Weird fumbling feeling in my fingertips when I play guitar with a pick.
August 25, 2021 9:04 AM   Subscribe

I've been playing guitar for over 35 years, and bass recently. Over the last few years, I've noticed a strange feeling sometimes when I'm using a pick. I don't know where the pick is in by feel, it moves around and I get confused as to where the tip is, and fumble when picking it up.

It doesn't seem to be a muscle issue, but rather a perception issue, I don't know where the pick is without looking at it.
This comes and goes with no discernible pattern. It also changes depending on the pick, basically plain flat picks are worse, textured or shaped picks are easier.
This feeling only happens in the parts of my hand that grip the pick. I don't have this problem anywhere else in my body or doing any other activity.
My playing itself has not been affected, in fact since starting to play bass I'm playing faster and more precisely than ever before, but I worry this might get worse and whether I need to see a neurologist? Some other specialty?
posted by signal to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Just to clarify, I'm not a professional musician (as should be obvious from my music contributions), but playing music is one of the things that bring me the most joy, and it would suck badly to not be able to play in the future.
posted by signal at 9:15 AM on August 25, 2021

Best answer: Can we assume you play the bass without a pick? If so, the recent adoption of bass playing may be the reason. Calluses.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:17 AM on August 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

Calluses deadening your fingertip sensation, like Thorzdad suggests, may be an issue. I have spinal stuff going on that has resulted in numb fingers on my right hand, and your description matches how my stuff manifests, but I think you'd have other symptoms as well.
posted by PussKillian at 9:54 AM on August 25, 2021

Response by poster: I doubt it's calluses, as the problem isn't just manifesting at the actual tips (where the calluses would be) but along the sruface where I grab the pick, which is more along the inside of the index and the bottom of the thumb.

PussKillian: I assume this is something you'd talk about with a neurologist?
posted by signal at 10:02 AM on August 25, 2021

Response by poster: Also, the problem started years before I started playing bass.
posted by signal at 10:05 AM on August 25, 2021

There are a number of reversible causes, and some less so, for this; you can start with your GP, and move on to a general neurologist. My one advice is just to describe it as well as possible and see if you can detect sensory changes in both hands and/or feet as well.
posted by cobaltnine at 10:19 AM on August 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

Focal dystonia is a neurological thing that can affect musicians, and is very specific to certain elements of their playing -- here's Victor Wooten talking about his focal dystonia. It may also in some cases be the cause of what golfers call "the yips."
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 10:22 AM on August 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

This is also potentially consistent with emerging type 2 diabetes. I would start with a primary care doctor first before talking to a neurologist (and I think a neurologist would agree).
posted by Scarf Joint at 11:38 AM on August 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

Last spring I tried to teach myself piano (because, you know, Covid) and got a book of Hannon exercises. These are 'strengthening' exercises, so they're kind of strenuous. Only I'm a dope, don't know about posture/hand positioning and managed (after a month or two) to give myself a carpal tunnel inflammation. Around the same time I lost my pillow to one of the kids and because... I don't know why... I didn't put up a stink to get it back but just used a different pillow, which wasn't good for me. Admittedly, I didn't get it checked out, but at the confluence of these two things, after about a month my hands went numb-ish and lost strength. (Then I did some light construction and inflamed the arthritis in my F'ed up thumb, that never healed from that injury in my twenties) The Doc prescribed a splint, which I've hated and not doing what I did to inflame it, and a couple months after quitting my piano playing later, things are back to normal-ish.

Long-winded way of saying, are you sure you haven't pinched a nerve in your neck or some-how, some-way done something else that has affected your hands.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:03 PM on August 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

I think a primary care doctor is a good place to start, whether or not it's type II diabetes, or something spinal. I have spinal stenosis, which puts pressure on the nerves and discs in my back. (Mine happens to be genetic.) The condition first resulted in the grip strength of my right hand suddenly failing, which I mentioned to my regular doctor. She was the one who sent me to the right people to get it investigated further and, eventually, get surgery. About seven years later, my right hand started to go numb and I lost tricep strength. I still have some strength, but if I hold, for example, a piece of paper in my fingers, I can't tell if its still there or if I've dropped it. I fumble with small, precise finger movements and sometimes I can't tell if I've hit a key when typing. It's definitely an impinged nerve, because sometimes I get weird shooting pains down into my fingers. My primary care doctor once again sent me off to a neurological and spinal clinic to get a diagnosis.
posted by PussKillian at 12:47 PM on August 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

Are you on Wellbutrin by any chance? Something similar happened to me that resolved after I stopped taking it.
posted by ananci at 1:43 PM on August 25, 2021

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers. I did go to a doctor, and she helped me notice I do in fact have a callus, not specifically from the bass but down the inside of my right index finger, which is probably from holding my pick too tight. I've been playing a lot more these past years, which is probably why it developed after more than 30 years playing. The doctor is GP and a diabetologist, and said I didn't need to worry about it.
posted by signal at 4:13 PM on August 25, 2021 [7 favorites]

Good news! I'm glad it's not something more dire.
posted by Scarf Joint at 4:22 PM on August 25, 2021

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