your foot more evenly. Like saddles, finding ones that best conforms to your particular shape is important.

  • Mp

    Feet numbness. Turns out the saddle was too low, and cleats too far forward. Toes were numb 15 miles into a ride and had to keep “shaking it out” or loosening straps; all this AFTER spending $200 on professional fit.
    Bottom line – listen to your body and save your bike bucks. Still working on unilateral (right) hand numbness.

  • Multiple good ideas for me.