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thumb pain / finger pain

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by reddog, Oct 26, 2018.

  1. reddog

    reddog Supporting Member

    Mar 5, 2013
    Philly burbs
    A long-time hobbyist, I am finding myself sidelined from playing because of pain in my fretting thumb.

    - not sure how it happened

    - it started about a month ago.

    - it hurts in different spots, depending on the day
    * in the first knuckle (nearest the fingernail)
    * in the joint area where the thumb meets the palm
    * down into the fleshy part, close to the wrist

    - it hurts to hold heavy things (imagine a 2x4 piece of wood held in your hand, thumb side up)
    - vulnerable when holding the bass neck
    - when anything puts lateral pressure on the thumb tip

    Right now I'm trying not to touch my bass, hoping that things will get better.

    I figure a general practitioner will tell me to give it rest, maybe some ice, maybe some anti-inflamatories.

    Do you have any experience with this sort of pain?

  2. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    Ouch! Fretting-hand thumb pain is, unfortunately, very common in bassists. But it doesn't have to be! With good safe technique, there should be no strain or tension in the thumb.

    If you can post a "hand selfie" I'm sure you'll get lots of advice how you might improve your playing ergonomics. :)

    In my experience (not saying this is necessarily true for you since I haven't seen photos of your technique) the #1 mistake bassists make with their left-hand thumb, is "butt crack palm." They hold their thumb in such a way that their palm is compressed. This makes the "life line" into a deep crease and makes the palm look like butt cheeks. Rather, I recommend to play with a smooth, wide, and flat palm, like you are opening a catcher's mitt to catch a baseball, or reaching out to shake someone's hand. Imagine you are meeting a stranger for the first time. Which hand would you rather shake: a confident, open, wide, welcoming hand, or a tense, contorted, narrow, claw-like hand that looks like a butt?
    reddog, fearceol and Lobster11 like this.
  3. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    What @Mushroo said, and....

    The other most common problem is straining/contorting the thumb and wrist in a desperate attempt to keep the thumb perpendicular to the headstock (pointing "up") and directly behind the middle of the fretting fingers. The thumb is usually much more relaxed, and the wrist straighter, if it is more parallel to the neck (pointing toward the headstock), and if you allow it to get out ahead of the fretting fingers (closer to the headstock) if that's where it wants to be.
    reddog and fearceol like this.
  4. fearceol


    Nov 14, 2006
    A wise move. :thumbsup: Give your hand/thumb some time to recover. In the meantime learn about safe technique for BOTH hands. Here is an often posted clip covering safe left hand technique.

    reddog and Lobster11 like this.
  5. Reddog you are not alone. What I have is intermittent, apparent nerve pain at the base of the thumb. What has helped is using the 2nd finger and not so much the 1st down low in the first position (fretless electric), and, depending on the riff, in places on the 4th string; also, in the upper register, forgoing use of the lh pinky at about the 15th fret and higher in favor of the ring finger. In both cases, it's less upward support pressure from the thumb. I also try to practice 2 days on, 1 day off.
    Hope that helps.
    reddog likes this.
  6. Time to talk to your doctor. This is coming from a guy that let it go so long I had to have an operation... He/she will have you do certain things and then can tell you right in the office, what is necessary, to eliminate this.
    reddog likes this.
  7. reddog

    reddog Supporting Member

    Mar 5, 2013
    Philly burbs
    Thx! Ok in the meantime to just obstain? Does that allow healing?
  8. If you have not torn something I would think so. For my CT I just wore the brace at night and stopped playing the 6 string guitar. That got the left hand going. The tendinitis in my strumming hand did need surgery. Done in the doctor's office and after a week I was back playing bass.

    None of this came from the bass, it was all from years of rhythm guitar and poor technique.
    reddog likes this.
  9. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    I think only a doctor who can diagnose exactly what the problem is can tell you that: It might be something that will be exacerbated by continuing to play, or maybe not. To be on the safe side, I would rest my thumb until I got it checked out.

    However, there are plenty of other things you can do for awhile without your fretting hand. For example, you could working on learning to play with a pick if you don't already -- or learn to play fingerstyle if you are exclusively a pick player; there are lots of exercises you could work on just using open or muted strings. Or you could spend some time boning up on your music theory, or writing song lyrics, etc.
    reddog likes this.
  10. reddog

    reddog Supporting Member

    Mar 5, 2013
    Philly burbs
    My first thought is that i have wimpy hands... Years ago, When i asked my bro (a doctor who deals with skiers) about other finger pain, he said "none of us have very sturdy hands".
    Your idea to focus on something else is exactly what I was thinking. I bought a cheap keyboard and thought I could learn music theory while learning a little bit about it on the piano.

    Thanks again for the good advice.
    Lobster11 likes this.
  11. Badwater


    Jan 12, 2017
    As long as you play with textbook technique, your doing exactly what technique players do. If your thumb is sore, perhaps try the guitar and drop the textbook technique and learn how to create songs. Less pressure on the thumb.
    reddog likes this.
  12. reddog

    reddog Supporting Member

    Mar 5, 2013
    Philly burbs
    Update - a week since starting the thread.

    Haven't touched a bass.
    Less general hand pain, particularly in the thumb knuckles. :)
    Primary pain, if present, is now is in the meaty part of my fretting thumb.
    Thinking that the injury is from some other activity, like carpentry.
    That makes me think there is hope for the long-term.

    p.s. "why doesn't this guy just ask his brother?"
    my bro (the doc) is busy with his patients (native americans), travelling for int'l organizations, and dealing with other
    family members' sickness which have higher priority. During my uninsured days, he served as my go-to. I try not to overburden him.
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2018
  13. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    Hi Reddog, check out the links, you may find some relevant info in there, as a rule your symptoms are from over gripping, to much pressure on the Basal joint of the hand.
    This may have become more of an issue from mis-use or over use of the hands. Sometime introducing a new use for the hands can inflame the Basal Joint, so in the links you will find a warm up and why i use one, hand stretches and why i use them, and an over all posture stretch and why i use it.

    For the record, nearly sixty and have been playing 45+ years and have some major issues, not caused by playing, but playing did expose them and aggravate them.

    reddog likes this.
  14. reddog

    reddog Supporting Member

    Mar 5, 2013
    Philly burbs
    Hey! Thanks again for the help! This is why i figured you were the right group to talk to. People who have "been there, done that" have the best, focused advice. I'll give it a try!

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