Damage to the ulnar nerve, called handlebar palsy, can happen frequently to an avid cyclist according to the Sports Injury Bulletin. This is caused from inflammation of the ulnar nerve. Irritation of this nerve can happen at the elbow or the wrist and is usually due to vibration and shock absorbed by the arms during riding. This condition occurs more commonly in mountain biking and off-road biking. Rest and alterations to the bicycle can help resolve and prevent handlebar palsy from occurring.
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The ulnar nerve supplies the pinky side or lateral palm, the skin of the lateral two thirds of the hand and the flexor muscles of the anterior forearm. Changes in sensation when the ulnar nerve is affected will occur to the ring and pinky finger. This nerve can be restricted at the wrist or the elbow.
Signs and Symptoms
Signs and symptoms vary when handlebar palsy affects the ulnar nerve. At early onset of irritation, the inflammation of the nerve can be felt in the form of tingling or numbness. As the damage to the ulnar nerve continues, pain, weakness and a decrease in grip strength may occur.
Rest and ice is the first step in the treatment for ulnar nerve damage. Rest, combined with regular periods of icing, may need to be done for two to four weeks. Splints may also be recommended to avoid further irritation of the nerve. A supplement of B vitamin complex can help heal the nerve damage faster according to the Sports Injury Bulletin. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories and steroids can be prescribed by the treating physician. If the condition persists and is not treated, surgery to decrease the pressure on the nerve is a last resort.
To prevent further irritation of the ulnar nerve, padded gloves will allow bike riding to continue with less aggravation of the nerve. Changing the position of handles and the seat may also help to prevent ulnar nerve damage. If the handlebars are too low or the frame of the bike is too large, you will have to stretch or reach for the handlebars. Also, if the seat is tilted forward, this puts extra weight and pressure on the wrist and forearms.