Carpal Tunnel and Horseback Riding

carpal tunnel and horseback riding

Why is horseback riding and carpal tunnel associated?

Is horseback riding and carpal tunnel worrying you? People often ask me about their hand pain or numbness. In general, when I inquire what they do with their hands, a good number say they ride or handle horses. So I say, “Ah ha! This is all about carpal tunnel syndrome.” So what’s going on?

Actually, most people who work their hands hard experiences this. As a matter of fact, numbness or pain in the hand, fingers or wrist all are signs of overworked hands. Handling horses requires gripping reigns, lead ropes, etc. Hence, controlling an animal that weighs about 1,500 pounds requires a real tight grip on the lines. In fact, just riding for pleasure requires maintaining a grip on the reigns for hours at a time.

Hand pain from horse riding is fundamentally a “gripping” problem. Gripping for long periods like this is abnormal to the human physiology. As a result, it stresses the flexor tendons, sometimes beyond their limits. These tendons are designed by Mother Nature to grip and release. But not quickly nor with force – at least not all the time!

The world of carpal tunnel and riding horses

Getting carpal tunnel from horse riding is no different than getting it from hairdressing or keyboarding. Nor is it different from any activity where you grip something for long periods of time. It’s especially worse when you grip with force, relax, and grip again, over and over. Thus, doctors call this “repetitive strain injury” or RSI.

The most common RSI in the United States today is carpal tunnel syndrome. (Some just call it carpal tunnel.) In fact, it happens in about 5% of the population. And the rate is increasing.

So yes, the hand pain and numbness from horse riding is most likely the start of carpal tunnel. Also, it may show up as tingling or pins-and-needles sensation, mostly in your fingers. Usually, your thumb is most affected. It’s hard to predict how it appears because symptoms vary so much from person to person. For one thing, your little finger NEVER has these symptoms. But if it does, then you might have another condition, like wrist tendonitis.

Hand Pain from Horse Riding

How to cure carpal tunnel from horseback riding

Actually, there is no real “cure” for carpal tunnel syndrome. If you have hand pain from riding horses, and it IS carpal tunnel, the most you can do is manage it. It’s like asking, “What’s the cure for diabetes?” There is none.  However, you can manage diabetes AND carpal tunnel quite well. In fact, there are many carpal tunnel treatments that are so good that pain or numbness will never bother you again.

The most successful way equestrians (or anybody!) can handle carpal tunnel syndrome is to use the “B.R.E.M.” combination. That stands for Brace, Rest, Exercise, Massage.


  • Brace your hand while you sleep. NEVER wear a wrist brace during the day if you have carpal tunnel. Doing so makes your hand fight the brace in addition to doing its regular work. That makes the situation worse.
  • Rest your hands a lot. Also, never maintain a constant grip. In addition, don’t do a lot of grip-and-release activities without resting your hands in between.
  • Exercise your fingers as often as you can. Carpal tunnel exercises stretch your fingers and therefore your flexor tendons. As a matter of fact, this is perhaps the best way to avoid having hand pain from horse riding or other stressful hand activities in the first place.
  • Massage your wrist and forearm frequently. Dig your thumb into your forearm, just below your wrist crease. Then, make circular motions for a few minutes. This promotes fluid drainage and blood flow. In fact, the best massage is called “myofascial release”. However, you cannot do it on yourself because you need two thumbs for best results.


Horse riding and carpal tunnel syndrome go hand in hand (honestly, no pun was intended). However, you can enjoy your horse without the pain and numbness. A regimen incorporating braces, rest, exercise and massage will help you avoid these symptoms, and even reverse them.

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