I think there are only 2 possible types of people who are going to be interested in this post, bike nerds and occupational therapists. I am both of those things, so I’m totally geeking out on this at the moment.
Cramps and Pins and Needles
I am 11 months into this cycle trip. I first remember getting frustrated with night time ‘pins and needles’ in my hands about 5 months into this trip whilst I was in Guatemala, it then started happening every night and I was not able to ignore it any longer. Then in Colombia I started loosing sensation in my hands from the moment I would get on my bike in the morning. Even after a week or 2 off the bike the pain and pins and needles in my hands would still wake me up at night.
I started off with these ‘racer’ style handle bars, purely because this is what I had had at home for the past few years and what I felt comfortable with. This wasn’t an area that I researched at all before the trip, and even if I had researched it to see that most cyclists don’t use these ‘dropped’ handle bars then I think I probably would have still used them, I am a bit bloody minded like that. There is something just cooler and slicker about the dropped handle bars.
Anyway, from seeing all the other bike travelers that no one really uses the dropped style, and with the problems in my hands I was working out that I needed to consider changing. Manuel at the casa ciclista in Medellin suggested swapping to the ‘butterfly’ style handlebars, but at the time I wasn’t sure. By the time I made the decision to swap I was in Quito and the butterfly handle bars were not available there, so the only option was some standard straight ones. It cost $100 in total as it meant changing the brake and gear system.
What was wrong? Working it out
I am lucky enough to be an occupational therapist and although I am no hand expert I am fortunate enough to have worked in some amazing therapy departments with lots of talented therapists I can call upon with my ailments. This was great when I had problems with my knee in the past, I would regularly go crying (literally) to my musculo-skeletal Physio friends. This time however I needed to call upon a hand therapist expert, my lovely friend Becky Styles. She skyped me and we talked through my problems, the numbness and pins and needles was in both hands and mainly in the thumb, index and middle finger, these fingers are supplied by the median nerve, which suggested this was compressed. Becky made me do a few tests, the Phalens and the hook of hamate pull test there were some more tests such as putting my ear to my shoulder and seeing if there was any pain or restrictions. Becky also wanted me to work out if there was any restrictions in my shoulder or elbow that could also be causing the numbness. The reason for working out (I think I understand) is that if it wasn’t the wrist that was compressed (and it was in fact the shoulder or elbow) then changing the handle bars might not be so effective.
Becky suggested these median nerve exercises
she also suggested wearing splints at night to stop me flexing my wrist, this will prevent the compression of the median nerve and therefore prevent the pins and needles. I made my own splints using some compression garments I bought for $3 and some lolly sticks and tape. You could also use old socks instead of compression garments, I did this originally but it wasn’t so effective. To buy the splints would cost $12 each so it was a pretty good saving. God bless the NHS, I miss you!
At times I miss being an occupational therapist, because I would feel useful to people on a daily basis, so I got a real thrill out of making my own splints.
My new handle bars helped straight away, I have stopped getting the pins and needles whilst riding. The splints are working too, I can now sleep through the night again. It’s been about 6 weeks since I made the splints and the other day I couldn’t find one of my splints before going to bed, so I slept without it, it was a mistake as was awake half the night, with so much pain I had to go on some wild hunt through my bags with my head torch. I will therefore have to keep wearing the splints.
When I finish this trip I may consider the butterfly looped handle bars for long tours.
I hope this post is useful to other cyclists, and those about to go on tour, I would ditch the dropped handle bars from the beginning.
- Into the wild
- It ain’t over til it’s over