Pain in my thumb

Discussion in 'Ask Lynn Seaton' started by trkkazulu, Oct 29, 2018.

  1. trkkazulu


    Apr 18, 2007
    So, I’ve been playing double bass since the 70s. From the mid-90s I’ve been playing electric upright pretty much exclusively. About fifteen years ago, I developed a pain in the thumb of my left hand. More specifically in the lower part of my thumb. The fat fleshy part. This was the result of a very long string of intense gigs. I saw a doctor and was told to pay off for a couple of years (yeah, right). I got together with my teacher after a couple of weeks, after the pain had subsided and we made adjustment to my left hand technique. Ever since, I’ve been in and out of periods where playing is just excruciating. I often work cruise ship gigs where I’m playing in duo or trio seven days a week. Lots of very intense playing and after a few weeks on a six week contract, I have to switch to bass guitar because of the pain in my thumb.

    Part of my problem is that I can’t quite duplicate the problem. I’m not sure what I’m doing that causes it. I know not to squeeze the neck of the bass and I’m afraid that I may be doing this unconsciously. My question is: does this sound like a condition you recognize and if so, do you have any advice for how to remedy it permanently?


    J. Wells
  2. I had a similar pain and I found that I was subconsciously leaning the bass against my body, of course, but also back a bit against my thumb. I was very subtly supporting some of the bass’ weight with my thumb.
    I tried to go in the other extreme to untrain myself. I tried to see if I could play with the bass leaning slightly forward and with my thumb not even on the neck. I got used to this feeling and then resumed playing normally, being mindful of it. My thumb pain stopped.
    Hope that helps.
    SRawl, trkkazulu and Seanmo like this.
  3. Mushroo


    Apr 2, 2007
    I'm quite familiar with this type of thumb pain. In my opinion/experience, the fix for thumb pain is the "life line" on our palms.

    If the palm is wide, flat, and relaxed, so that the skin is smooth and the life line is shallow, then there is no pain.

    If the palm is compressed, so that the life line is deeply creased and the palm looks like "butt cheeks" then there is danger of thumb pain.

    Try to reposition your thumb so that your palm is flat and your life line is not creased.

    Feel free to post a "hand selfie" if you'd like additional advice and tips. :)
    trkkazulu likes this.
  4. trkkazulu


    Apr 18, 2007


    Yes, that seems to be where the problem lies. I play NSDesign electric upright basses. The stand the bass is mounted on mitigates the tendency to squeeze the neck or lean the bass back so that it is supported by the thumb. One of the things my teach and I did way back when I first had the problem was readjust the positioning of the bass. That helped immensely. Thanks for your feedback. You’ve verified what I thought I’d forgotten. I have to work on playing with little or no pressure on the thumb.

    rknea and Kickdrum like this.
  5. SRawl


    Oct 5, 2018
    Jonesboro, AR
    I had the same problem in my thumb for a while, but I did the same thing Kickdrum said to do (good advice) to alleviate. While practicing I find it helpful to take a break, and meditate. If you try to focus on the most relaxed part of your body, you'll be able to feel where there is tension. I learned this from the Alexander Technique, which I highly recommend looking into if you haven't already. It helps with making sure your technique is consistent and that you are not too tense. Hope this helps with future tension problems!
  6. Lynn Seaton

    Lynn Seaton Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 3, 2006
    Denton, TX
    trkkazulu, I am so sorry you have to deal with the pain.
    The suggestions about not squeezing the neck to hard are excellent. Alexander Technique has helped so many people and I agree with that suggestion also.
    Try to have your fingering hand in a relaxed and open position with the fingers curved as often as possible. There are some techniques like bridging two notes where the finger flattens of course. Your hand should be relaxed just like it is when it is just hanging down by your side but with the fingers curved. Put a pencil an your desk and pick it up with your fingertips. That is an approximation of the curvature.
    There are different schools of thought on where the thumb is in relation to the fingers. My thumb is between the first and second fingers. Some advocate right at the second finger.
    Talk Bass's own Chris Fitzgerald has many wonderful videos about the bass. Go to this link to see them and click on the Left Hand Technique Perspectives video. Chris Fitzgerald
    Remember, in the battle of steel and flesh, steel usually wins! Squeeze only as much as you need to.
    Wishing you the best in your recovery.
    SRawl and trkkazulu like this.
  7. Primary

    Primary TB Assistant

    Here are some related products that TB members are talking about. Clicking on a product will take you to TB’s partner, Primary, where you can find links to TB discussions about these products.

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