My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Ouchy Left Hand
November 14, 2012 11:46 PM   Subscribe

What's up with my left hand? I play guitar right handed and have been working out hard and regularly. After 20+ years - no problems. Then I started getting pain in the back of my left hand a few weeks ago and...

...slowed down a LOT. Even took sequential days off. The pain is sharp, back of the left hand, midway between the base of fingers 2 and 3 and my wrist. Worse when I have a big reach between frets. So far, daily ibuprofen, nightly icing after practice. It's not really getting worse, but I want it Better.

YANMD, but if you've recovered from something like this, what helped?
posted by j_curiouser to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You need to see a doctor because this could well be carpel tunnel or a related condition.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:54 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sounds like tendonitis or RSI (repetitive strain injury), this is a common problem for serious musicians on a wide range of instruments. Been there- partial solution involved physiotherapy, an exercise program, improving overall fitness and core stability, totally rethinking posture, set-up and practice habits- it took months to get over it and still flares up if I'm not careful. Playing through pain in hands is NOT advised.
posted by Coaticass at 1:12 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Forgot to mention I had a few lessons from an Alexander teacher, which was pretty helpful- though not a quick fix by any means.
posted by Coaticass at 1:30 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Definitely see a doctor for a definitive answer, but it sounds like RSI/tendo. I had in my left hand from manual labor once, to the extent that the back of my hand swelled up like there was a golf ball under the skin (freaky). Give it a good 5-7 days of complete time off + hot&cold treatment, and when you get back to it do warm up exercises before playing. Coaticass' suggestions are great as well, specifically posture while playing.
posted by mannequito at 2:53 AM on November 15, 2012

Your left hand sounds just like my left hand. Go see a doctor, but mine said tendonitis. Don't play through it in the meantime. I ended up changing my (piano) style a bit to avoid loud stretches > an octave, together with more focused, shorter practices and better posture. It was a bit of a pain, but hasn't reduced my ability (not hard) and enjoyment at all, once I'd listened to what my body wanted me to do.
posted by cromagnon at 4:02 AM on November 15, 2012

Agreeing with the above who say it may be tendonitis or similar. I've got tendonitis in my right wrist, the pain of which is (when it decides to flare up) like what you're describing: sharp, more painful when I extend my wrist too much (stretch the tendon), and showed up with no warning and no apparent injury.

Don't play through it, though if working out makes it feel better, do that. My doctor told me not to lift weights until my wrist stopped hurting, but doing so had been helping it feel better so I just kept on; the pain has been gone for a few months now.

It's probably not carpal tunnel. Carpal tunnel starts with numbness, not sharp pain. IANAD, but I type a lot and have learned to look out for the symptoms so I can avoid it getting worse if I do ever develop it.
posted by Urban Winter at 6:55 AM on November 15, 2012

Tendon injuries heal very slowly. Your hand is more important than your playing. Be gentle with your hand until it doesn't yell at you when you ask it to do things.

Getting some massage for your forearms, to relax all the muscles attached to those tendons, might be useful as well; visits to my local myotherapist are the only intervention I've ever had do anything useful for my Achilles tendinitis.
posted by flabdablet at 6:59 AM on November 15, 2012

I've had this as well and doctor diagnosed as tendonitis. Had to quit playing for a couple months for it to heal.

Go see a doctor if at all possible!
posted by Precision at 7:26 AM on November 15, 2012

Same situation here, but on upright bass. In my case it was tendinitis. Being a dumb college kid, I kept playing through the pain, and it got worse. Much worse. Don't do that. There was a lot of needless pain involved, and the healing process took much longer. So, first off what really helped was going to see a medical professional. I was advised to do the following: cut back on my playing till my wrist stopped hurting, take Naproxen sodium (not as a pain reliever as an anti-inflamitory), and give my wrist a warm soak every evening.

Oh, and take a long hard look at your set-up and playing style. Somewhere you're putting more work into playing than your muscles can handle. As was mentioned above, an Alexander Technique teacher would be a great help doing this, I've known a few that specialize in helping musicians. I do have to warn you though, I've heard stories of some teachers that were pretty far into the alternative medicine realm. Which if you're not particularly into homeopathy, or acupuncture can be a problem. The one I knew was on the other end of the spectrum, and steered clear of that sort of thing though. So, maybe try and talk to a few to find a good fit.
posted by Gygesringtone at 9:41 AM on November 15, 2012

Think about skipping the doctor, and going straight to a physical therapist. They deal with muscles and tendons (and their interactions) more than doctors do.
posted by zamboni at 7:58 PM on November 15, 2012

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