How to Avoid Pain and Discomfort When Playing Guitar
Have medical problems with your hands? Experiencing pain when you play guitar? Here’s what I recommend.
First off, I experience some issues with hand fatigue and soreness myself, although I don’t believe I suffer from any condition warranting a diagnosis, like carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, or arthritis. So, I feel your pain to some degree. I accept this problem as a part of aging, and I don’t expect it to get any better over time. 🙁
That said, what I try to do is avoid anything that causes me discomfort and I suggest you do the same.
You can learn how to avoid discomfort by trying different playing positions in order to find the arm and hand positions that cause the least amount of discomfort.
Different guitar playing positions to try include:
- Resting the guitar on your right leg
- Resting the guitar on your left leg
- Using a guitar foot rest
- Using a guitar strap
- Adjusting the strap length
- Standing vs sitting while playing
Next, you can avoid pain by avoiding the things that cause you pain. If a particular technique causes your hands too much discomfort, then skip it and build your style around other techniques that you can play more comfortably. If certain types of chord shapes or scale patterns cause you pain, then use other types of chord shapes and scale patterns. There are a zillion different ways to play guitar. You don’t need to master them all (no one does). Accept your limitations, find what works well for you, and play to your strengths.
Next, make sure you do not press too hard when fretting notes. Your hands should be somewhat relaxed even when you’re pressing down on the strings. You should apply only enough pressure to sound notes cleanly. Applying more pressure than necessary over stresses your hands and leads to fatigue and discomfort. If you’re not able to sound notes cleanly, then try changing your finger position rather than pressing down harder. For example, place your fingers directly behind the frets where notes are most easily and cleanly fretted.
On top of my previous advice above, get your guitar “set up” by an experienced technician so that it plays as easily as possible. This work will include making adjustments to the neck and bridge so that the strings are as close as possible to the fretboard all along its length, but without causing excessive buzzing or rattling. This distance from the fretboard to the strings, called the “action,” ensures that you won’t need to press down much in order to cleanly fret notes. If you’re still experiencing problems even after a good set up, a lighter gauge of strings can help make playing easier. If you opt for lighter strings, just be sure to get the necessary adjustments made to your guitar because changing the string gauge changes the pull on the neck and in turn the action.
Next, before you play, spend a few minutes stretching out your hands, wrists, forearms, and shoulders. Do a Google search for “hand stretches for guitar” or something similar to get ideas on how to loosen up.
Finally, if you’re experiencing a lot of discomfort, then talk to your doctor about how you might get relief from your symptoms and avoid injury.
Have solutions that work well for you that you can share? Post in the comments below.
Play to Your Strengths with Fretboard Theory
You learn how to play to your strengths by exploring all your options then choosing the options that enable you to play your best and avoid problems. One way to do this is to complete my Fretboard Theory video instruction. In this course, you learn how different types of scale patterns and chord shapes are formed on the guitar neck, so you can find the fingerings that work best for you. You also learn about music composition and how to improvise, so you become a much better musician and play more confidently. Click the link to learn more and to sign up for free lessons.