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Preventing Cyclist's Palsy

Lance Armstrong would probably agree with the saying that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" -- especially when that ounce is in the form of cycling gloves or a proper bike fit. Without these, bikers are prone to suffer a common problem called cyclist's palsy.

Cyclist's palsy is caused by pressure on the ulnar or median nerves of the hand. The pressure can cause numbness, tingling, and weakness. Risk factors include ill-fitting or worn-out gloves, worn-out handlebar padding, and not changing hand position often enough. A poor seat position can also put too much body weight on the hands.

The purpose of this study was to find out how often cyclist's palsy occurs. Twenty-five mountain and road bikers were included. Testing was done before and after a 600-kilometer bike ride.

Pinch strength and muscle strength was measured. Examiners looked for muscle wasting and tested for numbness and tingling at rest and with pressure. They also asked about the use of gloves, level of experience, and previous hand injuries.

The authors report very few symptoms of nerve compression before the ride. However, testing showed changes in sensation, strength, or both for many bikers. The level of experience and type of bike didn't seem to make a difference.

According to these researchers, the best way to manage cyclist's palsy is to prevent it. Everyone is at risk. When planning a long bike ride, wear padded cycling gloves and change hand position often. Make sure the seat position doesn't throw your weight forward onto the handlebars.


J. Megan M. Patterson, MD, et al. Ulnar and Median Nerve Palsy in Long-Distance Cyclists: A Prospective Study. In The American Journal of Sports Medicine. July/August 2003. Vol. 31. No. 4. Pp. 585-589.

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