My Top Tips For Avoiding Injury As A Guitarist

It’s always important to make sure that as guitarists we’re looking after our bodies in the right way whatever age we may be. Why? Well, thats kind of a no-brainer – to make sure we’re not storing up problems for ourselves, to nip any issues in the bud as they arise (or prevent them entirely) and to ensure that we have plenty of happy, healthy and pain-free years of playing ahead of us.

So here are some of my top tips (directly from my own experience) in no particular order for ensuring I stay injury-free and can really physically enjoy my playing. Head back this way next week for another set of tips on this subject.

1. Look after yourself

It may sound a little indulgent (or I used to think it did until I realised its importance), but getting a regular massage is a particular tool in my injury prevention armoury that I don’t think I could do without. It releases tight, tense muscles and is extremely relaxing the right hands (not all massages or persons delivering them are made equal!).

I just came back from a massage this afternoon, focussing on head, neck, shoulders, arms and hands. I feel all relaxed and loosened and ready to crack into a decent practice session. And I can tell you a massage on hands that have been working hard on the classical guitar is so deliciously divine!

2. Invest in a foam roller

After most of my practice sessions, I’ll whip out my foam roller, pop it on the floor, lie on it and roll my upper back up and down a few times, nice and slowly. I do this until I have most of the good “cracks” out. This just loosens up any tight spots that may have crept in during practice.

3. Stretch

I don’t stretch prior to practicing (but I do ease into it – no Chaconne straight off the bat!), but I do tend to have a little stretch afterwards. Given that I’ve just been sitting with my arms and chest moving in a forward direction I like to clasp my hands together behind my back to open up the front of my shoulders and chest. I also like to stretch out my sternocleidomatstoid muscle (the big muscle band that runs from the base of your skull behind your ear to your collarbone. To do this I rotate my head to one side and then tip it forward slightly as if were going to sniff my armpit. I hold this for around 10 seconds and then make the stretch a little more by just putting my hand on the crown of my head and applying a little pressure. I then repeat on the other side.

Neck Stretch

4. Keep reasonably fit

I’m not talking about marathon fit or anything silly like that! I am talking about taking some form of exercise and moving yourself around most days a week. Using the muscles and keeping them fit, strong and ready for action is one of the best ways (in my opinion) to keep injury-free. I take the dog walking most days, and two or three days a week I’ll do a class like boxing or dancing or something similarly fun, or head into the gym.

5. Notice when something doesn’t feel right and stop

It’s been a very long time I’ve had anything niggling or painful come at me whilst playing, but I can tell you hands down the best way to prevent that initial twinge from developing into something more serious (and taking sometime to sort out) is to stop what you’re doing that’s causing the pain. Annoying yes, that you have to stop but your body will thank you for it in the long run. Then go and seek the advice of a good teacher about your technique. And I also highly recommend to anyone that will listen the benefits of Alexander Technique – it really did save me!

My top three post-practice stretches for guitarists

I thought I’d share with you today the three stretches that I now do after each and every practice session. Well, after most sessions anyway. Those sessions where I don’t do these stretches after I tend to notice a higher degree of tension in the time post-practice. Needless to say (but I’m going to say it anyway), those times when I do do the following stretches I feel marvellous! All stretched out, tension released, refreshed and re-energised. They’re good for getting the oxygenated blood flowing to the parts again after sitting down, focusing and concentrating, during your practice.

I’m sharing these exercises as they work for me – whether you choose to do these for yourself is entirely up to you, but please take account of your own physical condition and health before commencing them. If unsure don’t do them and/ or consult your doctor. Always consult a health professional if you have any lingering aches and pains or any unduly sharp pains during or after playing guitar.

Stretch #1 – The Back Roll

OK, so this first one isn’t really a stretch after all. It is a tension-reliever though and involves a the use of a hard foam roller to effectively crack your own back. It feels great!

I could try and explain the technique here (and thought better of filming myself lumbering around on the floor!), but check out this video instead – this chap demonstrates the technique very neatly, although I would recommend rolling a little more slowly perhaps than he is doing.

Stretch #2 – The Lumbar Twist

This one was inspired by my forays in to the world of yoga. Don’t worry it’s not some crazy, one-legged, balancing act. It’s actually a very gentle posture, that promotes release of tension in the spine through a gentle, supported twisting – lying down on your back on the floor your head and neck move one way, whilst the legs move the other with the position held for 10 – 30 seconds to really let the tension melt away.

Again, rather than me trying to explain further and/ or clamber around ungracefully for your viewing displeasure, check out this YouTube clip. The posture I’m on about starts around 1 minute 10 seconds in.

Stretch #3 – The Shoulder and Chest Stretch

This is a good one to round off a wee stretching session, as it brings you back up to standing and focuses on chest and shoulders. Standing with feet about hip width apart, put your hands behind your back, palms facing each other and interlock your fingers. Raise your interlocked hands up (not too far) and stretch – you should feel a nice gentle stretch across the front of the chest and shoulders. You can choose to put you head slightly forward as well to increase the stretch and stretch the back of the neck. You can also then gently tilt the head back to gently stretch the muscles in the front of the neck. This stretch, because of the interlocked hands, can also help with stretching out the wrists. If you want to stretch the wrists a little more turn your interlocked hands so your palms are facing outward. You’ll also get a nice wee stretch in the forearms with this too.

Another option is to stretch the chest and shoulders like so…