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My right hand (picking hand) is showing signs of carpal tunnel syndrome, and is slowly, but surely, degrading. I continue to practice guitar, but it's beginning to be difficult to do so.

What can I do to reduce any (additional) damage to my wrist while practicing guitar, and to make my wrist last as long as possible in practice without pain?

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6  
Is your right hand your picking or fretting hand? –  Rein Henrichs May 1 '11 at 15:48
1  
Is there something else than playing guitar in your hand usage that could be a cause of Repeted Stress? –  ogerard May 1 '11 at 18:56
4  
What is your playing style? Meaning: classical, folk-style fingerpicking, playing with a pick, etc. How do you hold your guitar? On a strap, on a knee? Which knee? –  Alex Basson May 2 '11 at 16:08
    
Right hand is the picking hand, standard setup for classical guitar playing on the right knee. –  blueberryfields May 3 '11 at 5:36

3 Answers 3

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Assuming you're using a traditional right-handed setup, if you want a permanent fix, you're probably going to have to relearn how to pick.

The cause of RSIs related to music are usually the result of excess tension somewhere in the body. For a guitar picking hand, you might want to look up materials related to violin bow hold, since excess tension in this is a very common problem in beginners.

I would do this: learn what it feels like to relax your entire right arm from the shoulder down (think limp noodle), and then figure out the least possible number of muscle groups it will take to bring your picking hand into position. As you practice, be conscious of whenever you feel the SLIGHTEST bit of tension in the wrist, and then immediately do the limp noodle exercise before building up your picking position again.

If you're having trouble identifying this, set a timer for yourself, even as short as 45 seconds, to give yourself an interval for relaxation.

If the pick falls out of your hand as you practice, that's a very good sign. :-)

I would seriously consider getting a health professional's opinion on this. They will be able to tailor a treatment you your specific situation, and may be able to provide you with an appropriate brace if that's what's necessary.

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+1 for the violin bow-hold suggestion. So many materials out there for that purpose, and relevant to many instruments. –  Josh Fields Dec 18 '11 at 15:07

I've worried about this same thing in the past. Unless the symptoms are unbearable you should be able to make some simple adjustments and avoid further harm. The easiest way to describe the most gentle picking hand position is to straighten your wrist so it isn't bent at all and then position your guitar in such a way that the strings end up in the proper position. I've found that it's helpful to angle the neck up a little bit so the body of the guitar sits a little lower and you are able to straighten out your arm and wrist a little more. Ideally it should look pretty similar to this:

enter image description here

If you notice your wrist starting to bend at all readjust so the neck is raised a little more and the body of the guitar moves a little closer to your elbow. There are times when I play that my arm is nearly parallel to strings. As a result of this technique, I've not experienced any issues with wrist pain.

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+1 pivot at the elbow! –  luser droog Nov 25 '11 at 2:07

I agree with all of the answers that have been posted here.

I would also stress the importance of learning to use your larger muscle groups whenever possible. A lot of the time, when employing certain techniques, we wind up over-using our wrists and forearms when larger muscle groups, like the bicep-area, are perfectly suited to take over and relieve the stress on the hand/wrist.

It might be a difficult thing to feel at first, but once you get the hang of it, it'll become part of the unconscious, automatic adjustments you make while playing.

Start by strumming very, very hyperbolically/broadly, keeping your wrist, hand, and forearm straight (but not tense) -- like an anamatronic robot -- and just feel what it feels like to power everything with your upper arm.

As some of the other answerers have explained, we're looking to eradicate or at least minimize as much tension as possible. Taking the load off by using larger muscle groups is the way to go.

Other good ideas:

  1. Stretch often and effectively.
  2. Warm up whenever possible.
  3. Check your instrument and posture to make sure they're not contributing to the problem.
  4. If possible, stop AT THE MOMENT YOU FEEL PAIN, relax, take a break, and maybe stretch before getting back to it.
  5. Drop twenty bucks on a drug-store wrist brace to wear when not playing. It's an easy way to keep your wrist straight and tension free throughout the day -- just be sure it fits correctly; it can end up doing more harm than good if it doesn't.

There are medical health professionals all over who specialize not only in wrist problems, but specifically in the wrist problems of instrumentalists. If it gets bad enough, it might be worth chatting to one of them.

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