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I've had what I thought was a rock climbing over-use injury on my left hand for a while now, where the fingers on my left hand feel stiff and hurt slightly when I curl them in and the first joints are swollen, esp on the ring finger. However I'm starting to wonder whether guitar playing could play a role, since it's only the left hand with the problem, and since I've cut back climbing without a lot of relief (when I cut back climbing, I end up playing guitar more).

Has anyone had this problem due to guitar playing? I don't really play that much now, so I don't want to cut back, but maybe I should switch to electric, get the action lowered on my guitar, or something like that?

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7 Answers 7

Of course it can cause stiff fingers. Or sore wrists, arms, shoulders, backs, hips, necks. The causes are bad posture, too much guitar weight, or over-stressing muscles and joints from overuse.

Getting the action lowered can help. If you use heavy gauge strings consider switching to some that are lighter. Some players like heavy strings for the sound, but pressing and bending strings with high action, or heavy gauge can over stress the joints and ligaments too.

Go talk to a good guitar tech, or a luthier, and see if the neck is a good fit for your hand. Everybody's hand size is different, both in the palm and fingers, which is why they make guitar necks in different radiuses and widths. Having to reach around a neck that is too wide for your hand, or across a fingerboard that is too wide for your fingers will cause RSI, leading to stiffness.

Also, though we never like to think it can happen, arthritis can set in as we age, so it might be good to talk to your doctor. They'll probably recommend ice after you play/practice to help reduce swelling, but it's better to find out for sure.

And, yes, an electric can supply lighter action/string tension, but you have to watch out for the body weight. I played a '78 Les Paul Custom for years, and it got too heavy for me, causing neck and shoulder pain. Another player in town has one also, and says it hurts his neck, shoulder and hips. So, you could jump from the frying pan into the fire if you get something too heavy.

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I also have stiff fingers and also play music. I'm wondering whether mine is a form of dystonia, sometimes caused by overuse. (I have been diagnosied with having dystonia in my legs, but since then it is now also effecting my fingers). You may find it helpful to research dystonia in musicians on youtube.

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BS! You cannot get stiff fingers in any sort of way from playing guitar, it's the exact opposite. When you start playing guitar, your tendants start to become more elestic, your muscles obtain more control and you are able to control your fingers accurately without any problem. Rock climbing on the other hand forces the muscles to become tougher, less elastic, and loose some of their control due to great weights acting on them. I don't understand why you would have stiff fingers though, usually after a session of rock climbing, your grasp on the Guitar neck becomes weaker, so much so that you cannot properly hold down a string. Try cutting back on Rock Climbing, it might be your technique that's putting stress on your fore arms, or it might as well be the way you play your guitar. All of these things are factors that should be taken into account for the problem you're having.

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Guitar playing is a physical activity that involves muscles and varying degrees of tension. Provided that all things are equal:

a) your posture is correct or relaxed (ie. not slouching or twisted) b) the instrument is comfortable and easy to play (eg. low action compared to high) c) the combination of your posture and instrument is correct (ie. you've not got the guitar body facing up at you and as a result your fretting hand is overtwisted on the fretboard) d) your emotional state isn't one of anger or stress

... then gradual playing WILL cause stiffness that can be equated with good old fashioned muscle fatigue. Simply put, when the energy in your hand and arm muscles overspend their energy on effort the muscles will release lactic acid. This is what you feel.

Stiffness in general, isn't caused by guitar playing... but by excessive guitar playing. This can mean different things to different people, but overall it means overuse.

The idea is to remain relaxed at all times and you can only monitor this through self awareness during your practice. You cannot physically play a fast piece consistently if you are tensing up. When this happens, opposing muscles in your hand/arm (ie. those muscles that control the OPPOSITE DIRECTION of the movement of your limbs will also kick in) will also tense up and cause stiffness.

Now if you have a condition that is already providing muscular or circular issues, the best advice will be to seek medical help as you could be causing damage.

Again, if all else is in balance - normal/relaxed playing WILL NOT cause stiffness by itself. But if you're playing guitar in this state for considerable hours - then it's inevitable to feel some form of fatigue.

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I don't agree. I also recently started playing guitar excessively without engaging in any other activity and I am also struggling with stiff fingers (especially in the first ligament of my index and ring finger). This mainly due to the new song I'm practicing containing "unfimiliar" chords like Gm, Cm, Bm.

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Look back on times when you may have had a trauma inflicted on your hands or fingers. It will come back in the later years of your life . playing guitar actually after I get the stiffness out is a great way to keep the fingers from succumbing to the affects of arthritis. I find after doing a few stretching exercises with the fingers and using DMSO ( horse liniment) the fingers become more relaxed and not so stiff as to notice it , the mornings are the time my fingers are stiff . so after I am up for a hour or two and do the due diligence with the DMSO and a 770 nano hertz led light I can play well with out pain . Again see a doctor because every case is not the same . He may be able to permanantly help your problem.

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I agree with others' comments on staying relaxed and maintaining good posture/position/movements, so I won't reiterate all that everyone else has already aptly said on those issues.

What I would stress most of all to you is that, if you are experiencing pain and swelling from bending your fingers (I am talking about bending within a typical range motion, not hyper-extending your joints) and not only stiffness, then you should absolutely have your hands checked out by a physician.

At the end of the day, all of our opinions online are just that - opinions, NOT a diagnosis. I certainly do not mean for this to sound overly reactionary, but the hand and finger motions involved in playing guitar, when done incorrectly or even correctly but under certain sub-optimal conditions can lead to permanent injury.

If the issue is nothing more than muscle fatigue from rock climbing, a physician can confirm this and then you can work on ways to ensure that you are not overexerting too much. However, if there is something else going on, you will need more than the educated guesses that people online can provide to discover what it is and what you can/should do about it.

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protected by NReilingh Aug 17 '12 at 2:36

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