Why do My Wrists Hurt When I Ride a Motorcycle?


Wrist pain, carpal tunnel, or tendonitis, are common ailments for people who ride motorcycles and it can be a real pain (bad pun, I know). I’ve suffered through rides where my clutch hand is on fire, right behind the thumb, where every time I had to pull in the clutch made me want to give up the sport. So, I started looking at ways to reduce the pain and keep my wrists from hurting.

So, Why do my wrists hurt when I ride a motorcycle? Wrist pain can be attributed to bending the wrists, supporting your body weight on your wrists, poorly adjusted controls, weak forearms or grip, or vibration. All of which puts extra strain on the tendons in your hands, wrists and forearms, resulting in pain.

Here’s a quick lesson in wrist anatomy so you can understand what’s going on when you’re in pain.

The wrists and hands are an intricate grouping of bones, tendons, nerves and a little muscle tissue. Our fingers actually have no muscles and they are controlled by the muscles in your wrists and forearms, connected to tendons in our fingers. Weird, I know.

All the nerves that give us the ability to feel, pass through one opening at the wrist called the carpal tunnel. When those nerves become irritated through constant pressure or repetitive motion, they will become inflamed and cause pain.

There are also tendons that run down the backs of the fingers, through the wrist and are attached to the muscles in your forearm. Another tendon runs down the back of the thumb, through the wrist; this is the one that cause me the most problems. So, there are many opportunities for these tendons to become irritated with overuse.

Reduce Vibration

Constant vibration in the handlebars can impede blood flow to your hands and fingers causing numbness. Over time, that lack of blood flow will damage nerves in your hands and wrists. But there are some ways you can reduce the vibration in your handlebars.

  • Add weighted bar ends. Installing heavy bar ends will help steady the vibration at the grips and that transfers to a smoother ride on your hands.
  • Install padded grips or grips with gel padding. More cushioning in your grips will absorb some of the vibration and reduce numbness.
  • Make sure the vibration isn’t caused by issues in your bike’s front end or front wheel. If so, get it properly services.
  • As a last resort, if numbness due to vibration continues to be a problem, consider riding a different motorcycle with a smoother engine and smoother ride.

Ride with Correct Body Position

If you ride a sport bike your wrist pain could be caused by poor body position. Riding with your elbows locked and your wrists bent will eventually result in sore wrists. Bending the wrist places excessive strain on the nerves that have to travel through the carpal tunnel.

Even when your wrists are straight, the weight of your body resting on the heel of your hands will place pressure on those nerves, causing numbness in the fingers and eventually, pain.

So, on any motorcycle that has a forward lean riding position, your arms should be slightly bent at the elbows. Your body weight should be supported by your core muscles (the lower back and abs), and your wrists should be straight and even with your forearms with vary little weight resting on your hands. If your core muscles become fatigued, sometimes squeezing your knees into the tank will take some pressure of the back.

If your motorcycle has adjustable foot pegs, consider adjusting them so that they are slightly more forward. This will bring your body position back slightly, taking weight off your wrists. Also, consider modifying or replacing your seat so you remain in a more neutral riding position.

Relax Your Grip

Often riders will forget to relax their grip on the handlebars and that constant squeezing will result in pain. This is especially true of the throttle hand. Some squeezing is necessary in order to twist the throttle.

One solution to a sore throttle hand is to use a throttle lock, or a handy little gadget like a Crampbuster. Throttle locks, when engaged, prevent your throttle from snapping back when you let go of it, so you can remove your hand without slowing down. This gives you a minute to shake out your hand or rest it.

A Crampbuster is a plastic paddle that fits over your throttle. You position it so that the heel of your hand presses against the paddle portion and it twists the throttle. It requires less grip pressure giving your hand a break. A Crampbuster takes a little practice, but I’ve used one many times and it’s really saved me on long stretches of highway.

Another solution for reducing wrist pain due to your grips or throttle hand, is to decrease the size of your grips. If you have small hands, and the circumference of the grip is too large, you will have to grip harder to twist it. A smaller grip might be better.

Adjust Your Handlebar Angle

Handlebars that are too far forward or too close to you can sometimes cause you to bend your wrist too much. A simple adjustment in the handlebar angle can help more that you realize. Start by rolling the bars forward or backwards a half inch at a time. Even this small adjustment can be a solution to wrist, arm and even shoulder pain.

If you ride a motorcycle with clip ons you may not be able to adjust them a great deal. Often you can adjust the width of the grips which could help with your body position and wrist position.

Adjust the Angle of Your Levers

My clutch hand is where I experience the most pain and it was partly due to my clutch lever being too low. This caused me to bend my wrist down every time I reached for the clutch which put a lot of strain on the tendon in my thumb. I quickly learned that lever position is vital for rider comfort. It’s a simple solution; loosen the clips to your clutch and break levers and move them either up or down until they are in a comfortable position.

Your wrists should remain in a straight, neutral position when you reach for the lever. You should not be bending your wrist either up or down.

Adjust the Reach in your Levers

If your hands are small, like mine, you can sometimes have problems reaching the clutch lever to the point where it’s easy to pull in. Especially if your clutch is a little stiff, it can be hard to grab and pull. So, one thing you can do is install adjustable grips and choose a setting that brings the lever closer to the grips so you don’t have to reach so far.

Strengthen your Grip

One way to prevent wrist pain is to take pro-active measures by strengthening the muscles in your forearms. Essentially, strengthen your grip. This is particularly smart during the off season, if you are unfortunate enough to live in cold winter climate.

Here are 5 exercises you can do to strengthen your grip for motorcycle season. Add a few of these to your off season workout and you’ll be ready when it’s time to ride. Always start off a workout with some stretching to get the blood flowing into your muscles first.

  • Wrist curls and twists with weights
    • Hold a dumbbell in each hand. With your arms bent at the elbows, rotate your hands; palms up, palms down, palms up, then down. Repeat for 12 – 15 reps. Do 3 to 4 sets.
  • Pinch Grip Plate Holds
    • Take a barbell weight, one that you’re comfortable with, and grip the edge with only your fingers. Hold the weight at arms length for as long as you can.
  • Dumbbell hold
    • Choose a dumbbell weight that you’re comfortable with. Grip the end of the dumbbell and hold it, at arms length, for as long as you can.
  • Use hand exercisers
    • Squeeze a hand grip spring 10 times with each hand for 3 or 4 sets.
    • Squeeze a tennis ball or racquetball, 8 to 10 times for 3 or 4 sets, each hand
    • Use a heavy rubber band wrapped around the outside of your fingers. Stretch the rubber band out using only your finger tips.

What if the Pain Persists?

If the pain doesn’t seem to be going away, or if it is so severe that it is getting in the way of you doing normal life activities, then you should see your doctor and get medical treatment. You don’t want to let it go and become a serious problem. For mild pain you can try some home remedies such as rest, heat/ice, wraps, gentle massage of the forearms, ibuprofen to help with swelling and pain.

Don’t let wrist pain stop you from enjoying your motorcycle rides or keep you from getting out there on two wheels.

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