How To Prevent Carpal Tunnel When Dirt Bike Riding

Do your hands go numb when riding motorcycle or dirt bikes? In that case, you might be suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome. It is one of the most common conditions causing numbness, tingling, or burning in your hands during or after riding motorcycles or dirt bikes. If you are experiencing these symptoms, it is important to know how to prevent carpal tunnel.

Most common carpal tunnel symptoms include tingling, numbness, weakness or loss of strength in your hand, fingers and/or forearm caused by median nerve compression. Motorcycle or dirt bike riding can cause or worsen these signs of carpal tunnel. Over time, the condition may cause worsening grip strength, lessen finger feeling, and loss of muscle mass.

Read on as we will explain this common condition among dirt bike riders and how to prevent carpal tunnel related to motorcycle and dirt bike riding. In addition, we will list top 5 tips for alleviating carpal tunnel pain in your hands.

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Dirt bike rider sitting on a dirt bike with outstretched arms and open palms

Carpal Tunnel in Motorcycle and Dirt Bike Riding

When you ride your motorcycle or dirt bike, do your hands ever get numb or feel tingly? That could be the bike’s vibration causing the numbness and tingling, however, it also could be the carpal tunnel syndrome.

Carpal tunnel syndrome, also called CTS or median nerve compression, is a condition that causes numbness, tingling, burning, or weakness in your hand and arm.

The primary cause for carpal tunnel syndrome is the compression of the median nerve. This nerve runs from your arm to your hand and goes through the carpal tunnel in your wrist. It controls the movement and feeling of your thumb and all other fingers except for your pinky. Swelling in your wrist makes this nerve pinched in the carpal tunnel causing the symptoms.

All kind of motorcycle riding including enduro dirt biking, motocross, single track, and trail riding can cause or worsen carpal tunnel symptoms. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common and well recognized issue among active dirt bike trail riders. It can be mild, moderate, or even severe. And at best, it is uncomfortable.

Luckily, carpal tunnel doesn’t have to be a permanent condition and there are several ways to prevent carpal tunnel and manage the symptoms. If treated, the numbness and pain will typically go away and there will be no lasting damage to your hand or wrist. Only in the most severe cases, the condition requires a surgery.

Carpal Tunnel Symptoms

Carpal tunnel symptoms are always the same no matter if the condition was developed by motorcycle or dirt bike riding, typewriting, gaming, or a medical condition.

The main symptoms of carpal tunnel are:

  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Burning feeling
  • Pain
  • Weakness

In general, the symptoms often only occur in the palm and thumb or index and middle fingers. However, the sensations can also travel from the wrist up the arm. The numbness in the hand or weakness of thumb’s muscles can cause weakness in the hand and trouble holding things.

Usually, the first symptoms to notice is that your fingers become numb at night. And in the morning, you may wake up with numbness and tingling in your hands. You can experience this especially the night and morning after a riding day.

Sometimes shaking out your hands can help relieve the symptoms and make your hands feel better. This is the case especially early on in the condition. However, the numbness may become constant over time as the nerve impulses become slower and you’ll have less feeling in your fingers.

As carpal tunnel gets worse, the muscles in your hand shrink. This leads to having less grip strength in addition to more pain and muscle cramping. At this point, you may have troubles holding on the handlebars when riding on a motorcycle or dirt bike.

Dirt Bike Riding Can Cause or Worsen Carpal Tunnel

People who ride motorcycles or dirt bikes often suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome. The constant gripping of vibrating handlebars with high intensity for long periods of time is what causes or worsens the condition for them.

In dirt bike riding, carpal tunnel flare-ups caused by the swelling in your wrists are known to be triggered by keeping your wrists in an overextended position for too long and prolonged exposure to vibrations.

In addition, dirt bike riding in general is tough on hands and palms. Whether you ride motocross, single track, enduro, or trails, maintaining grip puts pressure on the palm area. Riding relaxed and focusing on the correct wrist position is one of the key elements for how to prevent carpal tunnel related issues and symptoms.

The numbness and tingling in your hands and fingers can make you loose the feel of the handlebars, which in turn can make you loose also the feel for the trail. That can become dangerous real quick when riding at high speed and on trails filled with obstacles.

Is My Wrist Pain Carpal Tunnel or Something Else?

Your wrists can hurt when riding a motorcycle or dirt bike for a variety of reasons and it is not always the carpal tunnel syndrome. The wrist pain can be a result of an injury, excessive vibrations, fatigue, stress or improper riding techniques, such as gripping the handlebars too tightly.

However, wrist pain or numbness in hands during or after riding can also be a sign of more severe problems. Doctors can use different kind of tests to diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome and rule out other causes of hand and wrist pain.

One of the most effective ways to diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome is to carry out a nerve conduction test. It involves measuring how quickly messages are traveling along your nerves in your arms and hands. If the nerve impulse is slower than normal, the nerve can be trapped or damaged and you may have carpal tunnel syndrome.

5 Tips for How To Prevent Carpal Tunnel in Trail Riding

Treating carpal tunnel symptoms early on can eliminate symptoms and lead to significant long-term improvement. So we strongly recommend learning how to prevent carpal tunnel. This way, you can keep riding dirt bikes completely without or with less pain.

Even though it is said that there are no proven methods for preventing carpal tunnel, there are definitely ways to minimize stress on the hands and wrists. Personally, we tried all these 5 tips listed below and found them to alleviate the carpal tunnel pain in our hands.

Next, let’s take a look at things you can do while trail riding to prevent carpal tunnel.

1. Setup Handlebar and Controls Correctly for Trail Riding

A correct handlebar configuration is key to relaxed trail riding. So if you’re experiencing carpal tunnel pain when riding a dirt bike, try adjusting your riding position and relaxing your grip as much as possible.

Carpal tunnel symptoms often worsen if your hands are not in a correct angle or the handlebar is too low or high to your height. The handlebar sweep and reach can also make riding difficult and cause excessive pressure to the palm area.

Dirt bike rider using his index finger to pull the clutch lever in

Adjust Handlebar Height and Reach

Stock bikes are usually set up for riders that are approximately 5′ 8″ or 175cm tall depending on the make and model. So if you’re taller or shorter than that, you should check your handlebar setup for correct configuration.

One of the most effective ways to prevent carpal tunnel is to keep your wrists straight and avoid flexing and extending your wrists. So we recommend adjusting at least the handlebar height blocks and reach.

We wrote a specific handlebar guide to setting up dirt bike handlebars for trail riding. Make sure to check it out to learn how to configure your dirt bike to avoid riding posture issues related to carpal tunnel.

Adjust Clutch and Brake Lever

The clutch and brake levers can be adjusted to your hand size and finger reach. And they need to be correctly adjusted to fit your overall riding position.

The lever angle and reach as well as the lever position are all important factors in how easily you can stay relaxed and operate the levers. If you need to move your hand to operate the clutch for example, you should check the lever setup.

Our detailed guide for ultimate brake and clutch lever positioning guide will help fine-tune your handlebar configuration to prevent carpal tunnel.

Replace Grips for Softer Material or Better Size

A softer grip material may ease carpal tunnel syndrome for some riders as it reduces the vibration. The size of the grip can also help with fine-tuning where most of the pressure lands on your palm.

We recommend getting pillow top grips by Pro Taper that are famous for their vibration reducing capabilities. The grips are perfect for trail riding as they eliminate vibration, cushion impact and are made of tacky gel-like surface compound that provides a solid grip.

You can choose between the legendary Pro Taper Pillow Top Grips and the Pro Taper Clamp On Grips – Pillow Top that offer a quick and effortless installation and a slim design that minimizes the outer grip diameter thus delivering critical relief for the palm and fingertips. They both provide excellent vibration dampening which will help to prevent carpal tunnel.

Flush Clutch and Brake Fluid

The clutch and brake levers should work without resistance.

Most riders suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome typically have worse symptoms on their left hand. If your clutch is hard to pull in, consider flushing the fluid to make the operation smoother or replace the wire actuated clutch cable.

Add Anti-Vibration Handlebar Mounts

Since the constant gripping of vibrating handlebars is the leading cause of carpal tunnel syndrome for dirt bike riders, anything that reduces handlebar vibration is a bonus. So if changing to softer grips doesn’t do the trick for you, consider adding anti-vibration and shock-absorbing handlebars or mounts to your dirt bike.

We recommend these Anti-Vibration Handlebars by Ape Racing as they effectively absorb shock and vibration that transfers to riders’ hands and arms.

You don’t necessarily need to change the whole handlebar but you can instead fit rubber mounted risers such as these Pivoting Anti-Vibe Bar Risers by Rox. They are designed to reduce handlebar vibration and decrease hand tingling and numbness on longer rides. Many dirt bike riders have found this to be the solution to prevent carpal tunnel.

The vibration of the handlebar can also be reduced by adding bar inserts or anti-vibration inserts that add weight to your handlebars. These Anti-Vibration Inserts by Fasst Company reduce vibrations felt through the handlebars resulting in less fatigue and numbness in arms and hands.

2. Adjust Your Dirt Bike Suspension

Harsh and incorrectly tuned suspension can quickly affect your riding performance and put too much strain on your hands. When you are fighting the dirt bike, it wears you out quicker and causes poor riding posture. This can quickly cause and worsen carpal tunnel symptoms.

So fine-tune your suspension clicker settings and make sure to keep up with regular maintenance to maintain good suspension performance.

We wrote a detailed guide to get you started on how to set up dirt bike suspension for trail riding. This guide will help you to find a suspension configuration that works better for trail riding and helps to prevent carpal tunnel and avoid issues such as arm pump.

3. Check Riding Gear for Fitment and Grip

Your riding gear will help you grip to the sides of the dirt bike as well as to the seat. This is an important factor for being able to ride smoothly and relaxed, which is know to prevent carpal tunnel.

When using knees to grip the sides of the dirt bike, or sitting down during acceleration, the gear and seat material defines how much friction is available to hold you in place. Badly fitter gear or a worn-out seat cover can substantially lower the friction or make you slide inside your pants.

This movement is transferred to your hands. More hand grip is required and your posture becomes less relaxed. Together, these issues may lead to more pressure on the palm of your hards, putting more pressure on the median nerve causing more carpal tunnel symptoms.

Check out our tips for choosing the perfect dirt bike seat and essential dirt bike gear for trail riding. They will help you find a seat setup and gear fitment to make sure you stay planted on the dirt bike putting less pressure on your hands.

Wear Padded Gloves To Prevent Carpal Tunnel

For riders suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome, choosing the correct padding thickness and padding position can greatly prevent carpal tunnel symptoms. After all, this padding acts as a buffer between your hands and your grips and relives the pressure against your hand and palm. This helps with any numbness you might experience.

The key to prevent carpal tunnel is to be able to relax your grip and arms when riding. And gloves do have a big say in how relaxed you will be able to ride.

Firstly, wearing gloves will give you a better grip and you don’t have to hold the handlebar as tight. Secondly, gloves will also help you to maintain the grip if gripping the handlebars is painful due to carpal tunnel and you fear that your grip will loosen too much.

Our favorite dirt bike gloves are O’Neal Element Gloves and they are the most comfortable gloves we have ever owned. They are thin enough to provide the best fit possible without compromising dexterity and their ergonomic padding and stitching on palm increases comfort. Both the perfect fit and the padding on palm help to prevent carpal tunnel.

Another important thing to prevent carpal tunnel is to keep your hands warm. There are different types of dirt bike gloves available that keep your hands warm in wide variety of weather conditions.

If you’re riding in windy conditions, we recommend these Boundary Windproof Riding Gloves by Fly Racing for maximum wind protection. Whereas these Title Cold Weather Glove by Fly Racing are designed specifically for cold weather riding. The ultimate solution for riding in cold weather are Title Heated Gloves by Fly Racing that come with 3 heat settings.

You can also opt for heated grips and just keep riding with your normal padded dirt bike gloves to prevent carpal tunnel symptoms.

4. Warm Up, Cool Down, and Stretch

Carpal tunnel symptoms typically appear very quickly in trail riding. Sometimes the symptoms can be alleviated greatly by warming up properly before hitting the trails. Again, it all comes down to being able to ride relaxed.

Warming up well before the first ride increases blood flow into your forearms and hands. It also warms up your muscles and typically allows you to grip less on the handlebar.

Start with a slow-paced warm-up routine that helps you get into the game. Alternatively, you can ride the first 15 minutes very slowly focusing on maintaining a good riding posture. This will greatly help to prevent carpal tunnel as well as arm pump.

Also, try to take breaks whenever you can. If you are feeling numbness, tingling, or pain in your hands when riding, taking a break can prevent it from getting worse or becoming overwhelming. And even if you weren’t experiencing any carpal tunnel symptoms when riding, taking breaks when doing activities that aggravate the symptoms helps in the long run with the carpal tunnel going away.

Dirt bike rider stretching hands to prevent carpal tunnel

Last but not least, remember to stretch your hands and wrists before riding. Stretching is a great way to prevent carpal tunnel and relieve numbness, tingling, and burning in your hands.

It is recommended to stretch a few times every day. In addition, you may want to stretch before any other activity that tends to aggravate your carpal tunnel symptoms beside riding a dirt bike.

Once your condition has gotten better and you no longer have pain or numbness, you can do stretching exercises to prevent carpal tunnel from coming back. You can find many simple and easy stretches here.

5. Wear Wrist Braces at Night Time and When Riding

Keeping your wrists straight and avoiding bending your wrists all the way up or down helps to relieve pressure on your median nerve. For this reason, you should use a splint or wrist brace that helps keep your wrist in a neutral position.

Ride With Wrist Braces

There are several lightweight wrist braces you can wear while riding dirt bikes. They successfully keep your wrists in a good angle and can help to prevent carpal tunnel.

After testing some wrist braces, we have found these Troy Lee Designs 5205 Wrist Supports to be the most comfortable while riding on a dirt bike. These wrist supports come with a glove-friendly design that stays out of the way of your grips while you ride and provides an unobstructed access to your controls.

Wear Wrist Braces While Sleeping

Yes, as weird as this may sound, wearing wrist supports while sleeping is one of the most effective methods to help manage and treat carpal tunnel symptoms.

When the symptoms are worse, you can usually notice partial numbness or tingling in your hands when you wake up in the morning. This is caused by sleeping with your hands in a position that puts pressure on the median nerve.

The wrist braces will keep your hands in a straight position that will rest the median nerve when sleeping. For us, wearing this Futuro Night Wrist Support has helped the most and made the biggest improvement. It has a bead cushion that rests in the palm of your hand and feels very comfortable. Wearing the Troy Lee Designs wrist supports mentioned above also work great for night time support.

Conclusions

Suffering from carpal tunnel is annoying and can lead to more serious issues. It is best to talk to your doctor if you have severe symptoms that prevent you from riding dirt bikes.

These 5 tips explained above have helped us overcome carpal tunnel syndrome. We sincerely hope that they will also help you to prevent carpal tunnel, relieve your symptoms, and keep you enjoying riding dirt bikes longer.

Ride trails without pain!

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Last updated: November 30, 2022