Arm pump – what is this mysterious injury?

Arm pump has been described as one of the most debilitating things a professional motorbike rider can experience during his career – but what is this mysterious injury?

Chronic Exertional Compartment Syndrome (CECS), or arm pump to you and me, seems to be affecting more and more professional motorbike riders now than it ever has. You may have heard the term banded around whilst watching MotoGP or even motocross and you don’t have to look very far for the most recent case in the paddock with Honda rider Dani Pedrosa battling the injury for several seasons.

The Spaniard’s struggle has been well documented and no-one ever expected that it might threaten to end the 29-year-old’s career but at this year’s opening MotoGP race it did just that.

After undergoing career-saving surgery in Madrid, Pedrosa continues to make his comeback, but the jury is still out on how well the surgery will work in the long-term.

Arm pump generally occurs in the right forearm and essentially stops a rider being able to control the throttle and front brake lever, a dangerous prospect whilst controlling a machine that can reach speeds of up to 210mph.

The issue is becoming more prominent now with the advancement of machinery, but what do we really mean when we say a rider has a bout of arm pump?

The muscles in the forearm are bound into a membrane called the fascia. While a rider is using his fingers, wrists and forearm to open/close the throttle and grip the brake lever the muscles expand and contract in the sac (fascia).

Arm pump then occurs when the sac doesn’t contract enough to allow the muscles to expand causing pain and loss of blood flow to the hand meaning a rider loses feeling in the most crucial part of the anatomy while riding.

The pain caused by arm pump usually occurs within minutes of riding and can disappear within half an hour meaning the injury is often misdiagnosed and misinterpreted as tendonitis.

Pedrosa’s surgery was undertaken with the aim of cutting the fascia to allow the muscles to expand further, but while the Spaniard welcomed the surgery others have questioned its safety and whether it is a long-term cure.

Arm pump is a growing issue within motorbike racing with more and more riders suffering as the technology advances. A full cure is yet to be found and while this is the case the injury will continue to become a common issue for riders, especially ones smaller in stature, such as Pedrosa.
Joe Urquhart