Avoiding hand and wrist injury when playing guitar – part one

I’m talking about the right hand here (or left hand if you’re a South Paw) and injury management and remediating a playing style that has brought about injury is something I have first hand (ahem, ‘scuse the pun) experience of. Yup, I have experienced the pain and annoyance of an injured wrist, with carpal tunnel syndrome type symptoms. I also have experience in successfully remedying the situation – phew!

English: Transverse section of the wrist. Base...
English: Transverse section of the wrist. Based off Gray’s anatomy diagram of the same. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What I’ve learnt and then implemented (and then helped others with subsequently) is that your seated posture with your guitar is so very important, as this then influences the position of your right arm and hand in relation to that.

Problems can begin to arise over time where the wrist is being cramped up and squished up (technical term there) frequently over time. And this tends to occur if you’re playing with your right hand more or less at 90 degrees, or a similar angle, to your forearm. There are other influencing factors, but we’ll talk about those in other blog posts.

Some people seem to manage playing in this way without trouble. However, talking from my own personal experience, other teachers and a number of students that come my way, this is not the case for a significant number of guitarists.

One of the first steps in remedying that tingling, pins-and-needles, numb and often painful feeling in the wrist, thumb, palm and/ or fingers is to reposition yourself so that your hand and forearm are more or less in a straight line. It doesn’t have to be perfectly, ruler straight, but should be more straight than less so, most of the time.

Think about it – the wrist is not a massive space. This is the passageway that connects your forearm and your hand, with bone and connective making up its structure and a whole heap of tendons and nerves passing through it. Squishing up that area with a flexed 90 degree type playing style with your right hand is (a) going to make the fingers more difficult to move in the first instance as the tendons are not able to move as freely as they might otherwise, and (b) impinging on these tendons and nerves in this way over time – frequently, regularly and consistently (and with tension involved – but we’ll talk about that later) is going to increase the likelihood of inflammation, entrapment and compression. This can then lead to pain, pins-and-needles and weakness in the wrist, hand and fingers, which can then lead to reduced playing ability and in the severest cases may mean you need to stop playing altogether – not good!

Playing with a more open right wrist, facilitated by keeping a straighter line between hand and forearm, will set you on the path to remedying an existing situation (as it did with myself). Even better, if you’re just setting out on the path of learning to play the guitar or picking it up again after a hiatus, instil this as your “situation normal” way of playing from the outset. It will make things a heck of a lot easier and  a lot less painful instilling this as a new hair rather than undoing the painful and potentially debilitating alternative.

* NB – this blog post doesn’t in any way represent any medical advice and if you have pain you should always seek medical attention.

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3 thoughts on “Avoiding hand and wrist injury when playing guitar – part one

  1. Well written! It can also be helpful to prevent injuries if we ask students to make a fist at their most comfortable position (on the guitar). I think that position would be the right position for them (depend on the student). Because neither they can over-curve their wrist nor they can make it absolutely flat. It would also be relatively easy for them to move their fingers and pluck the strings.

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