Certain chords cause my thumb to be sore. How can I play in a way to prevent this?

  • Which chords ? Where does it hurt ?
    – Anonymous
    Commented Jan 13, 2011 at 21:12
  • I had the same problem when I started to learn bar chords. It went away after a few weeks of regular practice (without forcing too much when I felt sore).
    – reg
    Commented Jan 13, 2011 at 21:26
  • franssu, any bar chord does it. It's the base of my thumb.
    – gak
    Commented Jan 20, 2011 at 22:28

7 Answers 7


Basically, neither fingers nor your wrist should hurt. Tension is your enemy, you have to become aware of tension before it becomes pain. In the words of Joe Satriani : No pain, no pain.

If it's the thumb, chances are you're grabbing the neck as if you were falling and needed to hold onto it, that's not the way it should be : the thumb is an anchor for the rest of the hand.

When you feel tension, stop, relax your fingers, neck and shoulders. Then get back in playing position but do not hold the strings down, use your fretting hand as if it was caressing the strings. Hold onto that feeling, and carry on practicing.

You can also try practicing slower, which anyway always helps focusing on different aspects of your playing.


Your thumb hurts because you are pushing your thumb backwards on itself in order to support your hand position on the neck. The only way forward is to practice bar chords as much as you can, and your thumb and hand will eventually become stronger. Hope this helps.

  • I remember when I started playing songs with bar chords. My hand and forearm got quite sore until it strengthened up
    – Anonymous
    Commented Jan 14, 2011 at 6:11

Here's just some additional thoughts:

My hand usually hurts the most when gripping the neck like this:

Classical grip

This is a grip used by classical guitarists, as they rarely do full-on barre chords. Note the thumb resting on the back of the neck: when you grip the neck firmly, as you do for barre chords, you put a lot of pressure on your thumb. It's easy to accidentally choose this grip for barre chords because it initially makes chording faster; however, stay away from this grip for barre chords!

I prefer to grip the neck like this:

Pinch grip

Note how the thumb isn't "pressing" on the back of the neck anymore; it's "pinching" or "hugging" it. The force from pressing on the strings affects your thumb-hand joint less. This grip isn't initially as ergonomic as the above grip, but it will help prevent pain, which has been said above is very bad!

  • 14
    It doesn't look like there's a barre chord being played in either picture.
    – Tim
    Commented Mar 22, 2013 at 10:21
  • 2
    Classical grip, if done right, is perfectly suitable for full-on barre chords. In particular, there is almost no pressure on the thumb because the force comes directly from the arm (the biceps) – though that, of course, only works properly when playing seated with a footrest. Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 13:20
  • When playing slow arpeggiated barre chords (eg. Radiohead's "Creep"), I like to use the pinch grip method with the thumb wrapped around the top fretting the low E string. Then my index finger (#1) only has to fret the high G, B, and E strings.
    – Cole Tobin
    Commented Feb 20, 2015 at 1:53
  • In the second picture, how do you keep your index finger from hitting the high E?
    – skeller88
    Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 20:29

I've answered a similar question before, so same answer. With barre chords there is a misconception that you need to squeeze hard with your thumb. It is easily possible to play barre chords without the thumb even on the neck.If you pull the guitar body onto your own body, then use the fretting arm to pull the barring finger (usually index) onto the fretboard.I'm not advocating not using your thumb to tension barre chords, but you never need to squeeze as hard as you think.It's a sort of extension to B.B.King's butterfly vibrato - yes, only fretting one string, but pulling that finger onto it with arm, not thumb.

  • 1
    This is the same technique that I adopted after two decades of playing guitar and it was a revelation. DO THIS! Commented Jul 18, 2016 at 10:45

I experience this when I haven't played for a while, almost like I strain my thumb. I haven't found another way to circumvent this but to keep playing (after you've rested your thumb of course ;). It's like any physical exercise.

But then I might be wrong, which would be great :)


Please see my answer to an earlier question here:


You may be using much more tension and pressure than is necessary to fret the barre chord in the first place, and this may be what is causing the pain. You can train yourself not to squeeze your hand and fingers too hard.


http://www.nextlevelguitar.com/aforum/showthread.php?t=12559 discusses a couple of options:

  • taking a break from barre chords when the pain begins
  • icing the painful area
  • painkillers
  • 2
    This totally neglects the important notion that perhaps the technique is poor and should be addressed so that there is no sore thumb in the first place. Commented Sep 29, 2015 at 19:52

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.