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Coping With Tendon/Muscle/Wrist Strain

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by Michael Bauer, Dec 10, 2018.

  1. About two months ago, my band had a longer than usual practice session to work on new material. We practiced for four hours, and by the last hour, my wrist and forearm were feeling painful. I could play, but it hurt...a lot! I nursed it as best I could while still keeping up my band obligations, and finally contacted my doctor, who put me on a Prednisone regimen for six days to get me through a heavy schedule of performances. That stuff made me a mess...shaking hands, sweats, and about every other bad reaction to Pred a person can have. It did kill the pain, but I had to play sitting down, because I was too shaky to stand.

    That's all worn off now, and I have two more shows this weekend. No more Pred for me, but what have you folks done when you have had this problem to get through your shows? I play with my fingers, and I doubt I have time to adapt to a pick by the weekend (although I am tempted to try).

    Any treatments, therapies, mild medications, or anything else you folks have tried that might help? I have learned so much from lurking on this site for the past three years, and I have to think this has happened to a few of you. I'm hoping at least one of you found a working solution. I should add that after this weekend, I have a couple of weeks to rest it. Thanks in advance for any ideas!
  2. portpc


    May 31, 2011
    Ha! I'm in the process of shaking off a similar ailment, Right forearm tightness, wrist ache, overtaxing the area..
    I actually posted this topic last week, Mine was mainly due to being on a computer all day & mouse-related injury.

    Thankfully I've been on a 2 week gig hiatus, start-up again tomorrow & am also going back to picks..

    Exercises helped me, You Tube"Forearm tendonitis "& you'll see ones you can most likely apply to your situation.

    As they say, the symptoms will continue as long as you keep repeating the actions that got you there in the 1st place.

    Adapting to it is really the only choice..
    Michael Bauer likes this.
  3. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    Hypothesis: Do you lazily rest your forearm horizontally on top of the bass, and bend your wrist so you fingers can reach down to pluck the strings?
    Michael Bauer likes this.
  4. Hi Lobster, and thanks for responding! I don't know about the lazy part, but my forearm does rest against the bass about two to three inches below my elbow. It's how I was taught to play. I mostly play Precisions, so I keep my thumb lightly touching the pickup. And yes, my wrist is bent. I had to go pick up a P and check, because I haven't thought about the ergonomics of playing for a couple of years now. Not sure how else I'd do it, but I'm all ears!
  5. And thank you, too "portpc!" I will check the videos this evening.

    Another symptom I failed to mention is that my forearm now feels noticeably weaker than before.
  6. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    Well, that's your problem, and it sounds even worse than I'd thought. If your forearm is resting on the bass just a couple of inches below the elbow, your wrist must be bent all to hell because you not only have to be able to reach down with your fingers, but back toward the body of the bass, to reach the strings. Ouch!

    Try this little exercise: Hold your plucking arm out in front of you, and with your wrist straight wiggle your plucking fingers. Now, bend your wrist as far as it will go, and wiggle your fingers again. You will probably feel soreness and weakness in exactly the places you described in your OP. Now, use your other hand to feel what is happening to the tendons and muscles in your forearm while you wiggle your fingers, especially the underside of the wrist and the area of your forearm where you rest your arm on the bass. Straighten out your wrist again and repeat. You should easily be able to feel a huge difference in the amount of strain in your arm and wrist with your wrist severely bent as compared to with it straight.

    The solution, of course, is to change your arm position so that your plucking wrist is as straight as possible. Lengthen your strap so the bass body is lower, and hold your elbow out from your body rather than resting it on top of the bass. It's okay if part of your forearm rests against the front of the bass, but your forearm should be essentially parallel to the front of the bass rather than perpendicular to it. You want a straight line from your elbow to your fingers. This will not only reduce the risk of further injuring yourself, but I think you'll find that your plucking fingers will be more agile and accurate and have much more stamina.
    Michael Bauer and Mushroo like this.
  7. Interesting thoughts, Lobster, and thank you! I'll give all this a try. Someone once commented at a gig that I keep my bass kind of high..."Old School" was how he described it. I did the little test that you suggested, and I certainly felt the difference immediately. I almost always practice and rehearse sitting down, which may make the problem worse. I have rehearsals tonight and tomorrow for this weekends two gigs, so I'll see if I can adapt that fast.

    Question: do you practice standing up always? If not, how do you handle the wrist angle while sitting?

    I really appreciate your advice! Even my doctor can't really suggest something like this, because he doesn't understand the ergonomics of playing. After this weekend, I have 2-3 weeks to rest and/or try to relearn my picking technique from the ground up. But I am going to try this tonight to see if I can at least make it work well enough for the weekend.

    Again, thanks so much! I have learned so much here in the three years I have been playing bass. I am extremely grateful for your analysis and advice!
  8. mrcbass


    Jan 14, 2016
    Sacramento, CA
    Your wrist arm position is important (as you are exploring with lobster). I never had any formal personal lessons, but I find that I have better control if I let the bass hang to where it fits my comfort zone. Rather than adjusting my position to match where the bass sits. My eyes like it higher for my fretting hand, but my plucking hand like to be lower. So I tend to play with the neck angled up a lot of the time. I have a hard time playing seated, but do use a bar stool to keep the bass off my lap when I do need to sit.

    You may also want to monitor how hard you pluck. I taught myself to really dig in - thought that's where a lot of tone came from. I've seen the light and am learning to have a lighter touch (lower strings and needing to switch back and forth using a pick have really enforced this). I find that my plucking hand becomes almost unusable after a couple hours if I have to dig in too hard - usually occurs when I can't hear myself in the mix. I'm also finding that I can play much faster/cleaner with a light touch.
    Michael Bauer and Lobster11 like this.
  9. mrcbass, thanks for pointing that out! I have just started making the same discovery. I pluck harder than I need to, and I find that especially true when learning new material. My hand is probably a little more tense learning new stuff, because I am less sure of what's coming. The day of the initial injury was almost all new material, and we practiced for four hours with no effective breaks. My forearm and wrist just gave out after 3 1/2 hours, and the last half was excruciating.

    Like a lot of bassists, I started as a guitar player for 50 years, then switched, almost by accident, 3 years ago to bass. I am 67, so my tendons are already much less flexible and forgiving than they used to be. I think the first part of 2019 is going to have to be given over to remaking my technique. Frustrating, but it has to be done.

    Thanks again for your thoughts. I needed to hear that. We play a song where I have a tricky plucking section, and I was having a lot of trouble getting it right. I just discovered a few days ago, when I was nursing the wrist, that I could play it more accurately with a softer technique, and I didn't lose that much volume. What I lost was some muddiness and distortion from plucking too hard.

    Again, thanks to all of you for the excellent insights! I hope there will be even more!
  10. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    I agree with all of this. The standard advice is that the height of the bass should be the same whether sitting or standing, but since I like the body a little lower (the straight-wrist thing) I also use a stool so I can play semi-sitting/semi-standing, if you know what I mean. Also, angling the neck upwards (and also outwards a bit) helps me keep my fretting wrist straight at the same time.

    I also agree with the philosophy of plucking softly and turning up the amp to let it do the work. You can always dig in harder if/when you need to.

    One more thought: As long as you're re-vamping your right-hand technique, you might consider adopting the "floating thumb" technique instead of anchoring your thumb on the pickup. The primary motivation behind this is usually for muting purposes, but since switching to this I've found that it also makes it much easier to lighten my touch and avoid digging in too much. Check out this video:

    Michael Bauer likes this.
  11. What an interesting video, Lobster! What he says makes sense. I'm absolutely going to try that. i wished he'd shown more examples in the video, but the concept looks good.

    I watched some other videos featuring good players, and sure enough, they all keep their wrists far straighter than I have been doing.

    I just had a 2+ hour practice for Saturday's two-set show. I lowered my bass by two button holes on the strap, sat with it a little to the side, so I could keep it lower (someone had snitched the stool from the rehearsal room), and tried to keep my wrist, if not straight, at least much straighter, especially on the easier and more familiar songs. It really made playing much less straining, and can only get better as I get my wrist straighter. When I got to the newer/busier/harder songs, I had to concentrate on the song and my wrist wandered back to where it had been. Sure enough, I got a wincing pain. So I refocused on the wrist and got through the last 30-40 minutes just fine. It's a little sore, but not stabbing like it had been.

    I have a lesson tomorrow, and I already asked my teacher to devote a significant part of my lesson to improving my ergonomics. Once I am past these two weekend shows, I'll have two weeks to slow things down and focus on technique.

    Again, many thanks to the three of you. I might well come back and ask questions and report progress. Feel free to share any other tips and videos you may think of. You guys have been great!
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2018
    Lobster11 likes this.
  12. Lammchop93

    Lammchop93 Supporting Member

    Feb 4, 2007
    Louisville, KY
    i dont know what kind of health insurance you have, but if it's good, I HIGHLY recommend going to see an occupational therapist.

    I'm 25 and have had issues with my hand hurting when gripping things (such as my bass neck), and my primary care dr said it sounded like carpel tunnel. I visited an occupational therapist twice a week for a month, and she did a bunch of tests to confirm it and gave me some stretches to do a few times a day, and what a difference it made!! Most of my issues came from improper form when weightlifting at the gym, so we got that corrected, but the stretches she gave really made a difference. Here I am about 2 months later and I have almost zero pain anymore.
    Michael Bauer and DrThumpenstein like this.
  13. Lammchop, thanks for the suggestion! I have excellent insurance, fortunately. Have an appointment January 8th with a specialist, and I presume he is going to recommend therapy. I have been doing some stretches I saw in a couple of videos that portpc referred me to in the meantime. Hopefully, with some technique improvements, stretching, and some PT, I can get back to pain-free playing. I also think I may end up playing better if I can play with my wrist straighter, since it will reduce the tension in my hand while I perform.
    Lammchop93 and Lobster11 like this.
  14. mrcbass


    Jan 14, 2016
    Sacramento, CA
    Glad to see you're finding some relief. I do need to mention that there is a sweet spot for the plucking hand. If you get your hand too flat, to lose dexterity (speed), so keep playing with it until you find your sweet spot.
    Michael Bauer likes this.
  15. Just got back from a day two practice sessions, a lesson, and a rehearsal for one of this weekends shows. The wrist is doing great. Still sore from before, but this time last week it was throbbing. This week? Just residual soreness from last week and the weekend. No new pain! Now I wish I'd have asked you guys sooner! My bass instructor and I examined several options, and I watched him play, both sitting and standing. I realize that I am going to have to perfect this gradually, as I am less confident playing with the wrist flatter. But I kept checking it and adjusting when it started curving too much, and the difference was dramatic. The curve in my wrist is about 1/4 to 1/3 what it was before. Mrcbass, I agree with you that I am going to need some curvature. Like I said, after this weekend I have a break of about three weeks to really focus on this. But just over the past day or two, the adjustments have helped beyond anything I had hoped. Thanks again to you all!
    Lobster11, mrcbass and Lesfunk like this.
  16. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    Great to hear that this has made such a difference in such a short time, and kudos to you for doing it. (I guess pain is a pretty potent motivator, huh?) You're trying to re-work your entire right-hand technique, and of course that's not going to happen easily overnight. If you practice regularly over your upcoming three-week break -- even if it's just a few minutes a day -- you should get pretty comfortable with it and it should start to feel natural. It might be a good idea to do as much of that practicing as possible in a standing position, to simulate how you play at rehearsals and gigs, and only then start working on how to maintain it in a sitting position. Good luck, and keep us posted!
    Michael Bauer likes this.

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