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Guitar Related Injuries

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  1. Hey guys,
    For awhile now, probably a year or so, I have been having arm issues related to guitar playing. Basically, I learned how to play with alot of tension in my shoulders and now my arms are suffering because of it: my tendons and arms in general are always really sore and I am having really bad circulation in my arms. I am working on fixing my problem by spending a lot of time in front of the mirror everyday trying to play completely relaxed but because I am a music student and play gigs every so often I still spend alot of time playing with alot of tension because that's what I know how to do. I have been considering doing Tai Chi or something like that, which might lead me to be more relaxed and I have been reading about the Alexander technique, which seems like it could help.
    Anyway, I was just wondering if anyone has had any similar experience and if so, if you have found any resolution.
    I feel that I need to deal with this soon because it is really threatening my musical future.
    thanks for the replies,
    Grant

  2. jimjazz
    Member

    Hey Grant,

    I've had problems in the past which still crop up from time to time, mainly pain under my forearms and at its worst pins and needles in my 4th and 3rd finger (a sign of real trouble!).

    Relaxing helps a lot, I always try to practise (like you) being conscious of my posture and any tension in my body. I've found a little yoga and low impact exercise like swimming has helped a lot. Also taking my time to warm up before playing by doing gentle stretches and keeping my environment, or me, at a good temperature (not always easy in the north of England!).
    I also think its important to warm down after you play to release the build up of lactic acid which, I'm informed, is what can cause muscle damage.

    One thing that a lot of musicians (and now me) do is after playing is to alternate an ice and a heat pack, up to 20 minutes of each on the affected area and repeat till the pain subsides. Other home treatments I've found have worked have included a 'tens machine' which uses a low electrical current to help ease the pain and a 'power ball' to gently exercise and build strength in your arms.

    Ironically I've also found that playing itself can ease the pain, having lived with this for 8 years I've found I have had to learn to listen to my body and there are times I simply have to rest and times when a gentle practise session or a gig has sorted it out.

    I know of a lot of musicians who study 'Alexander Technique', although I have not tried this myself.

    Hope some of that helps? I'm also interested in any other suggestions people have too, I hope its gets better!

    Jim

  3. Quintricacy
    Member

    I've had arm problems that come and go. Mine comes from a nerve in my neck that then travels down my forearm. I did acupuncture and it had a really good effect. Also warming up is very important before you start playing, stretches and neck rotations especially. Try and build muscle in your forearms either by swimming or lifting light weights. It may also be worth investing in some Bao Ding balls also known as chinese medicine balls. I use these and are good for exercising your finger and forearm muscles.

  4. Hi everybody,

    This is my first posting here. I visit this page several times a day but till now I only tacitly enjoyed and admired all the wisdom shared here. I simply did not feel competent to add something being of value so far. Not sure I can come up with anything interesting now but there is some hope since this topic is very close to "my story". But let me start with a huge thanks for all your input, I've learned so much here.

    To cut a long story (several years) short: Psychological self pressure - dont we all like to play like kurt and dont we all try hard (!) to reach this goal? - manifests in physical pressure. I personally developed a nice dystonia (my right hand was a useless thing, my handwriting was dead,...). When I woke up one day with a bad tendinitis after practicing hard (!) half night even I understood that torturing myself is not the right way to music. Unfortunately it still took some time until a good friend introduced me to his Alexander Technique (AT) teacher. Please do not understand this as an ad for AT - for me it is the right thing (at least the best thing Ive found so far) and I can highly recommend to try it - but thats a personal thing, try several methods (AT, Feldenkrais, ...) and you will find what helps you most. But my first advice: Do not lose time trying to solve your physical (and the mostly closely related psychological) problems yourself. Before I clarify that one question I wanted to ask since ages:

    Kurt if you read that: Have you ever taken AT lessons? I am asking because the way you "dance with the guitar" mirror some of the fundamental (but for me still unreachable) principles of the AT (maybe I just see AT everywhere where like to see it).

    Why help from others? One basic problem with this recipes a la "play relaxed", "do not think of technique, simply play",...: the weakness of the language - we all have different pictures in our head when we imagine, e.g., our right hand hitting the strings, our shoulder being relaxed,...so we interpret these recipes according to our experiences/feelings/... We are full of patterns (which is necessary, we could not live without automatisms) but unfortunately especially working hard (!) on something might lead to useless/ unproductive patterns like unnecessary tensions. It is essential to break those patterns. The problem: since we are used to our patterns they are subjectively perfectly fine. E.g. you might feel totally free in your shoulder but in fact your shoulder is totally stiff. It simply feels fine because thats how you use your shoulder every time you take your guitar.
    AT focuses on the points described here - the teacher shows you objectively how you use your body, helps you to understand your useless patterns and why you developed them and how you can break them. The bad news: these patterns are a part of our personality, you can study yourself a (life) long, it is a continuous and long way up. The good news: the journey is the reward! Every small step up improves your playing (and - my own experience - even your life) a lot.

    Hope this helps, if there are any questions Id be happy to discuss them.

    Best

  5. Matt
    Member

    @jezeline you hit the nail of the head. people pick up the guitar, tense up and then it assimilates into their automation, then muscle degeneration, etc occurs.

    one thing i've had good results with is meditation before practice. for no more than five minutes (generally more like 1-2), i just sit and try to relax everything. this helps me as i can focus on specific areas; for me, my right elbow tightens up sometimes. i also feel that meditation gets me in the 'zone' for practice.

    on the whole subject of tension, though, i don't think that it is possible to play without any tension. that being said, the very minimal is optimal.

  6. guitarmo
    Member

    Hi All,
    For the past two years I have been unable to play due to nerve damage in my left forearm. I was practicing way too much and not resting or listening to my body. I had surgery two months ago in attempt to fix the problem and should be able to play again. The biggest thing that I have learned in two years of not playing is that you don't need to play your instrument 10 hours a day to get better, there are other ways to improve. Although I haven't touched my guitar in two years I feel that I am a much better musician now. This was achieved through loads of listening, ear-training, reading books/blogs about music and writing. I feel that I've been practicing in a way that most musicians don't typically think about, which gives me an advantage and a different outlook. I would love to see Kurt's take on this.

  7. Thanks for the replies guys,

    @Jezeline: I am very interested in the Alexander Technique and I think I will give it a try. Are you back playing again after all the issues you had? if so then that is a very good recommendation. Also @Quintricacy : I might try acupuncture, that seems like it could help. anyway, thanks guys for the replies thus far, carry on.

  8. hi again,
    thanks for your comments, I am really happy if I could be helpful. Some additional remarks (sorry if - again - colored by my positive Alexander Technique experiences):

    (i) One additional important general point: tension is never local - even if we think that the wrist/shoulder/elbow makes troubles, there are no muscles in our joints, the muscles moving our joints are more or less far away. In fact muscles of the whole body are involved if we move e.g. our arm. (Try for instance to lift your right arm slowly and observe how your, say, left leg reacts). A totally agree with Matt - there is the need of tension. BUT do not use tension to fix joints. An example: As I understand it from todays point of view my troubles started when I wanted to work hard on a mega- super- controlled- optimal- relaxed- easy wrist movement - I naturally only concentrated on my wrist. Since I wanted only my wrist to move I got used to fixing my shoulder and elbow more and more - of course shoulder is stronger than any wrist controlling muscle so in the end my arm was totally cramped although i still felt relaxed...However back to the original point: I believe that its very important to be aware of the necessity to scan the whole body for tension, not only locally. By the way I am also convinced that the thought "my elbow, my wrist,... makes problems" creates a misleading picture since its not the "elbow, wrist,.." but its ME who has problems - so once again: Try to see the (whole) body (and the mind as well!) as one thing and if you are not satisfied with how you work you need to analyze/understand the whole thing.

    (ii) @ Matt again: Thanks for the comment on meditation - I too think that thats a great great tool (far away from esoteric clichees) to "scan" oneself and get oneself in the mood for picking up the guitar. It is very good to visualize the things you want to play without the guitar. I also believe in the importance of breaks (observe how children learn, they never torture themselves but stop in time - this only starts with school - very bad, but thats a different topic).

    (iii) @ Grant: I think AT is definitely worth to try it. If you have any questions, please dont hesitate a second and contact me - it helped me so much that I am (obviously) more than happy to share my experiences with others. Of course I am also interested to discuss with others their experiences,...oh by the way: of course I play again (sometimes I forget to stop - ask my suffering girlfriend :-)), also with others (which was unthinkable two years ago) still working on some (old) patterns, but since my playing is better than I ever expected it to be (still light years away from the great music I have heard from some of you) I am deeply optimistic now and feel on the sunny side of the street again (confidence is maybe the most important thing), so I even enjoy working on these old patterns and try to learn as much from them as possible (and there is a lot to learn). Most important: I play without any pain/negative feelings/...actually I learned to ENJOY it again.

    Heads forward and up!

  9. hi again,
    thanks for your comments, I am really happy if I could be helpful. Some additional remarks (sorry if - again - colored by my positive Alexander Technique experiences):

    (i) One additional important general point: tension is never local - even if we think that the wrist/shoulder/elbow makes troubles, there are no muscles in our joints, the muscles moving our joints are more or less far away. In fact muscles of the whole body are involved if we move e.g. our arm. (Try for instance to lift your right arm slowly and observe how your, say, left leg reacts). A totally agree with Matt - there is the need of tension. BUT do not use tension to fix joints. An example: As I understand it from todays point of view my troubles started when I wanted to work hard on a mega- super- controlled- optimal- relaxed- easy wrist movement - I naturally only concentrated on my wrist. Since I wanted only my wrist to move I got used to fixing my shoulder and elbow more and more - of course shoulder is stronger than any wrist controlling muscle so in the end my arm was totally cramped although i still felt relaxed...However back to the original point: I believe that its very important to be aware of the necessity to scan the whole body for tension, not only locally. By the way I am also convinced that the thought "my elbow, my wrist,... makes problems" creates a misleading picture since its not the "elbow, wrist,.." but its ME who has problems - so once again: Try to see the (whole) body (and the mind as well!) as one thing and if you are not satisfied with how you use yourself you need to analyze/understand the whole thing.

    (ii) @ Matt again: Thanks for the comment on meditation - I too think that thats a great great tool (far away from esoteric cliches) to "scan" oneself and get oneself in the mood for picking up the guitar. It is very good to visualize the things you want to play without the guitar. I also believe in the importance of breaks (observe how children learn, they never torture themselves but stop in time - this only starts with school - very bad, but thats a different topic).

    (iii) @ Grant: I think AT is definitely worth to try it. If you have any questions, please dont hesitate a second and contact me - it helped me so much that I am (obviously) more than happy to share my experiences with others. Of course I am also interested to discuss with others their experiences,...oh by the way: of course I play again (sometimes I forget to stop - ask my suffering girlfriend :-)), also with others (which was unthinkable two years ago) still working on some (old) patterns, but since my playing is better than I ever expected it to be (still light years away from the great music I have heard from some of you) I am deeply optimistic now and feel on the sunny side of the street again (confidence is maybe the most important thing), so I even enjoy working on these old patterns and try to learn as much from them as possible (and there is a lot to learn). Most important: I play without any pain/negative feelings/...actually I learned to ENJOY it again.

    Heads forward and up!

  10. Quintricacy
    Member

    While surgery can help, I do think that it should be considered as a final option if nothing else has worked.

  11. guitarmo
    Member

    Quintricacy: I agree about surgery as a last option. In my situation I believe it was the best choice, I had been to 8 doctors, tried physical therapy, acupuncture, and nothing worked. It really sucks waiting and not knowing if you will be able to play again. My injury occurred during my last semester in college, so I have been hanging around for two years not knowing what is going to happen. The best thing is to have a positive attitude about the situation, things could be worse.

  12. animitta
    Member

    Don't know about, when you already get some injury, just suppose that respiration is really important during practicing. And playing, for sure.
    A good breathing helps the body to be relaxed, deeply. From that "zone" is simpler to play. And difficult to injury yourself. I also suppose that if someone already injuried, good breathing will be good.
    Personally i think it's the hardest thing, not only playing the guitar, to keep yourself totally "loose", then music happens, life unfolds : ).

    All the Best
    Animitta

  13. Thanks guys for the replies, I have started working with a Alexander technique/body mapping instructer. so far it seems promising.


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