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Playing bass while 40-something (aches and pains)

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by snoopyjc, Aug 20, 2002.

  1. I'm in a pop cover band (http://www.pieceofcandi.com), and we play out
    twice a week (very long sets) and have one practice a week, and I'm starting to get lots of
    aches and pains - first in my ankles from standing so long, and now in my wrists -
    sometimes my left (fretting) hand is going numb, too, which makes it very difficult
    to play. My right (plucking) arm and wrist really hurts if I try to play 16-th notes for
    more than a couple of measures. FYI: I use a 2-finger finger-style-funk w/Geddy Lee
    style fingernail pluck technique on a 5-string bass. I'm currently using a Fernandes
    5-string (purple) bass. I have it hung real low, trying to keep my hands/arms in alignment at all times.

    FYI: I did cure my (last-years) left-arm pain problem by switching to a 2-sholder strap.

    I was wondering if any of you were plagued by these aches and pains and had any
    advice for a fellow bass player?

    --joe http://www.pieceofcandi.com/
  2. Phil Smith

    Phil Smith Mr Sumisu 2 U

    May 30, 2000
    Peoples Republic of Brooklyn
    Creator of: iGigBook for Android/iOS
    Well for the ankle stuff, get a nice stool to sit on. As for the hand stuff, try to use as little physical energy as possible and use more amp power to compensate.
  3. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I speak as one of similar age and I would say you are only going to cause yourself problems by having your bass slung low. I have had back problems and have consulted sports scientists/physiotherapists.

    If you have your bass hung low then you are constantly reaching over for it and cannot relax. The ideal is to have the bass in a position where it is the same whether you are sitting down or standing up.

    I have found from experience that the higher up I have the bass, the less aches and pains I get. The other big thing is to relax when playing - it is very easy to get tense when playing live and this is a big source of aches/pains later on.

    It also helps to keep your self hydrated - so dehydration can cause a lot of aches/pains - drink loads of water and avoid coffee, alcohol etc - things that dehydrate you.

    So - I had a long break from playing and came back as I started to approach 40 - at first I got loads of aches, but as I say, these things - bass high up, trying to relax and stay hydrated made a big difference to me and nowadays, I hardly have a twinge! :)
  4. Hi Snoopy.

    I'm around the same age bracket too and in the last year i've started to get pretty serious aches and pains in my arms and hands.
    Its not a pleasant experience is it.

    I don't have any specific advice re what to do in terms of how to play etc to avoid this, but I do think its worth your while to get yourself checked out by a doctor or someone ( maybe a physiotherapist ) who knows something about human movement .
    They might have more of an idea about the causes of pain/numbness and likely solutions etc.

    Good luck. I'd be interested to hear how you go with this.


  5. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification

    No, really, try it. Find a program that works on strength and flexibility and proper form. I highly recommend Yoga, not only will the aches and pains go away, you'll learn to play better, with more ease.
  6. Thanks for all the advice to date. A doctor told me to keep my hands in alignment with my wrists, and I think I'm doing a good job here.

    What do you think?


  7. Yvon

    Yvon Supporting Member

    Nov 2, 2000
    Montreal, Canada
    you should work on your left hand technique now :)
  8. Craig Garfinkel

    Craig Garfinkel

    Aug 25, 2000
    Hartford, CT
    Endorsing Artist: Sadowsky Guitars
    If that one snapshot is truly indicative of your left hand technique Joe, I can see some potential problems. Do you most often use 1st and 3rd finger when playing root and five? How about octaves? Notice how your index finger is closest to the headstock-side fret on the E, and your 3rd finger is planted toward the bridge-side fret on the B. You're stretching farther than you have to. It looks like you have relatively short fingers...me too. I'd recommend that you consider altering your technique so that you use your pinky to fret the five or the octave while maintaining the use of index finger for the root. Four fingers within a three fret "box" as opposed to one finger per fret.

    How much pressure do you use between your thumb on the back of the neck and your fingers on the fretboard? If your bass is properly set up, with reasonably low action, it shouldn't take much pressure to fret notes with accuracy and proper tone. Ideally your thumb should "float" across the back of the neck with the absolute minimum pressure.

    I don't think you're necessarily wearing the bass "too low", but IMO the ideal right hand position is to have your forearm almost perpendicular to the bass, so that your hand "hangs" at a right angle to your forearm with your fingers straight across the strings. Try raising your bass up as high as you need to acheive this, and try it out for a set or two.
  9. I can reiterate two comments and add a third.

    1. Hydration is always good for joint pain (long-time arthritis and gout experience talking)

    2. Higher position for bass body - as soon as I raised mine and got used to it I found I worked much less with both left and right hand.

    3. Wrist problems and numbness - although good technique is necessary to minimize these problems, many of the symptoms are exacerbated by other activities. My day job is in the IT field, and my first carpal tunnel problems started there (mouse repetitions, lousy KB position, etc). Once I started playing bass a lot again in my 40's, I found the symptoms got worse. However, since I started using athletic wrist tensor bands both at work and while playing/practicing I have had virtually NO recurring problems. They will help you in the short run, and in conjunction with the technique changes suggested elsewhere will keep giving you the support required in the long run.
  10. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    As someone in your league, I suggest you see an orthopedic who specializes in hands and joints.

    Part of the answer can be surgery, part of it can be nutritition, part of it can be phyisical therapy, part of it can be medication.....they can all work together.

    For me after all these years, eating "somewhat right", good vitamins, swimming, and drinking Red Bulls at gigs keeps my fingers flappin' and my toes tappin'.
  11. Yes, this could be one of my problems. My "setup" guy, had trouble getting the bass to stop buzzing while fretted and raised the action up quite a lot to compensate.

    I don't know what to do about this, except maybe bring it in elsewhere for a second opinion (or buy a new bass, which it out of the question right now).

    Yes, I do drink a lot of water at gigs. I know that I don't drink enough water at other times, though - and I can work on this.

    Yes, I am in the IT field, too, and I'm on the computer WAY too much. I do have 2 of those Comfort Keyboards, which I have been using for many years, and I have stopped playing the piano because of problems in my arms (pronator teres syndrome).

    I've been wearing something that's close to a velcro-on cast at night to keep my wrists aligned while I sleep. I used to wear it years ago, but stopped needing it until recently.

    I'll try the wrist bands.

    I also know that I shy away from using my little finger when I play - I'll try using it more and see if that helps.

    Thanks again for all the help!

  12. Either would be an excellent choice.

    As a person, who is rapidly approaching 40, with various health problems of my own, and in the IT field, I've found that I've gotten some really good results from practicing Tai-Chi.

    Another possibility is acupuncture, but you'd have to make your own determination on that one. I do know people who have taken acupuncture for everything from allergies to back pain and they've generally reported good results. Whether that's a placebo effect or not, I can't say.

    On the whole though it'll probably take a fairly serious change in lifestyle for you to be rid of these problems. There is a tendency for people in IT to be fairly sedentary. We always seem to be either working or hibernating.

    So taking time to exercise and actually get away from the computer is probably the most important step.
  13. The Lowest

    The Lowest

    May 17, 2002
    New Jersey
    Numbness in the hands can be indiciative of all the problems mentioned above or more serious problems, such as a herniated disc in the cervical spine. If you are experiencing symptons, you really need to see a doctor...an Orthopedic and possibly a Neurologist.
  14. sleazylenny


    Jun 20, 2002
    Mpls, MN
    Work that left hand.

    Position your bass so not only are your hand/arm are aligned properly, but so your fingers are more parallel to the frets. You've got your fingers running a bit of an angle.

    RELAX that hand! Can't stress that enough. Take a good look at the fingers that you're not fretting with. Notice how they're bunched up and pulled away from the fretboard. It takes more energy and causes more muscle fatigue to do that than to let the "not in use" fingers" rest in a more natural position. A good thing to do with those fingers is to let them rest on strings not being played, as to mute them.

    As stated before, work that pinky. You won't believe the difference.

    Go out and check out different basses. Try different scales and neck widths. You may find something that is more comforatable and easier to play.
    (Note: smaller doesn't always equate to easier to play. It can be just as difficult to play with your fingers crammed onto an Ibanez-sized fretboard.)

    Less power from the fingers, more power from the amp.

    Most important: don't stress about it. It's a journey. enjoy the trip, relax, and everything should fall into place.

    Best of luck
  15. eli

    eli Mad showoff 7-stringer and Wish lover Supporting Member

    Dec 12, 1999
    NW suburban Chicago
    I must specifically object to this piece of advice!The position Craig describes is exactly the position that sent ME to the orthopedist. Kinking your right wrist to a 90-degree angle tends to constrict the carpal tunnel, which is precisely what leads to carpal-tunnel syndrome. I played in a band sitting down for about a year when my right pinky started to tingle; demonstrated my position to an orthopod and he exclaimed, "Just LOOKING at you is making MY pinky tingle!" I completely solved the problem by standing up and lowering the bass a bit. I don't have the neck quite as high as you do, but my left hand hasn't given me any problems... yet. ( :: crosses fingers and knocks on swamp ash:: )

    Frankly, snoopyjc, the photo you posted looks like a pretty good wrist positioning to me. It also looks like a fairly relaxed overall posture (though your left shoulder may be kinked up a little -- try dropping that and relaxing a little more).

    So I'm guessing as others have suggested that you may be banging too hard. If you play in a pretty loud band (two g*****s with cranked 100-watt 212's or worse) and your amp is 200 watts or less, you may be slamming the $#!+ out of your right hand just to be heard, and that would be enough to cause the problems you describe. Many also tend to tense up on the left hand in that situation -- I've caught myself doing it. Ya gotta play softer, turn up, and let the electronics do the work.
  16. bcarll


    Oct 16, 2001
    At fifty + years old I too am experiencing joint pain in the fingers and loosing the stretch. Glad for the advice to use the pinky a little more. After taking a round of Viox for a heel spur I noticed a big improvement in my finger aches. A friend of mine also in his late 40's uses Celebrex to get him through his drumming sessions- 60's we used drugs for another reason now some 35 years later we are still seeking a "fix" with drugs. But seriously consult a doctor. Anyone have trouble with legs falling asleep while playing?

    Even through these ailments I have adapted by making my basslines a little more simple and not trying any complex riffs. Let's just keep rockin'.

  17. ZZMorgan


    Sep 6, 2002
    Los Angeles
    I agree with Craig. If you work on using all four fingers of your left hand more, your wrist and forearm are going to be more relaxed and hurt less.

    And keeping both hands relaxed is key to playing ease.

    I also found that raising the bass a bit higher helped me keep my right wrist and fingers in alignment. I wear mine high and it handled the ache I was starting to get in my lower back after a long job. I was lso having problems with my right hand going numb after a while. By raising the bass higher, I found I would play all night without my back or my right hand bothering me.

    But that is totally up to the individual player. If it isn't comfortable for you way up there, leave it where it is. From your snapshot, the bass doesn't look too low.

    I also strongly recommend drinking plenty of water. I find I need lots more now as I approach 50 than I did even just a few years ago.

    Finally (in for a penny, in for a pound, I guess), I have had a lot of success with doing pull ups and chin ups. Granted those are easier for little guys like me to do than for big guys, but I found that they are great for the hands and shoulders.

    But whether you do those or something else, regular exercise keeps the blood circulating and the general muscle tone up.

    Thanks for listening.

  18. cb56


    Jul 2, 2000
    Central Illinois
    I'm glad I found this thread. i've been having the same right wrist pain for about a month now after 20+ years of playing. As you can see from my pic I have a pretty extreme right wrist angle. I don't anchor my thumb on anything just kind of let it float along behind on the lower strings muting them when not playing them. I blamed the wrist angle on my Thumb bass (neck dive, small body). Although I feel like I play better with my bass higher up I thing I will lower it one notch on the strap and make an attemp to raise my arm off the bass instead of resting it. Hope this works.
  19. eli

    eli Mad showoff 7-stringer and Wish lover Supporting Member

    Dec 12, 1999
    NW suburban Chicago

    I don't think it's necessary to keep your forearm off the bass. Lowering the bass will naturally straighten the wrist, which is what we're reall after. I can't imagine how you could play with the arm AND the thumb floating...
  20. cb56


    Jul 2, 2000
    Central Illinois
    You're right.
    I tried this last night. If I lifted my arm off the bass without my thumb anchored to anything the bass flopped all over the place. The Warwick thumb bass has a pretty heavy neck dive so it wanted to head in that direction if my arm wasn't resting on it. I also tried to lower the strap and hated that also I ended up picking by the bridge with my thumb anchored on the pick up. Anyway I had less pain last night. on easy passages where I was playing in one position on the neck or just cranking out 16th notes on a single note (rock) I anchored my thumb on a pick up and raised my elbow up to straighten my wrist. This helped some. Other than that it was the same old position for me. I did put my 210 up closer to my head so I could hear myself better. I think this help to keep me from yanking on the strings so hard. that has to help too. Other than that someone posted some wrist stretching/flexing exercises on another thread. I did a few of those before playing to get everything looseneed up.

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