Whether you are playing local clubs and bars trying to get your band off the ground or selling out arenas, one thing remains the same — playing guitar or bass does a number on your body. The long, grueling hours of practice you have put in perfecting chords and melodies is not only taking its toll on you mentally but physically as well. Some of the more common injuries associated with guitar and bass include repetitive strain injury (RSI) and spinal conditions. If you feel that you are succumbing to these injuries or simply want to avoid these injuries, please inquire about Pain Physician NY’s Musicians Resource.
Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI)
Repetitive strain injury is caused by the repetitive movement of both the picking hand and the fretting hand can cause serious damage to the muscle, tissue, and nerves in the hand over a long period of time. This condition, often referred to as RSI, is especially common in guitar and bass players. Many guitarists have experienced mild or serious cases of Repetitive Strain Injuries like Cubital Tunnel Syndrome or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome at some point in their lives. Read more: Carpal Tunnel Treatment
Why does repetitive strain injury happen? Over time, perpetual bending and contracting of the fingers causes micro-tearing and inflammation of the tendons in the hand. If these tears are not properly addressed they become exacerbated leading to chronic pain and limited mobility in the fingers. This limitation significantly affects your ability to control the chords and frets needed to produce the right notes.
Some of the warning signs include:
- Tingling, numbing, or burning sensations in the extremities
- Difficulty grasping objects
- Weakness of the hands
- Pain during or after playing or practicing
- An increased feeling of clumsiness with your hands
- Neck pain that seems to travel down to the arm
- Constantly sore arm and forearm muscles
- Pain upon moving your shoulder, elbow, wrist, or fingers
- Pain upon lifting hand-held instruments
- Pain upon carrying instruments to and from gig
- Coldness in the fingers while playing (more than usual)
- Hands turn blue or flush erratically
- Restricted motion (stiffness) of the neck or arm
Very few guitar and bass players play their instrument standing completely upright and stay in one position during the show. Most shift their body positions and stances throughout the show. The average model guitar weighs from 7.5 lbs – 10 lbs and almost all that weight is borne by the musicians shoulders. Similarly, a bass guitar can weigh from 8 lbs – 12 lbs with the weight bearing being the same. It is often considered stylish to wear the guitar or bass low on the body. Although this may appear aesthetically more appealing, it affects the musicians center of gravity and can make the weight of the instrument much more forceful on the joints and spine. This constant weight leads to nerve compression and chronic pain disorders.
Also, to put on a good show, musicians must be mobile on stage. This does not mean diving off 20-foot speaker stacks or jumping into the crowd. Those are blatantly dangerous and not much can be done to prevent injury except hope the crowd likes you enough to actually catch you. Guitar swings, jumping up and down, and rocking back and forth are the basic moves for musicians. However, with the added weight of the instruments these simple moves become overly exaggerated and concussive. Not only is the spine absorbing the weight of the body when landing but also the added weight of the instrument and poor posture it creates. The added weight can become up to 10 times concussive onto the spine every time you land.
Some signs or symptoms of a spinal condition can be:
- Persistent pain in the neck or lower back
- Sudden sharp pain that occurs when moving or bending
- Pain that radiates into the arms or legs
- Numbness or tingling in the extremities
- Loss of feeling or control in hands
- Difficulty picking up objects
- Persistent headaches or fatigue