What is arm pump and how can it be cured?

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We hear more and more about Moto GP riders suffering the dreaded arm pump, but what actually is it? Arm pump is clinically described as Chronic Exertional Compartment Syndrome (CECS) in the forearm. Big words, good job arm pump is smaller. Swelling of the muscles inside the forearm during or after exercise, restricting blood flow. This restriction backs up blood coming from the heart, which isn’t good, causing swelling inside the forearm. There is a sheath protecting the forearm muscles, which is rigid, allowing little expansion, stopping the arm from blowing up like a balloon. This sheath will only protect from so much pressure before internal pressure on muscles resulting in that locked on tension everybody mentions. This can cause intense pain, numbness in the hands or forearms or even pins and needles. Symptoms can start as soon as 5 minutes after the start of the exercise.

Arm pump scar
Everybody digs a scar right?

Any sport where a gripping with the hands can succumb to arm pump, be it weightlifters, paddlesports or even climbing/mountaineering. We commonly hear about it in motorsports, where the added vibration, increased grip and repeated actions through the throttle or brake. In motorsports, it is mainly on the right-hand side where the throttle and brake is.

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Can arm pump be cured?

Pain will subside shortly after exercise but can linger in the muscles for up to 24 hours, much like DOMS after intense exercise. The muscle will feel tight and possibly inflamed during and after. Deep massage and icing can help reduce the swelling and pain, however, this won’t stop it from happening again.

arm pump
Fasciotomy – Dr Nabil Ebraheim

One solution is arm pump surgery, with a Fasciotomy procedure, common with motorcycle racers. The fascia is the sheath separating muscles from other bodily objects. This sheath is cut to relieve the pressure, therefore relieving symptoms of arm pump. The operation has a high rate of success, but as with any surgery, there can be complications. Depending on the procedure, recovery can be very quick, usually between 4-6 weeks.

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Sometimes surgery won’t be for everybody, regular icing, stretching and massage, can help to reduce pain and inflammation, but it isn’t a cure. You could also check out your riding position to see if adjusting your brake levers and using a quick action throttle can reduce strain.

dani pedrosa arm pump
Dani Pedrosa arm pump scar

Several tools claim to help reduce arm pump. The 4arm strong tool has been seen around. It stretches the muscles oppositely and causes traction, helping to expand the fascia, and lengthen the forearm muscles, hopefully creating more space to expand. Giving a device like this an attempt before surgery could save money and a lot of recovery time and pain.

4arm strong
4arm Strong in action

Over the years, we have seen numerous Moto GP riders suffer from arm pump. Casey Stoner suffered and managed to change up his handlebar layout to relieve the issue. Cal Crutchlow has had procedures on both arms. The latest batch of Moto GP riders suffering sees Iker Lecuona and Jack Miller, who said he couldn’t feel his brake lever on the last four laps of the 2021 Doha races. Fabio Quartararo slowed in the latter laps of the 2021 Jerez race in agony after an arm pump issue.

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