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When playing guitar the other night, I was having some pain going on. I pushed through it because I was playing with someone else, but I had to stop because it eventually turned into a shooting pain when I would try to grab a chord - like the shooting pain that goes from your wrist into your thumb and hurts when you try to squeeze the neck of the guitar. I feel like I did some damage.

I mostly play the drums, but I've been super into guitar lately and it eventually turned into me playing every day 4 hours for 2 weeks. The last day of that two weeks this started to happen. How long should I just stop playing guitar? Can I still play drums? I've taken a couple days off and it feels much better but still there.

Not asking for medical advice, just what has worked from seasoned guitarists. I don't think it is serious so I'm not going to a doctor unless it persists.

  • When I had trouble like this I took two months off. It was a very long two months. – Todd Wilcox Jan 6 '16 at 23:08
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What you are experiencing could be what I would call an overuse injury caused by repetitive stress to muscles, tendons and joints without adequate rest for recovery.

Many athletes experience this type of injury and it is often exacerbated by using improper form. But even if using proper form, continual stress without adequate recovery time can lead to a repetitive stress/over use injury.

I have seen these type injuries occur with experienced professional guitarist who book too many gigs in a short period of time and they end up with a similar issue. Even though they may have been playing regularly for many years without injury. It's when they over do it without adequate recovery time and rest between gigs that the injuries show up.

Your best bet is to rest for an extended period. Similar to when the doctor orders bed rest, you may need to lay off any unnecessary use of your hands for as long as a few weeks (or more) to allow for full recovery. As disconcerting as this may sound, this means no drumming either. While playing drums stresses different muscles, joints and tendons than playing guitar, there will be some overlap.

When you resume playing, always start with at least ten minutes of warm up and stretching exercises. Try to avoid playing more than one hour at a time without a ten minute break and try not to play any more than 4 hours a day total. It's best if you can space out your practice sessions throughout the day. Say an hour in the morning, an hour at lunch and an hour in the evening instead of 3 hours in the morning.

Here is an article about the importance of warming up prior to playing guitar including some suggested "exercises". Guitar World Article on Warm Up Routine

Here is a good YouTube video that shows how to do some stretching exercises for guitarist. YouTube Video showing stretching routine

I know it's hard to stay away from your instrument, but trust me, it is best to allow your body (hands) to fully recover before resuming. Otherwise you start chipping away at an "open wound" so to speak - and will likely end up right back where you are now.

I wish you the best.

  • I'll take your advice. Probably two weeks off and I'll just try to study theory or maybe try to mix some recordings I have better. Thank you for the advice! – Kolob Canyon Jan 7 '16 at 3:55
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You should make sure you stretch before and after playing both drums and guitar. You could have just over-extended a joint and you'll feel it for a while. If you have the luxury of a doctor, go to one and get checked out. It's not going to make it any worse if you really have a concern about it.

The reason you're experiencing pain, assuming you're otherwise healthy, is probably because of the 4 hours a day for two weeks for someone who normally doesn't play guitar. That's a bit hard and fast at first, anyway.

If there was pain in your arm/wrist I'd probably say it had to do with the angle at which you were holding the guitar. Did it feel comfortable before you started to feel pain? A major break in angle can really mess up the joints for long periods of time. Comfort over coolness, always. Listen to your body, and take a break. It knows what's best for itself, always.

  • "Did it feel comfortable before you started to feel pain?" - my hand would get tired from holding barre chords but it never was the shooting pain I described above. – Kolob Canyon Jan 7 '16 at 3:54
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What to do while you're not playing

I agree with the other answers that you should probably rest your hands for at least 2 weeks, then take it slow. 15 min first day, 30 min second day, no more than an hour for the first week or so of playing. If there's no pain, then you can relax these restraints.

But this doesn't mean you should stop practicing! Now is the perfect time to study theory, sight-singing, writing music, and very importantly visualizing music on the guitar.

Theory includes scales and chord-building.

If you can sing solfage ("Doe, a deer ..."), then you can learn to sing any sheet music given a reference pitch (starting note, or often more usefully, the tonic or root note of the key).

That awesome riff you came up with the other day, write it down. The sight-singing skill will help a lot with this.

The last vital part of mental practice is visualizing. Now that you can sight-sing and you can almost hear the notes in your head, you can start to imagine where on the guitar those notes should be played. Which string to use for that little melody? What frets are the notes at? Which fingers would work best? The more you can do without the guitar, the more versatile you'll become with the guitar.

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    That's a good answer. I've actually been mixing and thinking about singing over a song I wrote – Kolob Canyon Jan 13 '16 at 21:27

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