When you play guitar, it is a captivating endeavor, whether you're strumming to a sold-out crowd or rocking out with friends in the basement. It's a journey that requires practice, dedication, and the ability to evoke beautiful melodies from the strings. Every guitarist can recall the initial sensation of fingertips pressing against the frets. As you progress, playing full-length songs and mesmerizing solos becomes a reality, but it's important to remember that this pursuit takes time. Hours are spent perfecting the craft, ensuring that every note resonates with precision and emotion.

However, amidst the passion for guitar playing, one must be cautious of overdoing it. A repetitive strain injury, such as wrist tendonitis and an overuse injury, can arise from too much pressure and strain. Hence, it is crucial for musicians, both beginners and professionals, to strike a balance between practice and self-care, to alleviate developing pain and an overuse injury.

Common Guitar Related Injuries

Overuse injuries and nerve compression injuries are the most common serious injuries among musicians, including guitar players. According to The Bone & Joint Journal, more than 50% of professional musicians experience limb overuse, resulting in pain. Constant repetition, poor posture, fatigue, incorrect hand and arm positioning, excessive finger angulation, and rapidly increasing playing time are all risk factors for overuse injuries. The guitar-related injury often affects the wrist, hand, elbow, and shoulder.

It is crucial for guitar players to be aware of the potential for serious injury. Factors such as loud noise and too much tension can further contribute to the risk of guitar-related injuries. Therefore, it is important to practice proper technique, take breaks, and gradually increase playtime for playing the guitar to avoid these injuries.

Listed below are three common injuries seen in musicians.

  • Tendinitis: Inflammation of a tendon, a strong band of connective tissue that attaches muscle to bone. It can be caused by activities like playing tennis, practicing guitar for long hours, or repetitive motions that strain the wrist muscles. Symptoms include pain and stiffness in the affected area. If symptoms persist, it's important to seek medical attention.
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Compression on the median nerve as it travels through the wrist. This condition can be aggravated by activities like playing loud music, excessive guitar practice, or repetitive motions that strain the wrist muscles. Symptoms include feeling pain, numbness, and tingling in the thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers. Pain can also radiate from the forearm to the shoulder, and grip strength may be reduced. If symptoms are persistent, it's important to seek medical attention.
  • Cubital Tunnel Syndrome: Pressure or stretching of the ulnar nerve, commonly known as the 'funny bone'. This condition can be aggravated by activities such as playing loud music, excessive guitar practice, or repetitive motions that strain the wrist muscles. Symptoms include numbness or tingling in the ring and little fingers, especially when the tennis elbow is bent. Weakness in the hand and difficulty with finger coordination may also be experienced. If symptoms persist, it's important to seek medical attention. Additionally, prolonged exposure to loud music can contribute to hearing loss, so it's important to take necessary precautions.

Injury Prevention Strategies

Guitarists and musicians must be aware of common injuries and prioritize strategies for injury prevention. Whether you are just starting out or working on your latest album, it's easy to lose track of time or overlook proper technique. To ensure you can sustain your passion and have a long-lasting career, follow these injury prevention strategies:

  • Warm up with gentle stretches and easy guitar exercises to prepare for your practice sessions.
  • Check your guitar to ensure the strap is comfortable and the position is correct for your body.
  • Focus on proper technique by maintaining good posture, relaxed hand positioning, and consistently smooth strumming to prevent developing carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Take lessons and watch instructional videos to assess and enhance your technique, minimizing repetitive movements.
  • Pace yourself and take breaks. Be patient and gradually increase playing time, listening to your body and addressing any pain or discomfort that may arise.

Remember, developing carpal tunnel syndrome is a real concern, so prioritize injury prevention and listen to your body during your practice sessions.

Despite these prevention tips, these common injuries can still occur while playing guitar. Our team of fellowship-trained physicians at OAA’s Hand & Upper Extremities Institute is here to help you get back to playing your favorite song. To schedule an appointment with one of our doctors, call 610-973-6200 or fill out our “Request an Appointment” form.