Q | Sometimes when I exercise my hands and feet go numb. What’s up?
A | Numbness in the extremities during certain movements is generally the result of continuous pressure on a nerve, which can inhibit pathways to and from the brain. Two places it often occurs: the bike and the elliptical machine.
“For cyclists, the most common cause is when one of the nerves of the hand gets compressed as the hands rest on the bar,” says Doug Dengerink, DO, a sports-medicine physician in San Diego, CA.
Dengerink suggests frequently adjusting your grip, wearing padded gloves, and possibly raising the handlebar height. A bar that is too low can cause you to put too much pressure on your wrists or hands.
If you’re experiencing pain in other parts of your body, such as your neck or shoulders, bike fit and other bio-mechanical issues could be to blame. Consult a bicycle-fitting expert to make sure your bike is set up properly for your body. In some cases, an adjustment of just a quarter of an inch can make a dramatic improvement.
On the elliptical machine, numbness can occur because your feet stay relatively fixed for an extended period of time. “Since you don’t push off the ground or stride in the same way as when walking or running, your shoelaces don’t get stretched and your feet swell slightly, which can lead to compression of nerves in the feet,” Dengerink says.
He suggests making sure your laces are not too tight, altering the shoe-lacing pattern, adding padding to the tongue area of footwear, adjusting your foot position occasionally, or changing pedaling direction.
To prevent numbness, the American Council on Exercise recommends that you do not stay on the balls of your feet while on the elliptical machine, but instead perform a rolling motion from the balls of your feet to your heels as you move.
If you experience hand or foot numbness that doesn’t go away when you stop the activity, consult a chiropractor or a physician.