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Pins and Needles
Pins and needles or numbness occur when there is compression to a nerve. In the majority of cases, the symptoms are temporary, and once the nerve has been released the symptoms will resolve fairly quickly. If compression to the nerve is severe or it is repeatedly compressed for a long period of time, long-term nerve damage can occur. Therefore, it is definitely not a symptom to just put up with or ignore. Pins and needles or numbness can occur in any of the 3 main contact areas; hands, feet and saddle area. If you want to know more about saddle specific pins and needles or numbness, click here.
There are 3 main nerves that enter the hand. These are the Median, Radial and Ulnar nerve. The radial nerve passes through the back of the hand, so this is never an issue in cycling. The Median nerve passes through the centre of your wrist and will give you symptoms in your thumb, index finger and middle finger. The Ulnar nerve enters on the “little-finger” side of your wrist and when compressed will cause symptoms in the ring finger and little finger.
There are a few ways in which these nerves can be compressed. The overall fit position can cause pins and needles or numbness by placing excessive weight-bearing through the hands. This may be because your saddle is too high, or your handlebars may be too low causing an overly aggressive position. Another cause could be the size or geometry of handlebar you currently have. For drop handlebars, there are 3 measurements you need to look for when deciding which bars to use. You can see how the width, drop and reach of the bars are measured in this diagram.
The width of the bars should be aligned with the width of your shoulders to ensure you have a neutral wrist position. The reach and drop of the bars can be very individual for each rider and when deciding what to go with, rider comfort and preference is the main deciding factor. From a Bike Fitting perspective, we can use different shaped bars to achieve a shorter or longer position if necessary. Lastly the position of the hoods can also be adjusted to alleviate pins and needles or numbness. The profile shape of the handlebars should flow into a smooth upwards curve where the bars meet the hoods. If this curve is too harsh or too flat, excess pressure can be forced through the wrist and compress the surrounding nerves.
Like hand symptoms, foot symptoms can again be caused by compression to one of the many nerves that enter the foot. Depending on where the symptoms are would help determine which nerve is affected. A major contributor to foot symptoms is the position of the cleats. If the cleats force excessive rotation of the foot, this can put pressure on parts of the ankle where the nerves lie. Likewise, symptoms can also arise should the cleat be positioned too far forwards or backwards in relation to your shoe.
The position of your foot within the shoe can also cause pins and needles or numbness. Depending on your foot stability and the shape of your arch, your foot may be moving around too much in your shoe. There are several ways your foot can be unstable in your shoe. For example, your arch could be collapsing, or your ankle may be rolling inwards. Either way this causes irritation to the nerves in the foot which produces pins and needles or numbness. This can be corrected by supportive insoles, exercises or a combination of the two.
If you have any further queries about your symptoms, or you are wondering how we can help, please get in touch.