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Bike Handlebars For Wrist Pain: Choosing The Right Type

Bike handle bars that are bend back so the person holding them has bend wrists.

Wrist pain has become so common among cyclists that it’s been given a name – “handlebar palsy.” It affects one out of every three cyclists, so it really is a serious problem. There are several reasons for this wrist pain, which we’ll discuss, but choosing the right handlebars is part of the solution.

Bike handlebars are at least partly responsible for the pressure put on the hands and wrist by incorrect positioning of the hands, and by the wrong distribution of the rider’s weight. By choosing the right handlebars, coupled with other changes, wrist pain can be totally removed.   

To make the necessary changes, we first need to look at the medical reasons why riders develop wrist pain and then try to uncover all the factors that cause the problem. Once we know what we’re dealing with, it’s much easier to solve the problem and decide what type of handlebars we should choose as part of the solution.

Bike Handlebars – The Right Type For Curing Wrist Pain

The wrist pain felt by almost one-third of all riders is caused by excess pressure on the wrist and hand, so relieving the pressure is essential if we are looking for a permanent cure for the condition.

What Are The Medical Reasons For Wrist pain?   

Two nerves are involved in riders’ wrist pain:

  1. The ulnar nerve becomes compressed called ulnar neuropathy which causes:
    • pain
    • numbness
    • tingling
    • weakness in the hands and wrist
  2. The carpal tunnel in the wrist houses the median nerve. When compressed this nerve affects the tendons passing through the wrist causing pain in the wrist and hand, called carpal tunnel syndrome.

Why The Need To Change Handlebars?

The wrist comprises eight small bones. In a neutral or natural position, these bones stack neatly and carry weight easily. When the wrist is over-extended or bent too heavily, that weight is carried by the tendons and ligaments instead of the bones.

The resultant pain is caused by long-distance or prolonged cycling, in road bikes or mountain bikes, when the position of the hands causes compression of the nerves. This, coupled with the vibrations transmitted from the road surface, highlights the need for the correct handlebars

Other Factors Causing Wrist Pain

We can assume that putting pressure on one’s wrists and hands has one fundamental cause – bad posture. This causes the body to throw too much weight forward and is the result of several factors:

  1. General fatigue – if you’ve been riding for a long time, your posture will change, shoulders will droop, and elbows will straighten, throwing weight onto your wrists and hands.
  2. Keeping one’s hands in the same position for too long – a good set of handlebars will provide several hand positions while still allowing complete control.
  3. Incorrect size and shape of handlebars – the most important factor, which we’ll discuss a little later.
  4. Incorrect bike fit – a bike that’s too big, with a top tube too long, will transfer the rider’s weight forward.
  5. The saddle post may be too long, or the saddle simply raised too high.
  6. The saddle tilted forward will also result in weight being concentrated on the wrists and hands.
  7. A lot of downhill riding will also cause undue pressure on wrists and hands.
A man in a bike garage changing the handlebars of a bike.
Changing handlebars to ones that suit you will help with wrist pain

What Choosing The Right Handlebar Will Achieve

Let’s assume that the bike is the right size for you – the distance between the front point of the saddle and the center of the handlebar should be equal to the distance from the outside of the elbow to the end of your middle finger. Get it adjusted by a professional before you do anything else.

The right handlebar will allow you to carry more weight through your back and backside and less through your arms and wrists. This is achieved with a more upright posture, which may not be aerodynamic, but is necessary.

  • Consider butterfly bars, like this example from Amazon, which can be adjusted to give you more of a swept-back handlebar or dropped to provide a lower grip. The advantage of a butterfly handlebar is that you have many possible positions for your hands.
  • Radonneur handlebars, similar to butterfly bars, have an upward sweep, which allows weight to be transferred off the wrists and hands.
  • Carbon fiber handlebars absorb more vibration than aluminum, so although they’re a lot more expensive, they will make riding much more comfortable for those with wrist pain. They also are made in a wider variety of shapes, making it easier to find one that suits your requirements.
  • Handlebars with a mild backward sweep will provide a more upright posture and remove pressure on the wrists. Comments by riders are very positive in this regard – a backward sweep of only 9 degrees can have a positive effect on wrist pain, and combined with an upward sweep of 6 degrees is an option that should be even more effective.
  • Clip-on aero bars (these are great value on Amazon) are extensions of the handlebars, give support to the forearms while cycling, and relieve the pressure on the hands and wrists. They offer an excellent opportunity for riders to allow their bones to bear their weight, but the downside is that it reduces your control over brakes and gears as your hands are further away from the levers.
  • Flat handlebars are the ones most likely to cause wrist pain because they place your hands at an unnatural angle and are more likely to force an over-extension of the wrists.

Additional Steps To Relieve Wrist Pain

Choosing the correct type of handlebars is the most important step in taking the pressure off your wrists, but there are some additional measures you can take:

  1. Cushioned handlebar tape (Amazon link), will absorb at least some of the road shocks and vibration which you feel through the wrists.
  2. A good pair of gloves with padding, like these sold on Amazon, specially designed to protect the ulnar nerve is essential.
  3. Get your bike fitted with wider tires and run them at a slightly lower pressure to help reduce vibration.
  4. Work on strengthening your core – not always easy, but it will help lift the load off your wrists.
A cyclists hands holding onto handlebars with fingerless gloves for cycling on.
A good pair of padded gloves will help protect nerves


Wrist pain caused by compression of the ulnar and median nerves is a common complaint amongst cyclists and is not to be taken lightly. Unless treated, the damage may be permanent. The more time in the saddle, the more likely you are to suffer wrist pain, so it’s not something you can work through.

There are several ways to alleviate it, but the most important remedy for wrist pain is fitting your bike with the best type of handlebars. That’s where the damage is caused and is the root cause of the problem.

We hope you’ve gained enough information here to help you make the changes and enjoy many miles of pain-free cycling.

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