RIDING POSTURE – AVOID THE PAINS

Picture: Wamuyu Kariuki in South Africa

In June 2017, I started experiencing pains on my left shoulders after every ride.  It did not bother me much because, well, it is normal for shoulder pains after a ride.  However, I used to ride about only 40 kilometers a day to work and back home. That is 20 kms each way with enough rest in between.  I was concerned if this was enough mileage to cause me those pains. I used to carry a backpack with a change of clothes and would use the same to grab a few things from the supermarket or market on my way home.  I did this closer home to avoid carrying so much weight on my back as I ride. Although, that backpack could have contributed to my shoulder pains, once again, I doubted it as I hardly had a lot of weight in it.

The pains continued getting more intense and lasting longer with time.  I decided to stop carrying my backpack and kept my change of clothes in the office and no more shopping on my way home.  I expected that this would solve my pain problems. Unfortunately, it did not. Sleeping on my left shoulder became uncomfortable.  I would experience pains in the night and changed my sleeping position. I only slept on my right side. One day as I was doing my daily errands, my left hand went numb from the elbow to the pinky finger.  There was also a tingling or pin & needles pain after the numbness. This scared me and I went to see a doctor the following day.  I had just two days before leaving for my Tanzania adventure and one year before the world tour.  It worried me that I may not be able to ride any more. My first doctor sent me for nerve tests and MRI and concluded that my riding is to blame, he prescribed some muscle rejuvenating medication and he recommended I stop riding.  On hearing this i left for Tanzania because, I was not about to stop riding, at least not before some adventure.  I am one of those stubborn patients. I listen to the Doctor and also consult the google doctor.

On returning from Tanzania, my pains got worse and I went back to the doctor. I also did quite some off road riding in Tanzania. This was a month after my first visit and I had finished my medication.  Some more tests and he recommended surgery.  This sent me back to my sanity.  With now less than a year to the world tour, how was I going to heal this shoulder and what would that mean for my riding and the world tour?.  I needed to be riding more to get myself prepared for the big ride but here I was faced with a possibility of not even riding at all.  At this point I realized that I was taking a gamble and had to get serious.  I went for a second opinion. My second Doctor looked at my MRI and nerve test results and advised that we could correct my problem without surgery.  That was a huge relief. I got more medication and physiotherapy sessions. This really worked well.  It however got me thinking about how riding posture can contribute to injuries and should you have any injuries, how do you manage them when riding so as not to worsen them.

Is it a fact or a myth that riding posture will cause injuries or not?

Picture: Dos Kariuki in Argentina.

While my doctor never went into details about which part of my riding contributed to the injuries on my shoulder, he suggested the following as possibilities. Having fallen from a bike accident or in sports, the riding posture and overuse of my muscles.  Poor riding posture can cause you injuries on your shoulders, neck, wrist, chest, abdomen and back. A good example is over-supporting yourself on the handlebars which results to too much stress on your pressure points which can give you the overuse injuries.   There are three riding postures, standard or upright, sports/lying low and cruisers/leaned back position. Sometimes these injuries will be caused by your chosen posture or way of seating on the bike and other times, other factors will contribute to how your posture is on the motorcycle.

What mistakes do we unknowingly make that cause a bad posture on the motorcycle?

Unknowingly we develop bad habits on our sitting postures on the motorcycles that can result to serious injuries. It is important to evaluate how you seat on your bike and correct it if you have been doing it wrongly.  Major telltale signs will include;  experiencing some back, shoulder, neck or wrist pains.

If you riding a touring or adventure bike, your sitting position is upright, having your shoulders hunched will result into neck, upper back pains including shoulders. Sport position is the most intense riding position and poor positioning of your body such us weight distribution on your legs and hands, poor leaning which may put pressure on some parts of your body such as wrists or leaning from your back instead of chest can over time cause you muscle and body injuries. Cruiser position tends to keep most of the weight on your lower body but it is advisable that you still maintain an upright back position.

Without understanding your bike and its seating posture, it is likely to habitually have the wrong posture.

Factors that contribute to bad riding posture? 

Picture: Dos Kariuki just before Chile border

Most riders maintain a good riding posture and this is only or mostly affected by other elements around us when riding. Long distance riders are more affected due to their nature of riding. Here are some of the elements that affect our riding posture besides our self developed bad habits:-

Fear: – Fear is the number one reason most riders will have a bad sitting posture on the motorcycle.  This is because it causes the rider to tense too.  To gain a correct posture you need to be relaxed mentally and physically.  Tension will result to mistakes such as griping overly hard on your handlebars, pushing all your weight to the handlebars hence injuring your wrists and your muscles on the upper limbs all the way to the shoulders. Fear is mostly common in the initial stages of riding or after an accident. It is bad for riding as it is for everything  else in life, it will hinder you from a lot of progress.  Incase you are experiencing this, work with your instructor for more practices in a safe riding environment until you have addressed what is causing the fear.

Weather: – Strong winds, storms, heavy rains will have you shift your seating position to counter them.  When doing long distance riding, it is important to check the weather before departure and incorporate this in your planning. Hundreds of kilometers in strong winds will not only result to bad posture and aches but is a recipe for accidents too and serious fatigue as you use more muscles and energy steering the motorcycle. Continuous practice of riding in bad weather will have much more serious damages on you.

Luggage: – How much do you carry? Where do you position your luggage? How much of comfortable seating space and leg room is left for you? Adventure or long distance riding could have you carry more than usual. Your motorcycle should be able to carry your luggage without interfering with your seating position and leg positioning.  Some motorcycles have no ability of carrying too much right from their design. This therefore means your choice of motorcycle for long distance travel needs to incorporate luggage and your comfort.

Seat: – An uncomfortable seat will for sure get you in to a very bad posture. After hundreds of kilometers, your rear end will definitely ache. Even with frequent pit stops and rests, it gets to a point where the relief from a pit stop rest can only last for a short while.  Long distance riders can tell their interesting to almost horrifying stories of the monkey butt.  The amount of shifting that happens once nothing cannot relief the rear end discomfort ends one with more pains all over the body due to bad posture.  A comfortable seat for everyone short and long distance riders alike is important.

Road conditions: – Riding on tarmac is safer and more comfortable than off-road riding.  When riding on tarmac, you can retain the right and comfortable seating posture which is difficult on off-road riding.  Off-roading requires you to keep shifting your body accordingly and the jolting involved does not help either. Whether short or long distance, off-roading requires use of more muscles in steering and maintaining an upright position of the bike.

Bike fitment: – The bike you ride should be a good fit for you in terms of height, weight and handlebars positioning.  You should be able to reach the handlebars and use all the controls without changing the seating posture of the particular motorcycle.

Hands positioning: – The handlebars on each category of bikes is different.  Knowing how to properly position your hands on the handlebars can save you from injuries.  There are riders who assume the wrong positions hence endangering themselves.

Riding with existing injuries. 

Picture: Wamuyu Kariuki in Lesotho

You may have started riding when you already had some existing injuries in the areas that are core to riding such us shoulders, upper limbs or lower limbs.  You could also have developed injuries from an accident, riding or sports.

If you fall in this category, understanding your injuries and what would cause them to get worse or what your preventive measures are is extremely important. It is best advisable to discuss your injuries with your physician very well. You may also have to adjust on your riding accordingly. It may mean change of bike, riding style, distances, adjustments on the bike etc.  Whatever the case will entirely depend on your kind of injuries and a physicians advice.

Though my shoulder still hurts and especially when riding, I have had to adjust my riding and keep thorough watch on how I position myself on the bike. The pains are mainly aggregated by riding in wind or storms because I have over use of my arms to keep the bike in position. Long distances without rest also have an impact on the injuries.  I have therefore included more pit stops on our days rides and avoid harsh weather that requires too much muscle use.

I was not able to reach both my physicians for their input on this article but was gladly able to receive professional input from a Physician and biker – Dr. Aron Masini of Inked Bikers. He rides a Yamaha R6

Dr. Aaron Masini professional views and input: –

For starters sorry to hear about your injury.
It isn’t uncommon for doctors to differ on management options. Usually seeking a second opinion is usually a good fit, but not from Dr Google.
Most common causes are stress on the ligaments around the Glenohumeral joint, impingement of the capsule surrounding the joint, inflammation of the bursa (shock absorbers) around the joint that prevent muscles rubbing on bone. (“that is my diagnosis”)
Good riding posture should not put weight on your shoulders. I learnt this on my supersport. There is barely any weight on my shoulders unless while hard braking. It could mean that you are reading up your upper body and not allowing your trunk to be free as you hold on to the handle bars. That would lead to shoulder pain.
Incorrect riding posture is usually the number one cause of recurrent shoulder pain.
Second, big realisation is bikers are unfit. In this case stretching to ensure adequate blood flow across the joint is essential. Good blood flow across the joint ensures nutrient delivery to both the muscles around and the other constituents of the joint.
Rough Road terrain will definitely increase shoulder pain if you are not free. Your arms should move like shock absorbers. This should alleviate straining the shoulder joint complex
End of Doctor’s views

I would highly advice anyone who has been experiencing such pains or discomforts that are out of the normal tiredness to consult a professionally.

let’s ride,  ride safe and stay safe and healthy. 

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Special thanks to Dr. Masini for accepting to proof read this article and input professional medical views and opinion.