Can riding a motorcycle cause tennis elbow?

Yes, you can get tennis elbow from riding a motorcycle, especially in off-road or dual-sport motorcycles.

This might seem a bit unexpected but if you consider the design of a motorcycle, the terrain they can face, and the repetitive use of the controls (ie. clutch and throttle) getting tennis elbow from riding a motorcycle may not be so unexpected after all.

The constant vibration of a motorcycle whether from rough terrain or even the engine itself combined with a constant grip on the throttle all set up the perfect environment for tennis elbow.

To get a clear picture of what’s going on here we will dive deeper into what tennis elbow is, why motorcycles cause tennis elbow, and what can be done to help prevent tennis elbow while riding a motorcycle.

What is tennis elbow?

Lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow) is a condition that occurs when tendons in the elbow become overloaded causing tears in the muscle and tendons along with swelling to the area.

This is usually caused by repetitive motions of the wrist and arm and can be quite painful. This pain is typically where the tendon of the forearm attaches to a bony bump on the outside of the elbow and can spread down the forearm and into the wrist.

Although tennis elbow is usually thought of as a consequence of poor backhand technique, many other things can lead to this condition such as painting, using hand tools, and cutting.

Professions who use their arms in repeated motions or gripping are very susceptible to this condition. Studies have shown that automotive mechanics, cooks, and butchers get tennis elbow more often than the rest of the population.

Why do motorcycles cause tennis elbow?

Motorcycles can cause tennis elbow because of the way a motorcycle operates, forces and vibration from the road and even from the engine get transferred and absorbed by the hands, wrists, and arms of the rider.

There are many repetitive or constant wrist and hand movements that are required when riding a motorcycle. Handlebar height also plays into the development of tennis elbow.

Tennis elbow caused by motorcycle vibration

Vibration either due to rough terrain or the engine can lead to tennis elbow in two major ways.

The first is the shock that is absorbed by the muscles, tendons, and joints in the arm just from the engine vibration. This is especially prevalent in big V-twin cruiser motorcycles.

Combine this with some of the pavement, gravel, dirt, or other terrain faced during a motorcycle ride leading to increased stress on the arms causing damage and swelling to occur.

The second part has somewhat of a snowball effect because the more a motorcycle vibrates the greater the tendency to tighten your grip on the handlebars which not only increases the stress on the tissue and joints it also speeds up the onset of fatigue.

Tennis elbow caused by repetitive or constant wrist and hand movements

Driving a motorcycle involves countless movements of the hand and wrist making fatigue the biggest thing to look out for here.

This can be looked at in 3 parts with the first being the movement of rolling the throttle to accelerate and the second is the pulling in and releasing of the clutch, and the third is the constant holding open of the throttle.

The first 2 involve repetitive motions, which are one of the main causes of muscle, tendon, and joint damage. Where there’s damage in the body swelling also occurs. It should come as no surprise that this could lead to tennis elbow.

The third one is a little less obvious, you might not think that holding a cable would be all that strenuous but that’s where you would be mistaken.

You see that cable may not be moving a heavy object, it is however attached to a spring that returns the throttle to a closed position. The tension from this spring is more than enough to overload the muscle if given sufficient time.

Still not convinced?

Try this, take a rubber band and wrap one end around a doorknob, take the other end of the band in your hand just above the knob with the palm facing down.

Now pull your wrist upward. A little pull but not bad right? Keep holding I’ll check in on you in 10 minutes. Just kidding, hopefully, this helps give you an idea of how stressful this can be.

Tennis elbow caused by handlebar height

To say that tennis elbow can be caused by handlebar height might seem a little far-fetched however I will give you this to consider.

Gravity affects blood flow, for example, we know that if someone stands on their head, their face, ears, and eyes all start to turn red from excess blood.

The same goes for an injury, to keep swelling down you make sure the injured location is elevated.

Now let’s translate this to motorcycle handlebar height. If you have low handlebars such as on a sportbike, your arms are lower than your body causing more blood to flow to them which will help in the beginning.

The problem comes after the damage or injury has occurred. Now for the rest of your ride, you are in fact increasing swelling to this area adding to the pain.

If we go the other way say with big bars seen on Harleys or other custom motorcycles, you start out with less blood to your arms causing fatigue to come into play faster.

However, you would not be contributing to swelling in the same manner as low handlebars, one has to wonder at what angle is this starts to become an issue.

Hopefully, that was enough to give you an idea of why handlebar height can contribute to tennis elbow caused by motorcycle riding.

Final thoughts

Given the multiple variables at play be that the design of the motorcycle, transfer of road/engine vibration, and various others getting tennis elbow from riding a motorcycle should be no surprise although I bet it was when you first started reading this.

There are a few things you can do to help prevent tennis elbow from motorcycle riding.

  • Make sure to take breaks when out riding to give your muscles some rest.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to keep you hydrated and help fight fatigue.
  • Stretching the wrist while keeping your elbow straight can help keep your muscles from stiffening up.
  • Anti-inflamitory drugs such as ibuprofen can help decrease swelling.

Also, if keep in mind the 3 major factors vibration, repetitive or constant wrist and hand movements, and handlebar height you should be able to help avoid getting tennis elbow from riding a motorcycle.