It is often easy to forget how physically demanding playing the guitar can be. It is not uncommon to see guitar players who are suffering from a variety of problems, including tendonitis (an inflammation of the tendons) and carpel tunnel syndrome (when the median nerve is compressed at the wrist, leading to pain, paresthesias, and muscle weakness in the hand).These can be debilitating problems, but they are preventable. There are some important things you can do to protect yourself from having these problems now or later down the road.
First and foremost it is important to stretch before you play or practice, which not only helps to prevent injury, but will also allow you to play more effectively.
The best way to do this is to start off by stretching the fingers one by one.
Start by placing your left hand thumb against your right hand palm and pushing back slightly, not so far that it hurts but far enough so you can feel a stretch. Hold for about 30 seconds. Do this with the rest of your fingers on your left hand, and then repeat the same stretch for all the fingers on the right hand.
This next stretch is great for both your wrists and your forearms. Start by putting your palms together in front of your chest. Slowly push out your elbows and bend your wrists, holding once you feel a good stretch. Next, rotate your wrists forward so your fingers are pointing away from you. Stop and hold when you feel a stretch. After stretching it’s always a good idea to warm up by practicing a few scales, riffs, or chords.
There are some things to keep in mind when you are playing that can help to prevent any problems. First of all, try to keep your wrists as straight as possible when you are playing. When your wrists are bent it will cause unnecessary strain, and also makes it harder to move your fingers. While there are some chords or passages that require you to bend your wrists slightly, it will be better in the long run if you can keep them straight for as long as possible. Just do your best. Also, try not to press on the strings any harder than is absolutely necessary, as doing so will cause a great deal of strain.
Another important tip is to take a break. 15 mins for every hour of playing should do, but take a longer break if you have to. And if you feel any pain or discomfort whatsoever while playing it is important to stop. Trying to play through the pain will only make things worse, so do yourself a favour and stop as soon as you feel any discomfort.
Take care of your hands and wrists and you will be able to experience the joy of playing the guitar for many years to come.
Michelle is a guitarist from Québec, Canada. She is currently completing the master certificate program in guitar at the Berklee School of Music in Boston.
If you liked this article and would like to read more, then head on over to Michelle’s blog, The Guitar Player’s Guide.