Arm Pain When Cycling: A doctor’s look into why it happens and how to fix it


Cycling is a great way to get fit and healthy. But even the most experienced cyclists will deal with pain from time to time. I’ve suffered from neck and arm pain myself after long cycles and so know how uncomfortable it can be. As a doctor and cyclist, I thought I would be well suited to spend some time looking into what causes arm pain when cycling and the best ways to try and fix it.

Arm pain while cycling is caused by the pressure placed on your arms from your upper body and the handlebars. To reduce this pain you need to improve your core strength which will help to carry some of the upper body weight instead of your arms. You should also get a bike fitting to ensure you have a good riding position.

While arm pain comes as a result of the weight we put through our arms onto the handlebars, there are some other key factors that can result in arm pain (be that in your hands, forearms, or shoulders). Below I take a look at these other factors as well as the best ways to fix them.

Why do my arms get tired or feel hurt after riding a bike?

First things first. While I am a qualified doctor, it is important for me to remind you that I have not been able to properly assess you before giving this advice. This page has generic advice and if you are having any symptoms such as arm pain or numbness then you should ensure you are seeking formal medical attention.

This article is intended to work as a resource to help you reduce your arm pain once other causes of pain and numbness, not being caused by your cycling, have been excluded. Some causes of numbness can be serious and should be discussed with a medical professional urgently.

Arm pain while cycling is a common problem. When people complain about arm pain they typically mean a few separate things. Most people notice arm pain in their forearms, hands, or shoulders. There are a few general reasons why your arms may hurt while cycling, and then a few more specific causes that will impact the individual areas of your arm.

General arm pain

While the majority of the work you do while cycling is coming from your legs, your arms are also working while you ride a bike. Your legs are used to holding your weight as you walk around whereas your arms are not.

As a result, you may notice pain in your arms after you start cycling rather than in other areas you might have expected such as your legs.

Another key factor is that people will often neglect their arms, shoulders, and hands when warming up for a bike ride. Most people will presume that they need to warm up their legs and forget about other areas of their body.

Warming up your arms and upper body is integral as your arms work hard to control the direction of the bike and stabilize you, as well as help you to balance and hold some of your upper body weight.

The hands

Most pain from the hands comes as a result of too much pressure from the handlebars onto your hands, this can result in pain or even areas of numbness while cycling if there are any nerves in the area you are putting pressure on.

This pain typically results from either squeezing the handlebars too tightly or by riding in the wrong position on the bike (either due to your form or the bike sizing itself). This put excess upper body weight into your hands increasing the pressure.

The forearm

Pain in the forearms while cycling typically comes from muscles in the forearm region. The muscles that are sued to squeeze your hands around the handlebars are located in your forearms and too much of this can cause inflammation to the muscles and tendon in your arm.

Forearm pain can also come as a result of keeping your arms in too “rigid” of a position. When you are held too tightly in a position it allows the vibrations from the road to travel up your arm causing discomfort.

The shoulder

Shoulder pain while riding often comes from incorrect riding position or sizing of a bike. Holding your neck and shoulders in a poor position over a long ride can result in cramping and muscle pain.

Pain in this region may also come from again being too tense as you ride. Your shoulder muscles are not used to being tensed for a long period of time and so this can cause pain.

How to reduce arm pain when cycling?

Given your arms are doing this much work each time you get onto a bike, it’s not surprising that they might feel tired if you’re just starting out on your cycling journey. However, your arms should not be hurting when you cycle, and if they are you may want to look into this more.

First of all, if you are getting pain, the best first step is to seek advice from a medical professional. While I may be a doctor, I do not know your other medical conditions or you personally, and so cannot give specific or the most suitable advice.

Once other causes of your arm pain have been excluded by your doctor there are a few steps you can take to try and reduce the pain in your arms.

General advice

The first step is to allow time for your arm muscles to get stronger. As we’ve established, your arms are not as used to holding your body weight as your legs are. With time the muscles will develop and pain should reduce.

Make sure to improve your core muscles. Your core should be the main area carrying your upper body weight. For example, you should not be leaning your weight onto your hands but instead holding yourself sat upright with your hands only there to turn the handlebars as you control the bike.

To improve your core look at some basic yoga classes or try building in exercises that focus on your core (such as the plank) into your exercise routine.

Make sure to warm up your upper body before a cycle. This includes areas such as your shoulder, neck, and wrists. Take a look at this video below which covers most of the key areas.


Consider making adjustments to your bike. First of all, ensure you go and get a proper bike fitting where they can adjust your saddle and handlebar position, and even take a look at the frame size itself.

Apart from these steps, take a look at reducing your tire pressure and getting some slightly wider tires. This will reduce the impact of the road on your arms and hopefully reduce any pain you may be experiencing.

Specific tips for forearm pain

If you are mainly struggling with forearm pain, there are a few specific steps you can take to try and reduce this.

First of all, ensure you are riding in a relaxed body position. Relax your shoulders and bend your arms so that they are not being held out straight on the handlebars.

On top of this make sure you are actively using your core to take pressure off your arms. You can practice on an electric or stationary bike in front of a mirror where you do not need to look at the road.

When it comes to forearm pain, the main areas you will want to focus on during a bike fitting will be the size of the frame, the saddle height, handlebar reach, and saddle angle. If incorrect all of these will put extra strain on your forearms.

Specific tips for hand pain

When it comes to hand pain, in particular, make sure to ride with a relaxed hand position. Don’t grip the handlebars or brakes too tightly and ensure you are frequently mixing up your hand position on the handlebars (move from the drops to the flats to the top of the brakes).

When looking at bike adjustments for hand pain or numbness, the most important area is to ensure that the handlebar isn’t too low, or too narrow. Both of which will compress your arms and hands, putting more pressure on key areas.

One tip you can try is double wrapping your bars with handlebar tape, by overlapping the tape it can make the bars more comfortable on pressure points and increase the diameter of the handlebars, making them more comfortable to grip.

Finally, if you use cycling gloves, make sure to try a different pair or none at all. Some gloves come with padding that results in you putting more pressure on key areas. This can lead to worse pain or numbness where a different pair may not. If you’re looking for a pair of cycling gloves, I would recommend this pair made by gore which can be found on amazon.

Overview

As you can see, there are many different factors that can impact arm pain while cycling. The first steps are to exclude any other causes of arm pain with your doctor and then to ensure you are positioning yourself and riding in such a way that you reduce the pressure being put through your hands and forearms.

Related Questions

Does cycling do anything for your arms?

As you cycle, you will naturally pull on the bars to oppose the downward force your legs apply to the pedals. This along with all the extra work your arms are doing to hold your upper body weight and stabilize the bike will definitely have an impact on your forearm and hand muscles.

Over time you should notice your forearms becoming more toned and stronger.

Another key point to note is that as you cycle, you may well lose general body fat and weight, this will allow your current forearm and arms muscles to become more apparent and make you look more toned.

Mark Holmes

30-year-old doctor with an interest in cycling, bikepacking, and statistics.

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