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I have been playing guitar and bass for about 20 years now and I have noticed that sometimes, particularly in the last five years, I will do something with my fretting hand that causes a sharp pain in the finger that leaves the tip very sensitive for a few days and makes practice or playing ( or indeed even typing ) with that finger uncomfortable.

The pain is sharp and feels like it happens a little way into the finger tip - maybe level with the tip of the fingernail. It feels a bit like a long splinter in the fingertip, but there is no mark on the skin.

It's not the same thing as callousing- I have been playing for long enough that my fingertips are fairly tough and my technique is good enough that I don't press very hard.

I notice this tends to happen more on heavier strings - on bass or acoustic guitar more than on electric.

I'm not seeking serious medical advice here- this has happened often enough that I'm pretty sure it's nothing significant - but I would like to know whether any other musicians are familiar with the experience and if so whether anyone has managed to pin down a cause. I can't work out quite what it is I'm doing to cause this discomfort ( I guess I'm pressing too hard or landing a finger on the fret or something, but really not certain ) which makes it hard to avoid.

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Related question:… –  Ulf Åkerstedt Jul 7 '12 at 11:13
I am currently having this exact problem so this question and answers are really helpful. Came back from vacation and played for one night (and must have forgot the correct finger pressure levels), and then suddenly got this sharp feeling in my index fret finger, kind of like a sharp needle. Now even typing at work is a little painful. –  gitsitgo Jul 16 at 15:20

4 Answers 4

up vote 3 down vote accepted

This sharp sensation at the tip of your fingers is usually a combination of a minor bone bruise, damaged nerves and damaged muscle tissue from using too much pressure when fretting a guitar and extended use.

Your hand is full of what are called peripheral nerves that go from your spinal cord to your arms, hands, legs and feet. The nerve endings of the fingers are heavily concentrated on the palmar aspect (the finger surface on the palm side of the hand). There are 2,500 receptors per centimeter squared just on the fingertips!

Pain is sensed by free nerve endings, mostly located in the skin, bones, and joint capsules, and around blood vessels.

While resilient, the hand the one of the most commonly damaged part of the human body. A rigorous guitar playing session involves repeated stress to the hands and finger tips causing muscle, bone and nerve damage.

This tingling, sharp sensation guitar players experience is from overuse and can be avoided with proper stretching and warming up/cooling down. Additionally, heat or cold can help soothe the pain along with proper rest!

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What will stretching and warming up do when it does not seem to involve any muscle pain? (Please note I appreciate your answer. I am genuinely asking, perhaps there is something I am missing.) It seems like the "proper rest" is key, no? –  amalgamate Feb 13 at 18:59
I guess I am also interested in weather or not it is something that one should be concerned about, or if it is OK to ignore it. –  amalgamate Feb 13 at 19:06
You are correct: proper rest > stretching/warming up. Nerve cells die due to lack of oxygen supplied from the blood stream. Warming up can help bring more circulation to your hands and therefore reduce risk of damage. –  piofusco Feb 13 at 19:06
Family of doctors and nurses...however, I am a software engineer enthused with biology. I made a lot of phone calls before I posted this answer and got a general consensus from professionals. –  piofusco Feb 13 at 19:15
Additionally, I have had this problem as well. Been a musician since I was 10. I have been told it is nothing to worry about unless you repeatedly over play. If it hurts, STOP! –  piofusco Feb 13 at 19:16

I had a classical guitar teacher give me an exercise for this, because I was experiencing tendonitis in my whole left hand. The problem is that over the years I had gradually developed a habit of squeezing down much too hard in fretting notes.

Her exercise was this: Grab a chord that uses all four left-hand fingers and fret it like you normally would. Now, gradually, by degrees, reduce the tension and pressure in your hand and sound the chord again. Repeat this procedure step-by step. Stop when you determine the least amount of pressure you can exert on the fingerboard and have the whole chord sound correctly without any notes being muted. In your practice sessions, repeat this procedure regularly to get that least amount of pressure into your muscle memory, and practice playing that way all the time.

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Same with single notes. Not only are you causing yourself pain with too much pressure, you're also pushing yourself sharp and wrecking your speed. –  VarLogRant Aug 10 '11 at 21:12
I'm experiencing the same issue. I have tremendous pain in my index finger-tip. I have a gig tonight and cannot cancel it. Any advice to reduce pain will be welcomed. –  Shimmy Mar 25 '12 at 7:47

Could it be the callouses themselves? I've experienced pain in my fingertips from this in the past when my callouses got too hard, although the pain was not too severe.

I can imagine that if your callouses are quite hard and your fingernails are quite short, the edge of the nail could digging into your fingertip, but you're not feeling it as it happens. If something like this is the case, you could try to keep the nails a little less short.

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Good thought, and an easy one to test- I'll let my nails grow out a little and see whether that changes the likelihood of it happening. –  glenatron Aug 15 '11 at 9:01

Calloused or not, you're putting a lot of pressure on a very small area of your skin. this will cause some tissue damage (minor, of course), which your body will then send more blood to in order to repair. This slight swelling can sometimes put pressure on the very sensitive nerves in your fingertips.

It's nothing to be terribly worried about. It is a sign that maybe you should put the bass away for the day and come back tomorrow. It can also be a sign that you "jammed" your finger into the string at some point; even guys with a light touch can tense up and clamp down on a string during a fast run or shift. That would indicate you may need to focus a little on your technique; just because you learned good technique doesn't mean you can't fall out of the habits.

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I've had plenty of time since I really thought about the physical details of how I play to forget some important stuff... –  glenatron Jul 29 '11 at 15:55

protected by NReilingh Jan 25 '12 at 0:37

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