Ouch! Cycle tourer suffering from numb, painful hands, arms & shoulders

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I was sure that I had the perfect bike set-up: Mary Bars from On-One, racer stem, and Ergo grips.

This has worked perfectly for around a year before we took off on our world pootle. Yes, once in a while, on long rides, I got a slight numbness/tingle in the hands, which disappeared after a shake of the hands or little stop for a drink or a jelly bean.

I was fine on some of the roughest roads in the world and on very long and hard days in the saddle in South America. In the States I had the numbness/tingle more often and sometimes for more than once a day. This was on tarmac most of the time, sometime chip-seal but mostly smooth surfaces.

When we arrived in New Zealand almost as soon as we rolled out of the airport I had numb fingers. As we made our way up to Northland, I got numb fingers no matter how often I tried to move my grip or shake my hands. I always cover my brakes, three years as a cycling instructor will do that to you, I very rarely grip the bars.

As we cycled south of Auckland it started to become painful and the pain was moving from my fingers to my wrist and lower arms. It got so bad that I could feel it in my shoulder. I had a sharp pain in one, like a needle, and when I pressed the site of the pain it relieved the pain in my hands and wrists. The palm of my hands, especially the fleshy bit near the thumb, is very sore and at the end of the day the ulnar nerve is very tender, often with shooting pains up my lower arms.

I have played around with the Ergon grips and just got some new mitts but nothing has helped. I’m even trying out some Bontrager BuzzzKill dampers, the jury is still out on them. I did feel something change when going downhill at speed, more like the vibration you get when power drill is changing speed but very subtle.

It is now so bad that I wake up in the night with painful arms, elbows and shoulders. It feels like the painful part of pins and needles but without the pins and needles. The first hour in the morning I struggle to make a fist and my fingers feel very tender and stiff.  After one day of rest my hands have started to shake for the first hour or so after waking up, and a few hours later there is still a touch of the shakes.

Last time we were in a country where we had to wear helmets we both had pain from the base of our skulls down the spine past the shoulder blades, with pain from going out to each shoulder. This time around it is the same and it is a great pleasure to take the lid off when we are having breaks or at the end of the day. When we have been on quieter roads I have taken the helmet off. This makes a slight difference in delaying the pain appearing in the hands, wrists and arms.

The helmet is really the only thing that’s changed between cycling here and in the Americas, where I had no problems. The set-up of the bike is the same as I’m always careful to use plenty of markers to make sure they’re put back together in the same way.

So, I’m not sure what could be causing me this intense pain. Simple overuse, even though we’re not doing mega mileage? Carrying too much on the bike (even though our load is much lighter here in NZ compared to Patagonia?) Front tyre being a bit worn out (it’s a Marathon Plus Tour and is showing signs of wear – I’d planned to replace it after NZ)? The helmet, gloves or even the road surface?

One solution I’ve been considering is to get a suspension fork that can take front racks on a 700c wheel. I know it will push me a bit higher up but perhaps that’s what I need, though I’ve been very happy with set-up on the 58cm Surly for over four years now. I’ve also considered getting a 60cm frame since a few people have said it does look a wee bit small for me.

I know that taking painkillers would be an temporary option but I’m not really keen on masking pain, since that is how the body tells you something is wrong.

We are going to have nearly four days off the bikes now and if we cycle it will be short distances. When we’re back on the bikes it will be on quiet roads or trails, so I won’t wear the helmet, and with more rest days in between.

I can’t post photos easily at the moment (the wonders of New Zealand’s internet service), but there are plenty of photos of me riding at www.woollypigs.com/galleries if you want to check my position on the bike.

In the meantime, what does the yacf panel think could be the problem here? Your thoughts, ideas, advice, and jokes at my expense are welcome!

1 COMMENT

  1. I’ve suffered carpal tunnel for years, have had surgery in both wrists, I can feel it in my shoulder and elbows, didn’t know what to do about it so I searched for answers and found that gluten can cause nerve problems. I have since gone mostly gluten free for 2 months now and have seen dramatic improvement for my nerve issues.

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