Somebody hold my hand... actually, hold both of them

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Byzcat, Aug 5, 2009.


  1. Byzcat

    Byzcat

    Aug 3, 2009
    Lynn, Mass
    I've decided that I need to stop playing for at least a week. Seems I've done something very bad to my left thumb.

    It started when I decided to start playing again after not having played for about twelve years, but I was feeling depressed at the time and didn't have the energy to actually shop, and bought the first cheap slab of wood with heavy-gauge strings on it that crossed my path (I'm a bedroom player, so I wasn't looking for a higher-end instrument, just something to make noise with) I ended up with a badly balanced bass, which I was then playing at too low of an angle (I'm 5'2", and have very small hands). I injured myself practicing to the point where I couldn't put my hand around the neck without pain. I took a week off, shortened my strap, and commenced to chewing up my right hand again.

    Eventually I resigned myself to the fact that I had made a $250 mistake, got online, did some research on instrument recommendations for small-handed players, and ended up getting a very sweet deal on a blemished (translated: has microscopic scratch in the finish) Ibanez SR-300.

    Which I promptly commenced to playing the hell out of for hours, and the next day, realized I was going to need to take a few days off playing.

    So, I did, but apparently not long enough. I've been playing fairly comfortably for the two weeks I've had the SoundGear, until I get up to about the twelfth fret. Then I get this horrible pain in the area between the knuckle of my thumb and my wrist. I've tried positioning my thumb various ways, but nothing works.

    I figure, even if I stay below the twelfth fret, I'm probably not doing myself any good by using the hand

    I've decided to just give my thumb time to heal, then start seeking advice on technique (I am a bit ham-fisted, or fingered, or whatever), experimenting with strap lengths and trying to find a good teacher.

    But, in the meantime, I have this beautiful, great-sounding instrument that I'm going to have to leave in the case for probably the next seven days, maybe longer, I'll see how the thumb feels in a week.

    I don't know if I can do it. It was hard keeping my hands off the bass for three days.

    I may go crazy if I can't play for a week.
     
  2. JimmyM

    JimmyM

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Yamaha, Ampeg, Line 6, EMG
    That's about all you can do at this point...wise idea to find a teacher who knows good technique. Sounds like you're Mr. Death Grip ;)
     
  3. Byzcat

    Byzcat

    Aug 3, 2009
    Lynn, Mass
    Actually, Ms. Death Grip.

    Which is silly, because the action on the bass is so low, I just need to glance at it to fret a string. And the neck almost feels like it was custom made for my hand.

    I really need to work on applying a lighter touch, and not squeezing with my thumb.

    I'm having withdrawals...
     
  4. LarryO

    LarryO

    Apr 4, 2004
  5. Yes, I know The Grip well. I've been teaching myself guitar and, being ham-fisted with it, have been grabbing too hard. I have no such issues on bass. You just have to really pay attention to what you are doing, and most important, don't try and play stuff you can't really handle- in my case, doing so brings The Grip. Just chill on easy stuff for awhile.
     
  6. LarryO

    LarryO

    Apr 4, 2004
    forgot to mention proper technique but that should be a no brainer
     
  7. James19

    James19

    Jun 16, 2009
    Aarhus, Denmark
    And sit down every once in a while. At least until you get your fretting technique sorted out. Standing up with a strap that leaves your bass hanging too low, and poor technique at the same time, is a bad idea...kill your wrists
     
  8. Byzcat

    Byzcat

    Aug 3, 2009
    Lynn, Mass
    LarryO- I actually had started doing some hand and wrist stretches before playing, but the thumb was already injured, so I was just aggravating the situation.

    James19- I actually got a folding stool just a few days ago for that purpose (small room, my chair is a small rocker with not enough space between the arms for me and Ibby to share), but playing sitting down is awkward for me because it's hard to get the neck at the right height and angle- short arms, small hands and all that. The stool makes it possible to sit with the bass at a good playing angle, but still... better just let the thumb heal.

    Strap length is kind of an issue for me. I'm trying to find that sweet spot that lies somewhere between carpal tunnel syndrome and having to reach up above my head to reach the first fret.
     
  9. Jim Carr

    Jim Carr Dr. Jim

    Jan 21, 2006
    Denton, TX or Kailua, HI
    fEARful Kool-Aid dispensing liberal academic card-carrying union member Musicians Local 72-147
    This is key. Until your injury is gone, no bass for you. However, bass is probably not your only problem. Are you texting? Do you play video games? Are you working construction? Do you carry heavy legal briefcases? Do you drive an hour or more a day? All of these and in fact MANY other hand uses add up and contribute to this sort of issue.

    You are right about the letting the hand/thumb injury heal, but you will need to know how to avoid a re-injury. I can pretty much guarantee that you will re-injure UNLESS you seriously change your overall hand usage, not just your bass technique.

    However, your technique must change.

    Adjust your strap so that where the bass hangs when you stand will allow it to just rest on your leg when you sit, assuming a reasonable posture (not slumped, not bolt upright).

    Parting Advice:
    Get a good teacher. You need not take decades of music lessons to learn healthy technique, a few months will do it. If you have health insurance, go to your doctor and complain in significant detail (and loudly), asking for a referral to a hand/physical therapy clinic. Don't accept a "just take this pill" solution.

    However, anti-inflammatory use can help. I take aspirin "before and after abuse," as one of my doctors advised. Your anti-inflammatory of choice should be substituted. If you are under 16 or if your stomach doesn't tolerate aspirin, use something else. Avoid Tylenol and all acetaminophen containing products if you even so much as look at a glass of beer or wine.

    Once there at a therapist, don't settle for a few exercises and stretches. You need to have a morning session (before they are burned out) with a motivated therapist who will watch how you play. Have them find what is making it worse. Then go back to your bass teacher.

    Parting Warning:
    Not fixing this is much more serious than just ending your bedroom/shower performance career. It can disable a lot of other activities as well.

    Disclaimer: My Doctorate is not in medicine, it is in music. However, I am nearly 60, and have dealt with playing injuries successfully.
     
  10. Byzcat

    Byzcat

    Aug 3, 2009
    Lynn, Mass
    Jim Carr

    I'm not having any other hand use issues, actually, except maybe excessive computer usage, but I've cut back on that a lot lately.

    More than anything, I think I need a good teacher.

    Funny, I never had problems like this when I was playing years ago, and I think my technique was just as bad then, probably worse, and I was playing a G&L SB-2. Of course, back then, I was living on the blues scale and whatever songs I could learn by ear, so my hand wasn't getting worked as much. This time out, I've been practicing scales pretty intensively

    Anyway, I'm on Social Security Disability right now, I have Mass Health, and will be eligible for Medicare in September, so I'm insured.

    I used to be a massage therapist, so I'm applying those skills to the thumb as well.
     
  11. Jim Carr

    Jim Carr Dr. Jim

    Jan 21, 2006
    Denton, TX or Kailua, HI
    fEARful Kool-Aid dispensing liberal academic card-carrying union member Musicians Local 72-147
    That's good, but keep in mind it is the total picture that matters. If the bass is pushing you into injury, you may already be stressing your hands with other activity.

    Just be certain that your practice regime and goals are reasonable for your level of hand health. Motivation is great, but injury can end everything.

    Sadly, we all age, though the alternative is even less attractive. :D
    I would try a good hand clinic. Life is short.
     
  12. Byzcat

    Byzcat

    Aug 3, 2009
    Lynn, Mass
    I'll look into medical solutions if the problem returns, but for now, I'll work on my technique, and see if I can prevent re-injury.

    Oh, and I've already had a relapse. I wanted to play with my strap length (I think I've finally found the optimum length for both standing and sitting). the result seems to be that I've got the strap horn between my, erm, huge tracts of land. I played for just a few minutes, concentrating on using my thumb as a pivot, but not using it to apply pressure to the neck, and that seemed to not aggravate my thumb. I even got from the twelfth to the fifteenth fret with minimal discomfort by laying my thumb against the E string edge of the neck.

    I think I may come through this alright.

    Fortunately, I'm not suffering any wrist pain, that would be serious bad news. I think I just need to baby the thumb for a while.

    And I actually still miss my G&L.

    Right now, the worst part is going to be not playing. I'm feeling seriously bummed out that I can't play my bass.
     
  13. mambo4

    mambo4

    Jun 9, 2006
    Dallas
    Bzcat, in none of your posts do you mention having an amp.

    are you playing amplified?

    I know I tend to pluck and fret harder when i can't hear myself....

    Keeping your left wrist straight?

    try not using your left thumb at all for a while. get used to arm muscles pulling your fingers against the fingerboard. Then slowly work your thumb back in.

    also, are you fretting 1-2-3-4 or 1-2-4? Small hands canbenefit form a 1-2-4 fingering technique.
     
  14. Byzcat

    Byzcat

    Aug 3, 2009
    Lynn, Mass
    I have an amp, also a Vox bass headphone amp.

    Pretty good about keeping my wrist straight- that's why I was playing around with different neck angles and strap lengths- I was aware of the dangers of carpal tunnel syndrome, I just hadn't thought about thumb injuries. I look at these players who sling their instruments at groin level and think, "Yep, there's a case of carpal tunnel waiting to happen."

    If you're talking about what I think you're talking about, I'm fretting 1-2-3-4- never seem to have had a problem there (maybe you should explain the difference so I can be sure) I have pretty good reach with my left hand- at full stretch, it can reach more than an inch than my right hand (something I never lost from the old days, actually).

    Is there, like a bassists anonymous group I can join? Playing is my major thing I do for fun, and I've lost that for at least the next several days
     
  15. JimmyM

    JimmyM

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Yamaha, Ampeg, Line 6, EMG
    Better to lose it for a few days than to lose it for good.

    So strap length...I wear my strap pretty low and I'm still able to have good technique. I don't believe in this business about wearing your bass up high on your chest, especially if you have tracts of land. First off, nobody can see the tracts of land when you do that ;) Second, I can't imagine it's comfortable. You probably don't want to go all Robert Trujillo down by your feet with the bass, but you should wear it at a comfortable spot that works for you. You can still use good technique and have it lower...I wear mine to where the strings are about even with my belt. Works for me...YMMV.
     
  16. Byzcat

    Byzcat

    Aug 3, 2009
    Lynn, Mass
    JimmyM-

    I really don't wear it high on my chest. Well, I do, sort of. I'm short-waisted, and to play comfortably and have any kind of decent reach, I have to have the neck at about a forty-five degree angle, and given the size of the body of your average bass guitar, the body of the instrument actually starts just below my hip joint and the tip of the strap horn ends up about a hands breadth from my shoulder. One tract of land is clearly visible, the other, you can sort of see through the space between the neck and the strap horn.

    If I sat down with the bass straight up in my lap, the strap horn would actually be at the tip of my shoulder.

    Anyway, last night, I snapped the latches on the case shut and put it in my closet. No sense torturing myself by looking at it everyday when I know I can't play.
     
  17. blockinlay

    blockinlay

    Feb 21, 2009
    Phila Pa
    Research treatment for thumb arthritis
     
  18. LarryO

    LarryO

    Apr 4, 2004
    Honestly the medical solution, if you saw a hand surgeon would be to rest it and take anti-inflamatorys.....If the pain is present all the time you'd probably be offered a thumb spica splint and anti inflamatorys and possibly a local steroid injection directly in the tendon sheath or into the joint that is causing the pain. Either way, stretching and rest would be involved so it's best to just not continue to reproduce the pain
     
  19. Byzcat

    Byzcat

    Aug 3, 2009
    Lynn, Mass
    ^Actually, I'm not in constant pain- slight twinge if I move it just wrong, it really only hurts when I try to get to the higher registers of the fretboard.

    Anyhoo, I just called a local music store, explained my situation, and found out they have a teacher there who's really good with technique, so hopefully I'll be starting lessons soon.

    So, I'm resting it.
     
  20. Byzcat

    Byzcat

    Aug 3, 2009
    Lynn, Mass
    Um, are there any other TBers living in Lynn, Mass, 'cause I'm getting to the point that I think I'm going to need someone to physically restrain me from pulling my Ibby out of the case...
     
  21. 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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