How to Prevent Wrist, Finger, and Forearm Strain When Playing Guitar
It’s often easy to forget how physically demanding playing the guitar can be. It’s not uncommon for guitar players to suffer 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). Such problems can sideline a guitarist for weeks or even months. Luckily, these kinds of conditions are preventable. There are some measures you can take in order to protect yourself from having these problems now or later on down the road.
First and foremost, it’s important to stretch before you play or practice. This not only helps prevent injuries, 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:
- Place your left hand thumb against your right hand palm and push back slightly – just far enough so you can feel a stretch. Hold the stretch 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 your right hand.
- Next, for a good forearm stretch, 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. Then, rotate your wrists forward so your fingers are pointing away from you, again holding once you feel a good stretch.
- After stretching, it’s always a good idea to warm up by practicing a few slow scales, riffs, or chords.
Some things to keep in mind when playing that can help prevent problems:
- Keep your wrists as straight as possible. When your wrists are bent, it will cause unnecessary strain and will also make 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.
- Don’t press on the strings any harder than is absolutely necessary, as doing so can cause strain.
Another important tip is to make sure you take a break of about 15 minutes for every hour of playing. As well, if you feel any pain 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 to rest your fingers and hands.
This next tip is one I was given by my current teacher, Philip Candelaria, and is a great way to make sure your arms and hands are in good shape to practice the day after an intense practice session.
- Fill either a sink or large container with cold water and toward the end of your practice session drop some ice in. I use a chunk of ice about the size of a softball, but ice cubes should work fine. The more ice you use, the colder the water will be. The ice will make the water really cold, which is what we want.
- Once you’re done practicing and the ice has melted, dunk your arms (up to your elbows) in the water and keep them there for a few minutes. What this will do is flush out the lactic acid that builds up in your muscles during practice.
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!