doctor reco's/any advice (unable to shift gears w/ left hand)

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Anonymous's picture

Just wondering if any cyclists have had similar problem and were able to find a solution (hopefully non-surgical):

I've got sa problem with my left hand (not sure I got it from cycling, or just never realized it existed until I started riding): the muscles in my left hand are really weak and I am unable to shift gears with it (it's not that it's hard to do it, it's 100% impossible)--so I am stuck riding in my middle chainring 100% of the time (my bike is a triple). I know for a fact everything is perfectly fine with the shifters, it's definitely my hand. Bike mechanics at several shops also told me that there's not much they can do with the bike, if anything, to make it easier for me to shift.

Most of the time, especially when I ride on the flats I am in the smallest ring in the back, and in the middle up front--and many cyclists told me it's a really bad combination to use-it's bad for the chain, and not the most efficient way to ride. This 9-speed set up has worked fine during the B-SIG, but I would like to keep improving and be able to ride faster, and I think having 27 gear options (especially the big ring, I think I could live without the granny, unless I go to Colorado or smth) instead of 9 could help me increase my speed.

I figured I probably have carpal tunnel syndrome, or maybe a pinched nerve. From what I've read, it seems like I might need surgery, which I really would like to avoid. Has anyone had this (or similar) problem before? Any recommendations for a good doctor in NYC (esp. those who advocate non-surgical ways of dealing with this?) Or, preferably, any suggestions AT ALL as to what (if anything) can be done to the shifters? I have Shimano 105, and someone suggested if I swich to Campy it may solve the problem-but I think it might be too expensive (even more $ than surgery). Thanks in advance!!!

Anonymous's picture
Carol (not verified)
Hand Clinic

I have gone to the hand clinic at St. Lukes-Roosevelt Hospital (can't remember the actual name of it). The doctor I use is Louis Catalano, phone # 212-523-7590. They know everything about hands.

Anonymous's picture
Christian (not verified)


Though it's probably a good idea to see a doc, if you want a cheap and easy bike fix, you can get relief by using a bar-end shifter, like these:'0500-00'

The bar-end shifter plugs into the back of the bar and will allow you to move the shifter with your whole hand, as opposed to the fingers. I would recommend you keep the STI shifter on the right.

A set of bar end shifters is about $60, I think. I can help you install the left hand one, if you want. You'll need new bar tape, too.

- Christian

(NB: Downtube shifters could do the same thing, but your bike doesn't allow for downtube shifters (no shifter boss on the downtube).

Anonymous's picture
Joe Soda (not verified)

The bar end shifter sounds good, but if she doesn't have the strength to use the STI lever, she probably can't use the bar end shifter. She needs something that she can use with her right hand. Assuming there are no bosses (although many bikes still have them) is there a clamp device she could use on the downtube?

Anonymous's picture
Christian (not verified)

I think a bar-end will work ok because you don't need finger strength to shift a bar-ender. You can use the butt of your hand to downshift and all your fingers to upshift. And, you can also put the bar-ender on the right bar, if you have a continued problem.

I thought about using clamp-on bosses, but the Specialized Dolce has a 34 or 38mm downtube, and you'll be hardpressed to find clamp-on bosses bigger than 28.6mm (common) or 31.8mm (rare, possibly non-existent).

If the barender on the left or right doesn't work, I'd recommend a 9sp bar-end converted to thumbshifter (via a Paul adapter), mounted on the right side of the bar top.

Where there's a will...
- Christian

Anonymous's picture
Neile (not verified)
Pictures are good

"Agreeing with Christian, I don't see why putting a shifter for the front derailleur on right side wont work fine.

Besides the barcon ...

and the Paul ""thumbshifter"" ...

would be the Kelly ""Take-Off"".

And under the heading of irrelevant but fun, there's the Schlumpf drive which you shift with your heels ...

Click three times and you're back in Kansas."

Anonymous's picture
Inga (not verified)
Thank You!

"Thank you SOO much everyone!

I think what I am going to do is to see a doctor ASAP--who knows, maybe whatever is wrong with the hand can be taken care of right away (Carol-thanks for the doc's name--I checked online, and he actually accepts my insurance, so it's perfect!)

Realistically though (at least short term--because I am definitely NOT having my hand operated on right before the summer!), the bar end shifters are probably the best solution--thank you Christian and Neile for your advice! I actually think it might even work on the left side--although that hand is (obviously) weaker, it still is more or less functional (as I said earlier, I didn't even realize anything was wrong with it until I started cycling and tried to change gears). I am just so glad there are options, and my situation is ""fixable""!

Christian, after my doctor's visit (if there's no quick medical fix to whatever I've got), I may contact you with a couple of more questions about all this stuff (because it seems pretty technical, and I am not going to claim that I understand all of the details)--if you don't mind...

Again, THANK YOU!!!"

Anonymous's picture
Susan Conova (not verified)

I had the same problem when my bike, and Shimano 105s, were new and I wonder if the 105s need to be ""broken in"" more. This is what my shop told me when I complained that I couldn't shift into the big chainring and the mechanics couldn't find anything wrong. I don't know if this is really true, but I kept trying (it would sometimes take 30 seconds or so to finally shift) and within a week or two it did get easier, although it still gives me grief on occasion. Maybe someone else can ride your bike around and work the gears to see if that helps?"

Anonymous's picture
Inga (not verified)
interesting thought

Thanks!!! This is actually at least worth a try (it definitely won't hurt--what do I have to lose?)... I am curious if anyone else besides you and me have had the same issue with Shimano 105 shifters...

However, the shifter would have to loosen up quite a bit--now if I want to shift to the big ring I have to basically put the palm of my hand against the shifter, and lean my entire body against it to get it to move--which I cannot risk doing while I am actually riding the bike, because it throws it completely off balance. I tried the shifters on my friend's bike(just to compare) and they felt exactly the same (they were also 105s though, and the bike is even newer than mine).

I'll definitely be on a lookout for people who would fit (at least more or less) on a 44 cm frame with Look-compatible shoes and might want to take my bike for a spin--so if anyone (a trustworthy person, of course) is reading this and might be interested in taking a Specialized Dolce Elite 2005 for a spin in the park let me know!!! :)

Anonymous's picture
fendergal (not verified)

If you can't shift, can you really brake adequately? The front brake is on the left side, and that's the brake that's going to stop you faster.

You say you don't want to have surgery just before the summer. However, if your riding is compromised, it would seem worth it to sacrifice one summer to restore full function of your hand.

Assuming it is a nerve impingement, at first glance, it seems to be a long-standing chronic issue to have progressed to muscle weakness (usually, the sensory portions are affected first).

Is there something going on in your work or home life that could be causing a problem in your wrist or hands? Just curious. Have you ever tried hand-strengthening exercises?

Anonymous's picture
Inga (not verified)


I can break perfectly fine from the drops, it's a little trickier from the hoods, but I think it has more to do with the fact that I have really small hands, and therefore, reach issues (even with a WSD bike--my hands are tiny, I am like 5 feet tall, and my bike is the smallest size they make, 44 cm frame--so you get the picture!).

The hand is really NOT that bad, I never even realized I had anything wrong with it at all (and when I wasn't able to shift gears, I totally thought it was the bike--until several people checked it for me (regular cyclists and bike mechanics), and said the bike was perfectly fine. However, since I am a rightie, I don't use the left hand as much so maybe that's why I never noticed.

My riding experience is not really being compromised too much either--but again, I have never been able to use 27 gears, so I truly don't know what I am missing. The major issue is not being able to shift to the big chainring, which I am sure is limiting my speed on the flats (and potentially downhills--but since I still need to work on my descending skills at ""normal"" speeds, and not try to go down at 50 mph, it's not a big deal at this point). I can actually shift down to the granny if I wanted to, but then I cannot upshift back to the middle chainring--and frankly, I've never felt the need to use the granny in the first place with the kinds of hills I've done so far, so it's a non-issue.

I don't think I do (or ever have done) anything unusual that would've caused any kind of damage to my hand muscles/nerves/ligaments. I work in an office (yup, Corporate America), on the computer most of the day--but I would assume that would affect both hands equally--or the right one would be impacted first b/c of the mouse)

I have already scheduled an appt with Dr. Catalano for later this week--so we'll see what happens... I really hope there's a way to avoid surgery (especially because I don't think the hand problem is that major--because it really doesn't affect my life besides using the shifters when I bike). In any case, I can't let them cut the hand up before the end of the summer--I have some triathlons to do and it will ruin my entire season!!! I like the idea of the bar end shifters a lot though :)

Thanks :) You guys have been so helpful!!!"

Anonymous's picture
dave (not verified)
pinched nerve-

"I had a similar problem last season when I got a new bike. The stem was was a little long for me and my elbows were too straight. I also encountered the same problem with shifting at the end of long rides. it took all I had to move the lever to shift. i have very nice components too, but that doesn't matter as i'll explain in a second-

It sounds like you have a nerve compression injury. Even if it doesn't hurt, your nerve is getting pinched at the elbow or wrist causing your hand to lose it's strength. Everybody's different, but this is how i got past it-

Check your bike fit at your local shop. Make sure you're not too stretched out over the top tube and try to remember to keep your elbows bent when you ride at all times. You may start out with them bent, but as you get tired toward the end you might be locking them out.

Also, as you're doing, see a doctor to get checked out and ask him/her when it's safe to ride again. i would also mention that you're an active cyclist and you think it might be nerve compression.

The good thing is that I doubt you'll need surgery. I wouldn't spend any money on new bike parts either. You should concentrate on getting your arms back to health rather than buying shifters to help you ride with a handicap. I fully recovered after a month off the bike and ice packs a few times a day. While i was healing I got my bike re-fit (1 cm off the stem). After the month was over I went back to training and I've never felt it again. Not even a little ""tingliness"" in the finger tips.

i hope this helps. It is a frustrating injury!"

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