The twistgrip. It is both a giving and cruel genie, launching us into flight and, sometimes, into peril. But there is more to clutching the handlebars than enabling our beloved rides. Years of exposure to vibration and suspension shock, combined with wrist extension from turning the throttle, can cause numbness and chronic pain in the wrists and hands.
“Pressure, vibration, and repetitive work inflames tendons in the palm side of the wrist, pinching the median nerve as it passes through the carpal tunnel and causing tingling or numbness in the fingers,” says Dr. Michael Behrman, a board-certified hand surgeon. “On the backside of the wrist, vibration can also cause pain by aggravating tendonitis and arthritis.”
Motorcyclists aren’t alone in vulnerability, as carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) afflicts other repetitive-use occupations, from computer jockeys to construction workers, and from bass players to dental hygienists. “CTS is part of modern life,” Dr. Behrman adds. “When hands are exposed to repetitive use or vibration, everybody is at risk—and the risk is higher the more you do.” That said, not all types of motorcycle riding carries the same peril. “The vibration, shock, and jolting experienced while dirt bike riding may cause more problems than steady vibration from riding on the highway,” he notes.
Since CTS is caused by energy transmission to the wrists, here are some strategies to reduce the chance of developing it—and how to tell if you have it now.
BEST BIKE MODS. To protect hands from shock and vibration, consider opting for a bike with a smoother engine and better suspension. Padded gloves, a quick-turn throttle that limits wrist extension, vibration- and shock-absorbing handlebars/mounts, soft grips, and bar-end weights will help if your desired mount is not the smoothest thing around.
CHECK FOR SYMPTOMS. CTS symptoms include hands going numb while riding or experiencing hand pain that awakens you at night. To mitigate these, take breaks while riding and wear a brace to keep your wrist from curling while you’re asleep.
DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT. Diagnoses can include clinical evaluation by an orthopedist and nerve conduction studies by a physiatrist. Interventions can include rest, icing the wrist, anti-inflammatories, cortisone injections, or, in severe cases, surgery. If ignored, CTS can eventually atrophy thumb muscles.
GETTING REPAIRED. Arthroscopic surgery microscopically enlarges the carpal tunnel area to lessen nerve pressure. Typically, the procedure is outpatient, complications are rare, recovery time is a few weeks, and symptoms are significantly reduced.
So get out and ride, but always keep in mind the ways of reducing your chances of developing CTS.