Carpal tunnel strikes again...

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by MustangMan78, Mar 31, 2021.

  1. MustangMan78


    Mar 20, 2021
    I'm really trying to learn right hand technique and not play with a pick...honest! However, I'm finding my old nemesis is making it impossible. I've battled tendonitis/carpal tunnel since marching season my sophomore year of high school...something about playing on a drum head that's as hard as than a formica countertop. As it's been the better part of 25 years now, I've learned to live with it and not do things that aggravate it. It still flares up from time to time, but it's manageable, for the most part.

    Enter my new foray into properly learning the bass. It has actually become a painful proposition. I'm doing okay with slaps and pulls, since that's primarily thumb and forefinger. I'm also alright with playing with just my index finger, ala James Jamerson. Where I'm running into a problem is trying to use my middle finger to play faster lines. Plucking with my middle finger brings shooting pains that travel from the tip of my finger, up through my wrist. I've dealt with this long enough to know, "stop and don't keep doing it!" I can fake some faster notes using hammer ons and pull offs, but that doesn't work when there's repeated notes on the same string/fret (think the chorus bass line in Ramble On). I am digging pretty hard into the strings, but even lightening my touch doesn't seem to help (not to mention, it sounds weak). I feel like I'm going to be forever condemned to playing this faster stuff with a pick. That would be the "smart" path, but there also seems to be a stigma attached to bass players that use a pick.

    My question is, what are my options? Please help!
    fhm555 likes this.
  2. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    If I had some kind of physical issue that made fingerstyle difficult I wouldn't hesitate to just use a pick all the time. If I had some physical issue that made pickstyle difficult I wouldn't hesitate to play without one all the time. If I couldn't do either I'd learn to play with my thumb all the time. You gotta just play the hand you were dealt.

    People who attach a stigma to bassists using a pick are idiots -- and mostly not bass players. Lots of great players play mainly or exclusively with a pick. Just do it and don't think twice.
    smokinjoe, gotly, jefkritz and 6 others like this.
  3. fearceol


    Nov 14, 2006
    Hi and welcome too TB. :)

    You seem to be apologising for playing with a pick. Granted, some people ( a minority I would think) look down on people who play with a pick. So what ? Let them wallow in their ignorance. Some great bass players use a pick, e.g. Paul MCartney, Chris Squire, Carol Kaye..etc..etc..

    In my opinion it would be foolish to aggravate your existing CTS by forcing yourself to use finger style because of some silly stigma.

    My advice...enjoy playing the bass with minimum injury problems...and use a pick.

    FWIW here is a link on how Talkbass views the stigma attached to playing with a pick.

    Why is playing with a pick so frowned upon?
  4. Malcolm1935


    Feb 5, 2021
    CT can be an in office surgery with a two week recovery time. Notice I said "can be" talk to a hand specialist and see what they have to say.
  5. MustangMan78


    Mar 20, 2021
    I’m glad to hear people are more open-minded about it. It’s only when I need to play fast parts, so I kind of like the hybrid approach.

    I’ve never gotten the surgery because I’m an IT guy and my hands are my money makers. I’ve talked to a few people that have had it done and they said they were worse off for it, so I’m hesitant to even consider it. I manage it pretty well at this point, and while I do have painful flare ups, I still have full use. If it ain’t functionally broke, don’t fix it!
  6. chris_b


    Jun 2, 2007
    If you have carpal tunnel and playing with fingers causes pain, it's your body telling you to use a pick. Pick payers are not second class citizens and if that's what bypasses your pain then just pick away. It's the noise you make, and not the way you make it, that counts.
    Groove Doctor likes this.
  7. Malcolm1935


    Feb 5, 2021
    Walmart sells a brace you wear at night. After 8 hours your wrist is rested and good to go again.

    I've used it to good advantage.
    jefkritz likes this.
  8. MustangMan78


    Mar 20, 2021
    Any tips for EQing pick sound/attack out of your tone, like more than just rolling the tone knob back?
  9. lfmn16

    lfmn16 Inactive Suspended

    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    The only stigma about playing with a pick is on TalkBass. In the real world I've never had anyone mention it. Sometimes I play with a pick, sometimes with my fingers. No one has EVER commented on it in 50 years. I don't get why you would risk damaging your hands because you're worried about what someone is going to say or think. If you can play pain free with a pick, use a pick.
  10. I totally agree.

    I see what you did there. :laugh:


    Spot on. If you can prevent it, do so at all costs. A wrist brace is an excellent tool for providing healing time. Definitely look into them now. Take your time learning about/trying on the different types (and shopping around for a great price).

    Note - If the pain becomes severe and unremitting then see a hand specialist ASAP.
    chris_b likes this.
  11. BarfanyShart


    Sep 19, 2019
    DC Metro
    Playing with a pick is cool. I taught jazz to kids who played with picks, even though I'm not very good at pick myself. My oldness caught up with me and I changed my right hand technique to be more like a classical guitarist, and I'm mostly using my thumb and forefinger on either side of the string, and rotating my wrist in a movement similar to up-down picking.
  12. fhm555

    fhm555 So FOS my eyes are brown Supporting Member

    Feb 16, 2011
    When I started losing the use of my left pinky i found it was from entrapped nerves in my elbow and wrist. I had surgery to correct the condition but was told there was a good chance some of the damage would never go away. I struggled for a few years trying to get back to covering 4 frets with 4 fingers. I made great progress but no matter how I tried, i could no longer get my pinky to fret up near the nut without losing position with my other three fingers. I finally gave in and got a 30” scale bass and have been very encouraged by my progress in relearning to play with only three fingers on the fretboard.
    forget the stigma or any other personal opinions about how you use your right hand and do what works for you. I’ve been playing over 40 years and never learned to use a pick and i’ve never had anyone ask me why i don’t use a pick. If it makes it possible to play and you don’t plan on becoming a journeyman bassist, take care of your hands and be grateful for what you can do rather than concerned about what fate has limited you to.
    Alivefor5 and Lobster11 like this.
  13. mikecd1


    Mar 3, 2009
    New England
    I've had two carpal tunnel releases done and though its helped I still have to be careful. One thing that's helped is not using stiff strings. DR Sunbeams with the round core are a bit more flexible and the TI Flats on my Hofner are the lowest tension strings I've ever played. Had to really back off the plucking with those, but it works and I love their tone for flats. The roundcore roundowounds TI makes are nice as well though both are pricey but a flexible string should help and didn't see what you're using. If I dig in too much now I'll get trigger finger and that is excruciating and something to be avoided at all costs. Those symptoms you mentioned could be related to that as well. If its too fast I'll just use a pick with no reservations, but I always try to serve the song and more notes is usually never the answer. Feel better and play in good health!
  14. jefkritz


    Oct 20, 2007
    iowa city, IA
    As a fellow IT person and bass player who has mild carpal-like flare-ups every so often... Have you tried stretching? In addition to the normal hand stretching (e.g. ), I've picked up some good stretches in yoga over the years.

    #1: lay on your stomach, put your arm out to the side, palm down. You should look like an upside-down L. Now keep your arm there, and roll your body towards your outstretched fingers (i.e. your back is facing your outstretched arm). Hold, repeat on other side. Uncomfortable but great!

    #2: lay on your stomach, and work your arms under your body, palms down, arms straight. Try to lay with your hands roughly under your groin / hips. Ideally, your pinkies and the pinky side of your palms will be touching, but start slow. Hold. When you get good at this, lift your legs off the ground! This one can be REALLY uncomfortable, especially at first, but it's amazing for alleviating pre-carpal.

    When my wrists start hurting, I do some serious stretching and it helps nip it in the bud. If it gets bad, I sleep with wrist guards (as previously mentioned)

    Obviously, it depends how serious your carpal tunnel is. And I'm not a doctor, etc. And, yeah, pick playing is great too!
    PaulS likes this.
  15. mrcbass


    Jan 14, 2016
    Sacramento, CA
    Talk to a doctor and get the surgery if they suggest it. I've had both wrists done in the last 6 months. Very glad I did. Was back playing within the week after each one.
  16. chadds


    Mar 18, 2000
    Carpal Tunnel and tendonitis are often issues up in the shoulder and neck. I would see PT, Chiropractic and with those Acupuncture. I know many athletes and pro musicians (some classical) who are now free of these issues without surgery or shots. It's now shown that post cp surgery folks have the pain return. A good Chiropractor may watch you play in the office and suggest posture changes. All three can free up stuck places that are binding and causing your lack of free movement.
  17. Thumpin6string

    Thumpin6string Supporting Member

    Apr 25, 2013
    Shoals Indiana
    If you don't want to get the surgery, these are the options I can think of.

    Wear a wrist brace and see if that helps.
    Since you slap with no problems, play everything that way. There are players who do.
    Another technique is to use your thumb and finger(s) like a classical guitar player does. The bass player in the Travis Larson Band (check them out on Youtube) does this. I tried it and it works great.
    And lastly, play with a pick. IMHO, I find pick playing to sound a bit harsh for my taste.

    That's all I've got. Good luck and I hope you find a solution that works for you.
  18. oldcatfish


    Jan 8, 2011
    —I have too and even gone further by wearing it while a practicing ...which will show you when you are bending your wrist. Then you can modify your technique when you practice so that you don’t rely on the brace when you gig. Worked great for me, I rarely have issues anymore.
  19. s van order

    s van order

    Oct 4, 2012
    I’ve dealt with 20+ years of overuse injury flareups (incl CTS) too and they shut not just my cello playing down, but other activities others take for granted. They are tougher to tamp down as you age and the tissues become less flexible. Stretches, strengthening, ice, heat, stim, brace at night (and nsaids and prednisone when bad) - used them all with some success but it is a grind. Have you been evaluated and treated for CTS or another wrist tendinopathy? If so you might go back to the doc for more help. If the problem really is CTS, stretching the transverse carpal ligament can help relieve nerve pressure and delay surgery. The c-trac device works well for that, expensive but beats the manual stretch. Good luck with it!
  20. 9Thumbs


    Jul 3, 2013
    Near Boston
    I've tried to learn to use a pick, just couldn't do it, wish I could. A pick was good enough for Phil Lynott. He was no slouch. I can pretty much only use one finger on upright (very damaged middle finger), Do what you do, you'll be fine.
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