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People who had aches from playing who fixed it.

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Ian the bassist, Mar 12, 2013.

  1. I am getting aches in my hands and arms lately from playing. It was only after gigs, but lately, even if I play for an hour and put it down then, the next day I'll have an annoying pain(it is very mild and not severe, but it is worrying)

    I want to avoid any damage and fix it, so I corrected my technique a little(I play with 2 fingers while my baby and ring fingers kind of point to the side, I have since curled up these unused fingers so they aren't causing friction by moving against my working fingers) I am taking a week off playing and I am doing hand exercises everyday as a break.

    Now if this doesn't work, I'll consider going to a physiotherapist or chiropractor to see if they can help.(As 2 players I have a lot of respect for, Stu Hamm and Billy Sheehan, both visited a chiropractor for pain, but they were playing many years longer than I am) Has anyone else had problems in the past and solved them?

    I never used to get pains or stiffness, So want this solved while I'm still young. Am 23 playing 8 years(5 years live) don't want to have carpel tunnel before I'm 30, especially since I'm starting session work and want to make a living with my hands. I play complex stuff and I tend to hit the strings hard.

    Any people with this experience, help would be appreciated. Just some exercises you may do before playing, strap positioning, posture etc.

  2. Rev J

    Rev J

    Jun 14, 2012
    Berkeley, Ca.
    Well, I've had tendonitis in my left elbow. You might want to check out this thread:


    One other trick I used to do was practice until my hands got sore then soak them in hot water for 20 minutes.

    Another trick I learned from watching Billy Sheehan videos is to strap your bass so it is the same height and position if you are sitting down as standing up. You have 34 joints (both arms/hands together) between your shoulder and fingertips that change position as you change your strap height or go from sitting down to standing up. That's a lot of joints to shift around.

    As for posture. Well your mother was right when she told you to stand up straight and don't slouch.

    Lately I've taken up freestyle skateboarding. If you know about skateboarding it's a pretty old style hardly done anymore. The movements and tricks are closely related to dance. I figured at 37 I should do more to get into shape to do this and see a lot of parallels between the skateboard and music that I won't get into here right now. But in conjunction with that I picked up a book called "The New York City Ballet Workout". I've been working into it slowly but I've already noticed how doing the exercises have straightened my posture without me having to think about it.

    I hope you can glean some wisdom from this.

  3. MostlyBass

    MostlyBass Supporting Member

    Mar 3, 2002
    Oak Park, IL
    Great suggestions and info... Also remember to stretch - forearms, shoulders, etc. I recently got a massage ball from tptherapy.com.... I place it between my arm / deltoids and the wall and lean into it... Also great for the back and the small supporting muscles around the shoulder blades.

    Don't forget to drink plenty of water.
  4. vince a

    vince a

    Jun 13, 2006
    Modesto, CA
    I had similar pains, and I know I'm older than you . . .

    Straight fingerboard (you can do it), light strings .45-.125 Dunlop nickels, and may go to .40-.120 to try, real low action, and yes, I get a little buzz that low, but you can't hear it thru the amp/cabs . . . I should say that my bass has a little buzz, not me. I have also learned to use my thumb and four fingers on my five string (prior finger-picking gui****).

    Lastly stretch your finger, hands, and forearms before and during playing . . .
  5. boynamedsuse

    boynamedsuse Supporting Member

    Oct 13, 2010
    I've been down that road and my recommendation is to see an orthopedic doctor for an evaluation--especially one that specializes in conditions of the elbow, hand, and shoulder. I understand that a quick fix by talking to people on the Internet is easier, cheaper, and less threatening, but if you are already having problems in your 20's, you need to address this problem before it becomes serious. If something is wrong or becoming damaged, you will need medical treatment and physical therapy. Avoiding it will only make the condition more likely to become irreversible.

    Regardless of the outcome of the doctor visit, you will also need to refine your technique to reduce stress on your body and possibly reconsider the equipment you use (thinner strings, etc.). In any case, I wish you the best.
  6. Tupac


    May 5, 2011
    My right wrist used to hurt while writing and gripping a tennis racket. Bought a bass that didn't have neck dive, so I didn't have to hold it down with my forearm and could raise it up and straighten that angle out, and it went away.
  7. hrodbert696

    hrodbert696 Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    I used to have minor pain creeping in on me like that, too. You can make it go away if you make up your mind to.

    Take a break from playing for a day or two. Avoid using a computer mouse, too, if you can. Consider wearing a wrist brace to immobilize it. Hydrate plenty, and stretch out thoroughly before, during and after playing. There's an anti-carpal-tunnel basic stretch where you hold your arms straight out front, and first point your fingers straight up, palm up (like a "stop!" gesture), then make a fist, then bend your hand straight down. When playing, keep your wrists straight and overall position natural and watch for anything that's putting undue strain on your hands. Aspirin can also help reduce the inflammation and let your wrists get back to normal.

    ChrisK is a TBer who has a whole website on these issues, chriskeuken.nl. Don't think I've seen him around recently, but the website is still up.
  8. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    I'd take some lessons from a teacher who knows about pain-free technique.
  9. Koji_Sunioj


    Feb 16, 2013
    Check the action on the bass, this might not be the case because maybe by now you already know your instrument, but just throwing that out there.

    I used to get maddening pain on the muscle on the inner forearm (i think its the extensor), but i started doing stretches that targeted on the flexor muscle which is right on opposite side. It really has helped a lot and i very seldom get pain there even after playing 3-4 hours. Whenever I do get sore, its mainly the flexor muscles.

    Floating thumb has helped me reduce elbow/joint pain.
  10. js1


    Oct 1, 2006
    I was dealing with pretty bad pain in my right hand that was due to poor wrist position.

    At Bass Player Live two years ago, there was a session by a bass playing chiropractor named Randall Kertz. He wrote a book called "The Bassist's Guide to Injury Management, Prevention, and Better Health".

    I got a chance to chat with him, and he pinpointed my problem. Took me a while to adjust my technique, but problem solved.

    The book is pretty good, as the meat of it is a Symptom Reference Guide, which covers the problem, the probable causes, and what you can do about it.
  11. deckard


    Apr 4, 2003
    Good suggestions here, esp. warming up properly, and stretching your hands fingers, and forearms.

    This is just my own case:

    Briefly, I was developing carpal tunnel symptoms in both hands/forearms from playing. What helped me the most *by far* is a book by therapist Kate Montgomery called "End Your Carpal Tunnel Pain Without Surgery". Basically, her program is a methodical, logocal approach to massaging & working your forearm & hand muscles and ligaments.

    I followed the program she describes in the book (takes about 15 minutes a day) and my symptoms improved dramatically. She has helped a number of musicians, including Keith Emerson, as well as various guitarists.

    She has a website but I don't know how to post a link here, so Google on her name like "Kate Montgomery Keith Emerson" - you can probably find the book on Amazon, too. I can't praise this book enough for how much it helped me personally!!

    Also, look hard at your technique for both hands. After I got so much better using Kate M.'s book, I evaluated my technique and made some dramatic changes:

    I now play seated most of the time & hold my bass like a classical guitarist does, which took a lot of strain off my left/fingering hand (to say nothing of my left shoulder, strap-wise) - and I adopted the floating thumb technique, espoused by many but esp. by TB columnist Todd Johnson. Both of these changes keep my wrists straight

    Of course it took a while to get comfortable with these 2 changes, esp. floating thumb, but I've been pain-free since using Montgomery's book & making the changes, and wouldn't go back to my old technique even if I could.

    Just remembered: another change I made is turning up & plucking lighter - this helped, too.

    Another edit: using floating thumb fixed a lot of "ringing string" muting issues for me, too. ;)

    OK, here you go: Kate's website is www.bodymaintenance101.com - click on "Shop Products" on the left side of the homepage, then on the name of the book for more info. She has a 2012 edition, but I have the older version. Can't recommend this book enough!!!

    Questions? Just post here or PM me. You're smart to start addressing this issue now, whether it is actually carpal tunnel or not.

  12. Well, being an HVAC mechanic, my hands have taken a beating over the years. I also would get pain in various places in my hands when I would play for extended periods of time. Sometimes it was so bad I'd have trouble reaching certain frets (mostly left hand pain, a lot of my basslines are pentatonic walking lines so I stretch a lot with the fingers), I found stretching between songs helped a lot, but one of the biggest things that helped me came from my wife. She is an occupational therapist and she does hand therapy/rehabilitation, so not only did she give me exercises, she also will use kinesiotape on my hand prior to doing a show. It's that tape you see on athletes shoulders and arms from time to time (like volleyball players, etc...). You wouldn't think so but it relieves pressure in certain areas and provides mild, constant stretching and support.

    The big problem that my wife found is that playing guitar or bass requires that your hand be kept in positions it's not really made to be in for extended periods of time. Wrist angles are all wrong, what you have to do with your fingers, etc....but unfortunately, that's how the instrument is played.

    If it's available to you, maybe see if you can set up an appointment with a rehab therapist who specializes in hands. They can identify what your problem areas are and give you solutions to address the pain.
  13. Ewo

    Ewo a/k/a Steve Cooper Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2008
    Huntington WV
    Not about the hands or forearms, but I thought some folks might benefit from knowing about these.

    For pain in the back--and I used to have serious pain in the cervical and thoracic areas from gigging a lot--there are books on self-treatment by an Australian physical therapist named Robin McKenzie. This approach has been far more effective, for me, than expensive visits to a chiropractor.

    They're available on Amazon, and inexpensive. Plug this into the search function:

    Robin McKenzie, Treat Your Own Back
    Robin McKenzie, Treat Your Own Neck.
  14. johnson79


    Jan 8, 2010
    Lancaster, PA
    I had to have CT surgery on both hand at 32. After years of pain and numbness I had no other option. But you may be able to change your technique, bass position, and other things to avoid it.
  15. joebar


    Jan 10, 2010
    i had CT surgery on both hands two months ago
    it was not bass related.
    a long hard road back but totally worth it.
    i have a second chance at life
    i stretch constantly, take breaks, soak in hot water etc.
  16. saltymonkey

    saltymonkey Supporting Member

    Apr 7, 2007
    Sag Harbor, NY
    I had numbness, tingling and some pain in my hands and forearms. I feared CT. Turned out to be a pinched nerve in my neck. Chiropractic alleviated the symptoms. Sometimes it comes back but not as severe as initially. I get adjusted and it goes away.
  17. Phinn


    Aug 30, 2012
    I broke my left wrist when I was 11, by falling forward off a bicycle, landing knuckle-side down. It damaged the wrist bones permanently. My left arm is still about half an inch shorter than my right.

    Because of that early injury, I'm more prone to aggravating the tendons along the back of my hand and wrist. I've had to be especially careful to avoid carpal tunnel and arthritis.

    I have managed to play pain-free for 30 years by keeping the neck of the bass more vertical than most do. I hold it almost like a cello. It varies between 45 and 60 degrees, but I never drop below 45.

    Playing with the neck in a more horizontal position will bend your wrist. It's unavoidable. There is no strap height adjustment that will prevent it. Finding the right neck angle is more important than the right strap height.

    I usually move the strap buttons to facilitate this.

    I also highly recommend the stretching mentioned above, in both directions (extension and flexion), before playing, and again after warmed up.

    Good luck!

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