May 27, 2011

The Pinky Problem

As I suspected, my rogue pinky finger seems to be the result of some minor nerve damage, most likely from poor form and fit on my bike. I first noticed it a little over a week ago when I was swimming, but figured it might just go away on it's own. Well, it obviously didn't, and it actually got worse after each bike ride. It doesn't hurt and I haven't lost any sensation, but when my hand is flat and my fingers are straightened, my pinky drifts off to the left and I can't make it move toward the other fingers. It's surprisingly frustrating to be telling my body to do something with my mind and for it not to listen physically. I've also noticed that my grip in my left hand has weakened a bit. Since it wasn't getting any better, I consulted my coach/boss Pat who first suggested it was nerve related.

The next day I went to see a local sports somatic practitioner - known for his quick, to-the-point, and often extremely painful treatments (I also saw him a while back for some hip issues). His diagnosis was a compressed nerve (ulnar nerve I think?), probably from an improper bike fit. He had some fancy term for it, but all that stood out to me was the word "palsy". He went to work on my forearm, literally making me swear out loud several times, and then we were done. My pinky was a little closer, but still drifting a bit. Later that day I discovered that my arm was bruised where he worked on it, and my pinky was once again off on it's own.
it looks like a weird Star Trek sign!
I did some Googling (of course), and actually found a lot of stuff on nerve-related hand problems for cyclists, but they all seemed to involve numbness and loss of sensation, not lack of motor control. The common term I found was "handlebar palsy", caused by a compressed ulnar nerve. This sounded similar but not quite right... 

I decided to make an appointment with my sports chiro (who I'd been seeing for my hips during AR 50 training). So this morning I went in and got a similar but slightly different diagnosis: crushed nerves in my left arm/hand, probably from both improper bike fit and my hand placement while riding. I usually have my hands on the hoods with my thumb on one side and my fingers on the other side. Apparently this is compressing/crushing some nerves which is causing me to lose functionality in my poor little pinky : / He worked on my hand, forearm, and upper arm, gave me instructions on how to tweak my grip on the bike, and told me to come back in next week. Apparently nerves take longer than muscles and tendons to heal, so he told me to be patient. After all this though, as of tonight it's honestly no better than it was last week. My entire arm, on the other hand, feels like I got punched and is slightly bruised : ( While I'm glad it's not a debilitating injury or even a painful one, I'm slightly discouraged and don't really know what to do next. Certain things, like tying shoes at work, washing my face, and swimming are a bit harder. And while it's minor now, I don't want it to turn into something serious.

I'm definitely planning on getting refit for my bike by a professional, possibly getting some new handlebars (mine may be too wide for me), and there's also a good chance I'll be adding some clip on aero bars soon, too. This is all just unfamiliar territory for me, so thankfully Pat and some of my coworkers have been helping me out. My next bike ride is tomorrow and I plan to try switching up my grip a bit to see if it helps (or at least doesn't make things worse). Cross your fingers (ha!) for my little one!


  1. That is pretty scary! Back when I actually rode my bike, padded gloves helped with some numbness that came with all of the vibrations. I hope your pinky feels better soon!! Also, I read your ET report -- I am leaning very heavily towards doing it this year. Loved your report!

  2. I hope your finger is back to normal soon. It's definitely hard to figure out what is going on (or causing a problem) when you're new to a sport and don't know a whole lot about it. I've had some knee pain while on my bike (on and off) and I'm sure there is some relatively easy form or fit adjustment that I could make (if I knew what I was doing)!

  3. that is a weird injury. hope things get straightened out soon!

  4. So while googling a bit about my own injury, I've run across your blog and glad to see someone post about this other than the normal numbness and tingling in the hands symptoms that I've been reading. My pinky does the exact same thing and normal things like typing, washing my hair or face or even my hands is tricky...

    I plan to go to the dr soon and in the meantime change up my grip a bit. it's only in my left hand and not my right so maybe I'm gripping more with the left. I dunno.

    Thanks for the post btw.


  5. Same thing happened to me, but I was just shoveling mountains of sticky sugar popcorn at work and moping/sweeping a lot of floors.. next thing I knew I woke up to my left pinky sticking out.
    I can also pull my pinky further away without my ring finger following. It's concerning, but also a pretty neat party trick ^^

  6. I too came across your blog while I was googling my own problem. I'm slightly relieved to hear it's not the start of some sort of debilitating brain damage. Although, I completely agree with the frustration involved in trying to make your pinky move and it won't. I have the same situation, but I'm not a cyclist. I work out pretty regularly, so maybe I pinched it doing that. I've been doing sort of a home remedy, physical therapy-type thing. What I've found helps most is taping the last two fingers together for a couple hours. That seems to make it want to stray away from the ring finger less. I've also been using a spring hand strengthener, I'll come back and let you know how this is progressing.

    Thanks for blogging about this, I was getting worried,