Hand surgeons often see motorcyclists for a variety of conditions. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Cubital Tunnel Syndrome, Trigger Finger, Tennis Elbow, and Thumb Arthritis are some of the most common problems bike riders experience. The good news is that most of these conditions can be prevented or treated effectively.
Part of the joy of riding a motorcycle involves constant use of the hands and upper extremity. One of the common misconceptions among motorcycle riders is that hand and wrist pain is part of riding a motorcycle and dealing with the pain is the only solution. You don’t have to be in pain doing something that you love!!! You would not ignore an oil leak or unusual noise…so don’t ignore the warning signs in your hands. You should not let your hand pain or symptoms take the fun and enjoyment out of riding your motorcycle.
Motorcycle sites and chat rooms are filled with topics about hand problems, but very few mention consulting with a hand surgeon. One of the most common complaints is hand numbness or tingling: There are a number of factors that can cause this problem:
Hand, wrist, and elbow and shoulder position
Putting the wrist in extreme flexion can put tension and pressure on the Median nerve at the wrist and cause symptoms similar to carpal tunnel syndrome. This typically results in numbness and tingling of the thumb, index, and middle fingers.
Placing the elbow in flexion can put a strain on the Ulnar nerve as it travels around the elbow. This increases the pressure around the ulnar nerve at an area called the Cubital tunnel, and may lead to numbness, tingling, or a burning sensation along the outside aspect of the forearm, small, and ring fingers. Some people may experience cramps of their hands or a strange sensation at the elbow or forearm.
The solution to these problems is to avoid prolonged and extreme extension or flexion of the wrist and elbows. It is also a good practice to move your hands and elbow periodically and to alternate hands as often as possible while stopped in traffic or at a stop light. Having the wrist in slight extension and the elbows in slight flexion will help greatly.
Research studies have shown that vibration can have a detrimental and permanent effect on peripheral nerves. Nerves are overloaded with sensory input from vibration and the result can be permanent nerve damage. Fortunately, most of the time, there is an association between vibration and common conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome which can be treated effectively.
Try to decrease vibration at the handle bar as much as possible and invest in a good pair of well padded or gel-padded gloves. If you experience symptoms while not riding, at night, when you wake up, or if you have hand weakness, you should consult with a hand surgeon to evaluate your hands for Carpal Tunnel syndrome and Cubital Tunnel Syndrome.
The Fellowship trained hand surgeons at Hand Surgery Specialists of Texas have been treating these conditions successfully with a variety of treatment modalities that may not require an operation. When surgery is necessary, they have been in the forefront of performing the operation with endoscopic techniques which are done on an outpatient basis with very small incisions that don’t even require stitching. This allows faster and less painful recovery than traditional open surgery.
Tight or improper grip of the handlebar
Having a tight grip on the handlebar in the same position for a prolonged period of time can put strain on the small joints of the hand, as well as the tendons which move the hand and wrist.
The best way to overcome this problem is to move your fingers and thumb periodically and avoid strong or tight gripping of the device. You can also buy a throttle lock which can help on longer trips, much like a cruise control would on a car. It will still allow you to make quick changes. Applying ice over the hand after a long trip will help decrease the inflammatory response of the hand tendons. However, running your hands under warm water the next morning will increase blood flow to the fingers and get rid of the inflammatory fluid which has collected overnight. If you experience stiffness or locking, catching or triggering of a finger or thumb, have your hand evaluated by a hand surgeon.
There are two things that you should remember from this article:
- Having proper arm and wrist position and proper equipment will prevent problems.
- Decrease stress at your joints: Take breaks, move your joints, and alternate hands as often as possible.