Preventing Guitar Related Injuries
Most people don't think about preventing guitar related injuries until it's too late. That's a shame, since most can be avoided with common sense and simple precautions.
Causes of Injury
Injuries occur when your body is stressed by:
- Repetitive motions...
- Exerting too much force or pressure...or,
- Sudden motion.
Such activities can strain muscles, and wear down or damage ligaments and joints. If you have weaknesses or structural problems in your hands, arms, or shoulders, your chances of injury increase.
Injuries are more likely to occur after periods of inactivity. So, be especially careful when you begin learning to play, if you take significant time off, or when learning a new or difficult piece of music.
If you experience pain, swelling, or weakness you may be injured. Stop playing and check with your doctor.
|SIDEBAR: The advice on this page is the result of my own experience and research, however I am NOT a doctor or physical therapist and I have no special training in preventing guitar related injuries. Use of any suggestions or exercises on this page are AT YOUR OWN RISK. STOP and consult a doctor if you have any questions or experience any difficulties.|
Preventing Guitar Related Injuries
Warm up and stretch
When you take a few minutes to warm-up and stretch, you prepare your body for increased activity. The increased blood flow and warm muscles help to reduce injury and improve your ability to perform. It will be easier to reach wide chord forms, and play with increased speed.
Warm ups don't have to be complicated stretches and motions. Just start with easy, slow material for several minutes before moving on to more difficult, new, or fast motions material. An easy-to-strum song, or a few minutes of chromatic scales at the fifth or seventh fret might be all you need.
Even when you're warmed up and into your practice session, you need to think about preventing guitar related injuries. Your muscles eventually grow tired, leading to increased strain on your joints and ligaments. Whenever you feel discomfort, stop for a minute and shake out your hands, stretch again, or rest for a few minutes.
Breaks are especially important if you're practicing new or difficult material, which put increased strain on your muscles and joints.
Frequent, short breaks also provide mental relaxation, adding to your enjoyment. Additionally, some studies show that short periods of practice, mixed with brief breaks, is the most effective way to learn.
When you rest your hands and arms, think about the music or your technique. Visualize the sheet music, the chord forms, efficient transitions, alternate forms, or other aspects of playing. Mental exercises such as these may inspire simplified techniques, or help you memorize passages or improve skills.
Stand, Sit, and Hold the Guitar Comfortably.
Preventing guitar related injuries begins by listening to your body.
When you feel uncomfortable, your body is telling you that it's under strain. If any part of your body is uncomfortable when you start practicing, you are more likely to injure yourself.
If your legs or back are uncomfortable, try sitting. If you arms or wrists are uncomfortable, try moving the guitar up, or down. If you wrists are uncomfortable, move your instrument until the wrist on the neck of the guitar is almost straight - avoid bending it forward or back.
Try to relax and find a natural position to practice. If you continue to feel uncomfortable... you may be on your way to a guitar related injury. Stop and ask an experienced guitarist for help, or seek the advice of a doctor.
Mix-Up Your Practice Material
Overuse is one cause of injuries. Work on preventing guitar related injuries by mixing up the emphasis on one hand or arm, and by changing your position regularly.
Alternate exercises and music to give each hand a rest. Work on those difficult chord forms or a new riff for a few minutes, then relax your fretboard hand and work on strumming technique for a few minutes.
If you stand when you practice, sit and relax every few minutes. If you typically sit, stand and stretch your legs from time to time.
Work on slower, easier material when you begin, then work up to harder (demanding) material. Mix easy material into your practice session for a mental and physical break.
You can cool your muscles down two ways: by performing warm-up and stretching exercises after practice, or by ending with easy material. How you do it is up to you. Cooling down helps to remove any lactic acid that built up during practice, helps bring fresh nutrients to your recovering muscles, and gives ligaments and joints a chance to return to normal elasticity.
Warm-Up and Stretching Tips
A combination of warm-ups and stretches will help with preventing guitar related injuries.
Warm-up activities focus on the muscles. They include gentle, smooth motions and take several minutes to be effective. Warm up activities can be done before picking up the guitar, or by starting slowly and evenly.
Stretching activities prepare your ligaments and joints for practice. Stretching uses slow, gentle movements within your normal range of motion. Typical stretches are held for several seconds. Never push or pull on any joint beyond the normal range of motion, or to the point of pain. Never 'bounce' a joint to push beyond the normal range of motion.
What If You Experience Pain?
Seek the help of your family doctor or a physical therapist. Don't try to "play through" pain or discomfort.