Novice Guitarists Under Threat of Repetitive Strain Injury

The condition of RSI is a syndrome that effects muscles, tendons and nerves in the hands, arms and upper back and is developed when muscles in these areas are kept tense for long periods of time, due to poor posture and/or repetitive motions. The most well known repetitive strain injury is known as Carpal Tunnel syndrome, which is relatively rare among computer workers but very common among assembly line workers and guitarists.

The problem of guitarists and other musicians suffering from RSI is not a new one, with several popular guitarists falling foul of the syndrome; most notably Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead, who has worn a wrist and forearm support on his right arm for years due to his aggressive playing style. Medical experts have now determined that novice guitarists are under considerable risk of developing Carpal Tunnel syndrome early on in life by picking up bad guitar playing habits.

Beginning guitarists tend to put tremendous strain on their fretting hand, pressing the strings down as hard as possible in order to make sure the notes their playing sound cleanly. However, such pressure isn’t necessary and leads to strain being put on the wrist and forearm, with complaints of numbness and hot pain in these areas commonplace amongst many learning musicians. This issue can be tackled by putting a lighter gauge of string on the guitar to ease playing.

Another overlooked problem that can develop early on in a musician’s life is stress on the back and the neck. Playing a guitar that’s perhaps too cumbersome for the individual or wearing the strap too low can greatly affect posture and, as a result, damage muscles and tendons.

The above problems are mostly caused by guitarists neglecting to warm up before practice or performance. Indeed, it was through performing with no warm up that led to Status Quo’s guitarist Rick Parfitt and the session musician Gary Smith having to take time off from music to recover; Smith’s repetitive strain injury was so bad that he required surgery on his wrist. A series of simple stretching exercises are all that’s required to limber up muscles and reduce the risk of injury, as well as playing scales and other exercises on the guitar immediately before performing. It’s a fairly effortless procedure but one that is still not undertaken but many guitarists outside of the professional circuit.

When any guitarist warms up, it’s not only immediately beneficial in technique and fluidity during both performance and practice, it also helps to ensure that any budding guitarists enjoy long and healthy playing careers, free of any repetitive strain injury.

Author Resource: Matthew Pressman is a freelance writer and frequent flyer. When not travelling, he enjoys golf and fishing.

Randy Rasa

Randy is an engineer/programmer/web designer who has suffered from repetitive strain injury off and on for over a decade.

One Comment:

  1. Carpal Tunnel syndrome is very common among assembly line workers and guitarists. And it generally occurs by picking bad guitar habits. Also by applying pressure on the fingers and wrist with the intention of getting the notes correct and clear, these newbies damage their health.

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