I’ve been emailed a couple of times recently by readers (thanks for that – keep them coming!) asking about playing with joint pain related to arthritis or similar. I’ve also taught, in the recent past, a couple of students with arthritis pain in their hands. So I thought some of my thoughts and advice would be a good share for all.
Now I’m not a doctor or any other kind of medical professional, so my first piece of advice is if you’re experiencing any kind of consistent or chronic pain in your hands go and seek the advice of a doctor. And if you don’t like what they’re saying seek a second opinion!
Whilst not having experienced directly (touch wood) the frustration and sometime debilitation that can be caused by finger, thumb and wrist pain, I do have an appreciation and understanding of it through my mother having this quite severely. So I can empathise with you, dear readers, that are similarly afflicted!
Anyhoo, here are my thoughts and tips on playing with chronic pain in the joints of the thumbs, fingers, and wrist.
- Seek the advice of a good teacher (at the least a handful of lessons or so, if not regularly) who can watch how you play, understand and assess your physical movements and provide some specific direction for you. It may be that your current technique adds undue pressure in certain areas (such as the left hand thumb, for example, behind the neck) or that your technique can be adapted to meet changing physical requirements.
- If that’s not possible, then the next best thing is to examine your own technique (you might like to give this a try anyway). Be aware of where you’re applying pressure. With good technique you should be able to playbarré cords,for example, with zero pressure from your thumb. Are you squeezing the life out of the neck with your left hand? Are you attempting to play arpeggios, scale runs or other passages a little too fast for your right hand? Build things up slowly and minimise pressure and tension through the right hand.
- Keep things moving with practicing a little and often. If you’re having a relatively good day where pain is minimal or even non-existent don’t fall into the trap of overdoing it or trying to “make up for lost time”. That will only come back to bite you! Keep practice as consistent as possible and do try to do just a little.
- Warm your hands up well prior to practicing, perhaps with the aid of some pocket warmers or bowl of warm water. Keep an ice pack handy for soothing and reducing inflammation in joints post practice.
- Ideally you don’t want to practice with any pain at all, but this is not always going to be the case with arthritis in the fingers and hands, so be aware of you body, what causes flare ups and always stop if pain worsens.