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Help - Middle finger freezes up at the gig

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by npbassman, Aug 10, 2002.

  1. npbassman

    npbassman Supporting Member

    Apr 25, 2002
    I was playing a show last night and all of a sudden, my right hand middle finger clenched up. The tip of the finger locked to the palm (spiderman style) and I couldn't do anything to get it back. I was able to feel it tighten up all the way up my forearm but I was able to I play the rest of the tune with my index finger. I had to take a break after that. What would cause this and any tips out there on how I can avoid this? I did do a full warmup before I played and I thought that this may have been because of dehydration and I drank alot of water after it happened. I usually have pretty good technique and this is the first time this has happened to me.


  2. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    Sounds like muscle tension to me. In your practice, and while you're performing, try to remind yourself to play with your hands as relaxed as possible.

    try Yoga, too.
  3. HeavyDuty

    HeavyDuty Supporting Curmudgeon Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Jun 26, 2000
    Suburban Chicago, IL
    I have a similar problem. Every time I get in traffic, my middle finger becomes stiff and hangs out the window!
  4. Tyler Dupont

    Tyler Dupont Wesly Headpush

    My grandma had this problem.. I don't mean to scare you or anything.. but she had to get surgery. They had to cut the tendon or whatever to get it to stop.
  5. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    i would stretch more before playing - sounds like what pacman said - you're tightening up too much. relax your hand. you probably had a muscle spasm because you weren't stretched out and relaxed enough.
  6. Matt Sanchez

    Matt Sanchez

    Jun 25, 2002
    Hello, just thought I'd stop and reply.

    I've been a chop and endurance freak since my first fender mustang bass to my first upright. For reasons beyond the scope of this forum - I stopped giging for two years.

    What got me back into the pocket is a friend of mine, a Funk'n Jazzer from way back was out of the Army band from playing in Koera (was stationed on the DMZ) and was jonseing for improv. He was he hooked in with a solid rythm section missing bass.

    I brought it over Amanda, my bass at the time. It was a six and yes I use all six strings harmonically and not just percussively or astetically -grins-

    We started doing stoned jazz sets that would go for hours with out a break.

    Having always had the chops I thought this would be like riding a bike... once you do it, you never have to relearn.....

    Well, that was almost true.

    My mind could hear everything it wanted to materalize and the coordination was there... only problem was that my hand strenght went out the window from not playing for two years and I was pushing it every time I played these five hour long sets.

    One night, my left hand started to cramp - and I thought to myself, "damn, it feels good baby. this is why i play bass.. the physical nature of the beast"... and then it happened.

    All of my fingers on the left hand closed into a fist. I stopped playing and put her down. I went out side everyone kept on playing - had a good number of people over enjoying the motifs. I remember stepping out side on a cold night and lying on the ground looking up at the sky through the pine trees and holding my hand in my shirt saying - maybe this herb was laced.

    I went home after long and was scared that i was done for good. I felt the pain all the way up my forearm. and as the hours passed by, one by one, each finger "released"... have you ever "almost" pulled a hamstring muscle ??- when it cramps and then releases? well, that was how it was for each finger. i didn't go to sleep until the last finger came loose from the fist - and around that time the sun was rising.

    Here's what I got from all that.

    There is a tendon sheath - basically like the insulating cover over your instrument cable. The difference is the tendon moves back and forth in the sheath. If there is inflammation or irritation that causes the exposed part of the tendon (the part that sits adjacent to the tendon sheath... apparently the sheath does not cover the full length of the tendon) what will happen is it will SNAG in the tendon sheath - preventing the tendon from moving with a full range of motion or in our cases - locking them!

    Here is my advise to you. Take a break from playing for two months. Drink a lot of water (helps your tendons to be hydrated). Get a smash ball and just squeeze it. Not hard - just squeeze and get your hands back into shape. Preferablly one of the silicone types since they are also made of the same material that some breast implants were made of before salene.

    What I was able to do for my hand was re-build muscle strength so that the brunt of the playing was not taken on by tendon strength alone.

    There are some cases where the tendon locks up on people really tight and a doctor will reccomend surgery. This happened with my mother - however, she did not get the surgery and the locking went away on its own when she became aware of making sure not to over stress her hands.

    Remember, if you do opt for surgery it will not be anywhere as "iffy" as sugery for carpal tunnel syndrome (etc). The condition that you have IS NOT a nerve problem and doctors are not looking to mess with your nerves. The surgery for trigger finger (also called washboard hands or in our case bass player hands) is typically a small inscision along the side of the tendon sheath to allow the swollen area of the tendon to go back and forth.

    Where I live, in Jacksonville, Florida - we have a hand doctor that uses a different method that does not involve any cutting. His method uses the same tool that doctors have been using for angioplasticies (small ballon device that is inflated in clogged arteries to strech them and allow the blood to flow normal) - well, he's been sticking this into the tendon sheath in people with trigger finger (trigger finger also happens in the thumb btw) with sucess and faster heal time for patients.

    My hands are a lot better one year later - however, there is still a lot of work to be done and caution to be taken. Like the other poster says - watch you posture and be aware of tension in your playing. Also, cold weather will cramp your hands, be careful. Take plenty of rests inbetween sets. I sill would say take a complete break for a month or two. At this point in time, I still have reminants of the lock in my thumb in the left hand - it is from really bearing down on the neck. What I've done to try to avoid this is use the floor board with the bass POD's volume pedal for expression. However, is has been a huge adjustment because it lacks the raw physical nature of playing bass for more ass and really makes you feel like a "guitarist"if you know what i mean. Btw, the POD for bass players is seriously lacking (no stereo features and has a horrible delay between patches - unlike the new guitar pod, they really gyp the bass player). I remember a fellow that played bass in one of my high school "grunge" bands that complained about his thumb (on the fret board hand). I wonder if Sam ever got surgery for that. Apparently, he's still playing bass and certainly has the money to get it done if he so chooses. Bass hand sufferers there is hope! Heed the warning signs and realize that pain is not always a good thing :)

    Well, it's nice to meet you all. This is my first post here (i think) and I enjoy reading.

    Bass Regards,
    Matt Sanchez
  7. The other responses all seem pretty good to me. My experience with cramped fingers, where the finger goes "spiderman" is due to a loss of either fluid, you're dehydrated, or the loss of potassium, you've been sweating and you haven't replaced the lost minerals.

    Either will cause cramping of various muscles.
  8. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    stick it in your arse to keep it warm until you get on stage? :D

    Sorry! - I find many venues are a bit cold befroe the gig starts, i usually keep wiggling my fingers and stretch for about 15 mins before we're on. it does help.

    ...unless your finger has stage fright?!
  9. Off Topic. I remember stepping out side on a cold night and lying on the ground looking up at the sky through the pine trees and holding my hand in my shirt saying - maybe this herb was laced.
    Funny stuff. I think every practictioner of the ganja faith has had this thought before when something goes a lil weird after you toke. On Topic. Stretch and Drink Water.
  10. redjeep!

    redjeep! Guest

    Jan 19, 2002
    I had a similar problem when I "restarted" bass a year ago, in my case it was the little finger (pinkie) on my left hand that would freeze to my palm.

    This normally happened when I woke up in the morning and would clear in a few minutes. I saw a doctor and he told me it was a problem caused trigger finger which is caused by a swelling in the tendon causing it to stick to the sheath (as mentioned earlier in this thread).

    His advice, take ibruprofen, which reduces swelling, drink plenty of water and massage the area with the thumb of your other hand to reduce swelling. It helps to do the masssage in warm water. I also stopped/ reduced playing for a while, and changed my technique to reduce the pressue on my pinkie.

    Problem went away after a couple of weeks, but worryingly I noticed it this morning when I got up.

  11. rickreyn


    Jun 16, 2000
    Lutz, Florida
    This is a cramping phenomenon similar to what happens in athletics. Overuse a muscle and it will go on you in time. Usually, it's like what you said, a freezing or locking problem. I don't play hours on end, but last Saturday I did lawn work with the right hand primarily and two hours of touch football and threw a lot of balls. Even before I could get around to practicing for my Sunday "gig," at dinner, while signing the check, the same thing happened. Overuse. Warmups, proper posture and positioning and hydration will help. Practicing or playing for hours may work against you if you are not in a relaxed position. Gary Willis has a way of making sure your hand in relaxed. He runs his hand past the pickups below the bass and then slowly draws it back up over the pickups. This tends to straighten everything out and get you comfortable.

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