Numb hands and feet when bicycling

I love bicycling, but for the last couple years I’ve had a problem with my hands and feet “going to sleep” after a while while riding. The thing is, this didn’t start until after I spent money on an expensive road bike (Specialized), and “proper” bicycling shoes.

A bicycle was my primary mode of transportation from 1994 to 2007 while I was without a driver’s license (got popped with a DUI back in 1994, never got around to getting my license back even after I quit drinking, until turned 40 and decided I was just tired of having to bike or walk everywhere). I never had any “numbness” problems for all those years. But for all those years, I rode “mountain bikes”. In early 2008 I decided to finally buy a high-quality bicycle instead of yet another in the string of $200 big box store bikes that I’d ride until they broke and then replace them.

I decided to go with a “road” bike rather than a “mountain” bike. My reasoning was that I don’t do any off-road cycling, so I didn’t need big, knobby tires and superfluous shock absorbers limiting my speed and making the bike heavier than necessary. And honestly, this is a very good bike. It’s well-made, extremely lightweight, and just all-around great. I’m starting to wonder, though, if a “road” bike simply isn’t the right style of bike for me. That is, maybe the posture this style of bike forces is working against me somehow. I’ve got the correct frame size, and between me and the bike shop we’ve made numerous small adjustments here and there that have improved the overall comfort of the ride. But when I go for a ride, within 3-4 miles the numbness sets in. Eventually I have to stop, sit down, take off my shoes, and rub and wiggle my toes until the feeling comes back.

Let me describe the numbness:

Feet: Basically, everything from the balls of my feet to the tips of my toes “goes to sleep”.

Hands: Everything from my wrists to my fingers goes numb. I can still grip the handlebars just fine - I just can’t feel much.

To be fair, the foot problem seems to be a general disagreement between my feet and bicycling shoes. My first pair of bicycling shoes were an inexpensive pair that I bought on clearance at the bike shop. Size 9, my usual size, felt perfectly comfortable when I tried them on and walked around in the store. But once I got on my bike, within a couple miles my toes started tingling and eventually went numb. I came to the conclusion that they must be too small, mainly because of the location of the bracket in the sole for attaching to “clipless” pedals (which I don’t actually use) - I suspected it wasn’t positioned correctly for my feet - I didn’t think I should be feeling the bracket through the shoe, and I suspected it was pinching a nerve in the ball of my foot). So the next year I bought a new pair, of better quality, and a half-size larger. But I have exactly the same problem with these shoes. However, if I wear normal athletic/running shoes, I don’t experience this numbness. So perhaps the rigid footbed of bicycling shoes just doesn’t work for my feet for some reason.

For my hands, I wear good quality biking gloves, with padding in all the appropriate places. So I wonder if the problem, for me, is in the grip. On a road bike you grip the handlebars with your hands positioned “thumbs up”, where on a mountain bike your hands are “thumbs in”. Also, on a road bike your hands are almost straight in front of you, while on a mountain bike they’re spread more to the sides. That also makes me wonder - could the problem here actually be starting in my elbows, rather than my hands? I do have some [suspected job-related] RSI problems with my elbows. I suppose it’s also worth noting that due to the difference in posture between a mountain bike and a road bike, I seem to end up with my arms supporting my weight more than they did on a mountain bike.

In any case, there is no actual “pain”, aside from the mild burny, prickly feeling you get when an extremity falls asleep.

Any thoughts/suggestions/personal experience?

The hand problem is pretty common. You have to shift positions from time to time to prevent them getting numb. I usually have to take my hands off the bars every now and then and shake them.

As for the feet, it might be the pedals. I used to super-light “frog” pedals for awhile, but gave up after they made my feet numb. I’m back with Time now, and they work great. Also, you have to wear booties when it’s cold, as bike shoes are meant to breath-- great in the summer, not so great in the winter.

Oh… you shouldn’t be supporting your weight with your hands. They should be lightly on the bars, just for balance.

I worded that bit poorly. My arms aren’t actually supporting a lot of my weight; I just suspect there’s a bit more weight on them simply due to the way you’re more “crouched forward” on a road bike compared to the more upright, centered-over-the-seat posture on a mountain bike.

I get pins and needles in my hands when I cycle to and from work. Glad to see I’m not the only one. Think I need to raise the handlebars maybe to reduce the weight on my hands.

More information:

Similar events can occur from vibration and poor fit in the feet.

Many male cyclists also experience penile numbness from vibration to and compression of the pudendal nerve.

So maybe not shift too much to the seat, eh, jjimm?

Numbness in the hands is quite common. One big benefits of the curvy handlebars on road bikes is that you can put your hands in a lot of different positions. As mentioned, stay light on the handlebars and move your hand position in different ways before you start experiencing numbness.

There is trick you can try. If the hands start getting numb and tingly squirt some water from your water bottle into your gloves. I found this out when I got caught in the rain and the gloves got soaked. No more numbness or tingling.

For your hands: try riding without the gloves and see how much pressure you’re putting on your hands then. IME, gel pads can make you think you’re supporting less weight than you actually are. Make sure any pressure on your hands is on the bony parts, not on the soft spot part in the center of the wrist.

Are you sliding off the saddle when you ride? Make sure that it is level, or perhaps angled up just a bit. Sheldon Brown is always a good source of information.

Hmm. Today I went for my usual 11-mile ride, but first I lowered my seat about 1/2". I made it almost to the end of the loop before I experienced even a hint of tingling/numbness in my hands. I’ve normally started feeling it at around the 4- to 5-mile mark. And wearing “running” shoes instead of cycling shoes, as mentioned, eliminated the foot issue.

Dr. Love - I had that problem in the past, but a combination of adjusting the seat forward a bit and tilting it back slightly solved it.

I’m more worried about the front of the saddle squishing my balls, which happens occasionally.

That’s weird - I’ve been riding bikes for ages and just this last weekend, for the first time, I got the foot numbness - it’s as you describe, from the balls of my feet to the tip of my toes.

There again, I did ride the whole length of the South Downs Way (just over 100 miles, 12,000ft of ascent) over the weekend. However, I suspect what caused the numbness is having my shoes done up too tight. The old laces had snapped so for a long time I just used the velcro tabs to fasten them. Before this ride, I bought new laces and did my shoes up properly, and - numbness.

Maybe try loosening your laces a bit across the top of your foot (at the toe end of the shoe)?

You can expect some numbness here and there on a long ride, but what your suffering from sounds way excessive. You’re on the right track for the hands, you just need to keep making adjustments to the riding position until you find what works - seat height / angle and try a different stem to see if that makes a difference.

It could be that there is no solution that really works - the frame’s maybe not quite right for your body shape and no amount of fine tuning will make it so. It’s not unusual for road cyclists to go through a few bikes until they find one that’s just right. Certainly, if you’ve gone through a cycle of adjustments and you’re getting tingling hands after a few miles I’d start looking at other bikes. At least test ride a couple to see.

Don’t know what to say about the feet aside from trying a new system. I’ve suffered from frozen feet on the MTB, but never from just numbness. It looks like you’re using a hybrid cleat / flat system? Obviously buying new pedals / shoes will tell you what’s the best system for you, but it’s an expensive process. Maybe stick with the normal sports shoe for now until you get the hands sorted out?

Possibly fitting tri/aero bars will help - shifting the weight from your hands to your elbows. However, you will need to get the bike re-setup for the new position. Also, maybe think about when you are putting pressure on your feet during pedalling. I get numb feet when I use the Elliptical trainer at the gym, because you don’t unweight your feet enough. On the bike, however, I am pulling back and up as well as pressing down, and my feet are generally ok.

and Colophon, damn. I live at one end of the South Downs, and I haven’t yet got out there to ride them. You may have inspired me. ETA: elastic laces FTW. I got a set because I do Triathlons, but they really are great.


Do it - it’s a fantastic ride (if a little hot this weekend!). I went Winchester to Eastbourne, with a night at this pub in Steyning. The first day was 68 miles and 7,500ft of climbing (including riding to the train station) and did hurt by the end. By comparison, the second day was plain sailing :stuck_out_tongue:

Apologies for the hijack!

I’m actually not using any system. The pedals I have came with toe clips/cages, but I removed them because they were nothing but a hassle in the constant start/stop of in-town riding. I haven’t gone to cleats because the nature of the bike trail I normally ride makes me wary of having my feet locked to the pedals in any way. I mentioned the cleats on my shoes simply because they don’t seem to make a bicycling shoe that doesn’t have them. My current shoes are actually mountain biking shoes - meaning they have an outsole that I can actually walk on, as opposed to the hard, smooth outsole of road bike “racing” shoes.

From my reading, am I correct in that it’s not cutting off blood to your hands or feet, but it’s just pressure on a nerve… like when your foot falls asleep?

That’s reassuring, knowing I’m not doing permanent damage, and that my toes and fingers’ll return to normal after a few minutes.

Smart to go with the mountain biking shoe but I’m not sure you are doing yourself any favors by not adapting to cleats. Clicking-in will significantly improve your efficiency. There is a saying in cycling, “pedal in circles.” Right now all of your energy is being transmitted to the bike via the soles of your feet. You should be using both sides of your foot to improve efficiency. Yes, it takes some practice to get used to the cleats and you probably will fall at least once but it is worth it.

Getting shoes that fit properly can be tricky. Some manufacturers, particularly European, tend to narrow the toe area too much. Here’s a suggestion. Get a pair of Keen bicycling sandals. They will be comfortable. They do protect the toes. They have a removable plate on the bottom to install the cleats. If you don’t like using the cleats you can put the sole plate back on and still have a nice pair of sandals.

I’m going to be the lone dissenter here and recommend you look at a recumbent bike. It is much more comfortable. You don’t suffer from numb hands as you don’t have to hold your upper body up, thus relieving any pressure on your wrists. You have a nice wide seat to sit on that cradles your butt instead of a small saddle that can be uncomfortable. Plus, you get to sit back and actually see where you are going.

I’ve actually considered that. The only thing that’s actually stopping me is finding one I can afford - I really had to stretch to buy the bike I have. I actually spent more on the bike than I’ve spent on my last two cars combined. Last three, actually, but one of those was given to me free. The other two I paid a total of $1000 for. Paid $1200 for the bike :smiley: