I’ve written a number of posts over the last two or three years about pain in the neck and shoulders related to playing guitar. One of the post popular posts I’ve written was this one:
I wrote that post nearly a couple of years ago now and thought, halfway through 2014 now, it would be a good time for an update. Long time followers of the blog will be aware of my journey with myotherapy and then onto Alexander Technique (check out the links beneath this article for some of those posts).
What were my “Guitarist’s Shoulder” symptoms?
I was experiencing pain and soreness in my right (and only my right) shoulder, both back and front, and the right side of my neck had been really building up, noting that I’m a right-handed guitarist. I’d get some temporary relief from this through massage or myotherapy (massage with targeted myofascial release), but it would build and build to become almost debilitating. I wasn’t too aware of the initial warning signs of things building either. Or I was, but chose to ignore or thought I could play through
The particular symptoms of “Guitarist’s Shoulder” that I had were:
- Lots of nasty clicking, particularly across the front of the shoulder joint, where apparently there were some very tight bands of muscle catching and popping across the collarbone. This was pretty uncomfortable, but not painful. It certainly didn’t help me, let’s put it that way, and it certainly grossed a few people out.
- A continuous dull aching sensation in both the front and back of the shoulder joint, leading me to want to punch myself in the shoulder or press into it with my fist or my fingers to relieve the ache.
- The dull aching sensation sometimes travelled up into the back of my head, jaw and eye, feeling like I had quite a bad sinus headache. Through talking with physical healthcare professionals and learning more about my anatomy I came to realise this sensation was not in fact related to things going on in my head (no sniggering now), but was actually overworked muscles in the neck and shoulders. The pain sensation in the head, eye, jaw and even upper nose sometimes, was actually a referred pain from the neck and shoulders. The same with the dull aching sensation that sometimes also travelled down into my upper arm.
- Sharp pain in the middle of my right shoulder-blade, especially when turning my head to the right and a noticeable and palpable tightness in right side of my neck.
Have I given pain in the neck the cold shoulder?
Yes! An unequivocal yes!
I can say, hand on heart, that I no longer have any of these symptoms above. Well, some of them start to creep in from time-to-time, but I now know the warning signs and how to nip them in the bud before they blow up into that pain in the neck that is “Guitarist’s Shoulder”!
It took me a while to understand my body (and brain) and the way it works when playing guitar, when it’s not playing guitar and when at rest, to take control of neck and shoulder pain.
My top tips for ridding yourself of pain in the neck and shoulder
- Listen not only to the sound you’re making when playing, but also to your body – if there are aches or pains that occur during or reasonably soon after playing this is your body’s signal that something is not quite right in terms of your posture and/ or your technique. Seek the advice of a good teacher and a good physical therapist!
- Do not continue playing through pain – there should NEVER be pain when playing. Ever.
- Seriously consider some Alexander Technique lessons – if it’s good enough for Julian Bream and Yehudi Menhuin I figured it was good enough for me and it certainly helped me in understanding how my body moves, how I could move it in a more efficient way, where tension (unbeknownst to me) was in my body and how to release it.
- Keep yourself physically fit and healthy – I’m not saying you should be pumping iron down at the gym every second day, but weak muscles and poor posture will lead to overloaded muscles in other parts of your body (i.e. muscles doing significant movements all of the time that really shouldn’t be). This leads to aches and pains in the neck and shoulder. I’ve overcome this by doing activities such as swimming, some light weight training, yoga (for some delicious stretches) and kickboxing (which is jolly good fun! And minding the nails of course!)
- Keep yourself mentally fit and healthy – the mind and the body are not two separate and distinct things, but two parts of a whole system. Allowing yourself time to relax, rest and recuperate between practice sessions, and not allowing yourself to get too hept up when working on something challenging is key. If you’re relaxed mentally you stand a much greater chance of being relaxed physically and pain and ache free.
- Look after yourself with some remedial massage or myotherapy from time to time, to help stretch out the muscles, get rid of trigger points and muscle adhesions or knots.
- Don’t sit practicing in the one position for long periods of time – move in your chair, sit forwards when playing, lean back when not or get up and walk around.