I'm an experienced guitarist/pianist and am having a bit of a problem with my left hand. When I'm playing guitar I seem to suddenly get a pain between my index finger and thumb fairly deep, almost as if I'm a beginner again. It's playing havoc with my ability to make it through an entire song without pain. Also my hand has started to outright refuse to move in certain directions even after a warm up.

Barre chords are agony to attempt almost immediately with a thick-necked guitar and even any octave stretches on piano are painful. I'm hoping that I've just pulled a muscle but it's been around for the last 3 months or so. I've never really liked the thought of hand trainers (to me it always sounded like the old dipping your fingers in vinegar to get them to harden up) but if this will allow me to play again I'm happy to try it.

Any recommendations for relaxing/training that muscle?

Edit: As a side note, my hands lock up occasionally and I need to heat them up in order to be able to get all feeling and movement back.

  • 3
    This may sound obvious, but have you discussed this with a G.P?
    – Tim
    Feb 3, 2014 at 13:45
  • Just had a discussion with the missus. Been putting it off (stupidly) because I think I know exactly what the answer is. The dreaded A. Feb 3, 2014 at 13:45
  • 1
    Agreed with Tim here - you should probably be talking with someone instead of a bunch of people on a website. It could be arthritis, but it could also be a nerve thing as well. Feb 3, 2014 at 13:46
  • Oh I totally agree, I suppose I was hoping that there was a specific untrained muscle that a hand tensioner would train and if anyone else had a similar experience. Feb 3, 2014 at 13:48
  • This will sound strange, but if it is in fact arthritis, you may find this helpful as it was to me. Before going to bed, soak your hand several minutes in a very hot epsom salts bath, hot as you can make it. Then work peanut oil (yes, peanut oil) into the area. Wear a glove on the hand (wool is preferable) when you go to bed. Do this for a week. Of course, if you in fact have carpal tunnel or something, the heat won't do it much good. Otherwise, no harm in trying it?
    – BobRodes
    Feb 6, 2014 at 16:42

2 Answers 2


Given your edit, it sounds like an entrapment of some sort - either carpal tunnel, or one of the tendon sheaths, or both. I'm not a doctor, but have had problems similar to this that were caused by carpal tunnel.

You want to reduce the swelling - warm feels better, but actually doesn't help. Try icing your hand and wrist instead to help the swelling go down, take an NSAID if you can stomach it and see your doctor. You may need a steroid injection, or (minor) surgery. A hand specialist will know better than some random person on the Internet.


Any recommendations for relaxing/training that muscle?

This is certainly not a cure, but it should help. Spend some of your practice sounding bad. Let me explain:

Background Analogy: There is a trick where someone holds your arms as you try to raise them for a minute (not a guitar thing). After the minute is up, the subject's arms tend to raise involentarily for a brief time period.

Sounding bad: Guitarists tend to put more into their "left hand" (fingering hand for those who play with the other hand) then they need too. If you practice not pressing down with your left hand for a fair protion of your practice so that you get a thunky buzzy sound (but not all of the practice, of course. One needs to hear one's guitar playing during atleast some of the practice), you will be developing a lighter touch and learning just how little it can take to sound good on a good guitar.

Additional advice: It also sounds to me like allot of your strength is comming from your thumb. Use your arm to support or replace that work your thumb is doing. You can press the strings down by pulling back with your arm. For a parlor trick, I show my students without using my thumb at all, but you should use your thumb some. Your thumbs role should be moved to a more supervisor capacity where it feels the guitar and helps tell your fingers what to do.

Human Advice: If you can avoid surgery, and or cortisone shots, I say avoid it. They are last resorts. The surgery for metacarpal injuries is particualry grousome, and you can never go back if it makes it worse. That said, I am sure there are examples out there where the surgen worked wonders, and you should at least get an diagnosis if the pain persists. Cortisone shots are often provide only temprary relief, and it is possible that you are masking the pain instead of eliminating it. Then it is possible to make things worse instead of better when you continue to play without pain. Also Do not continue to play during the times when you are in pain. This seems obvious but I have seen many including myself who are tempted to continue to play anyway but it is dangerous behavior.

All this pain is why your good, thoughtful, grumpy, first guitar teacher may have continually reminded you not to wrap your thumb around the neck. (What, it was just my teacher? I think he would have wacked my thumb with a ruler, if that sort of thing wasn't passé then. Pain to prevent pain.)

There is other technique advice to be given for the piano, but I leave that to a piano player more experienced than I to give. I think it involves keeping your wrist raised slightly and a fluid relaxed striking movement.

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