Play Guitar Pain Free
How To Overcome RSI and Chronic Pain Symptoms When Playing Guitar
Does Playing Guitar Cause Pain?Read Every Word On This Page
With the exception of beginner guitar players getting sore finger tips, or those learning bar chords using certain muscles in their hands for the first time, nobody should feel any sort of ongoing pain from playing guitar.
If you suffer from arm specific injuries like Carpal Tunnel, Cubital Tunnel, Tennis Elbow, Tendonitis, Tenosynovitus or any other forms of RSI (repetitive strain injury), or have ongoing pain in your back, neck or shoulders I would like to help you overcome your pain.
I know what it’s like to have pain every waking moment of every day, and consider it a special personal mission to help you overcome pain and go back to a state where being pain free is the norm.
I developed RSI symptoms when I was 20 years old. At the time I was playing guitar for 4-6 hours a day while at university and then either working at a supermarket (using my hands) or using computers and video games (using my hands) for several more hours per day.
All this use of my hands eventually wore them out and I started to experience a burning pain in my fretting hand wrist. The pain got progressively worse over a few days until I saw a doctor. I was diagnosed with tenosynovitis and told to rest for a week.
I took a week off and felt pretty good after that. I got straight back to practicing for an upcoming test and a week later had the same thing flare up again, but this time it was going along the top of my forearm. The doctor ordered me to have another week off but I had a gig coming up a few days later.
I went against the doctors ordered and I played the show, about 3 songs in I could feel that something was wrong, but I pushed through the pain. By the last three songs I could feel my pulse in my elbow and a really deep throbbing pain. from my fingertips to my shoulder. I spent the rest of the night walking around the venue with an ice pack on and when it was time to leave, couldn’t squeeze my hand into a fist. I had to get a taxi home and get my parents to pick up my car the next day.
After the gig I couldn’t use my arm for a week. It felt puffy and I would get a deep throbbing pain in my elbow any time I tried to do anything. I would also get random shots of pins and needles and tingling. While the puffy feeling went away the tingling went on for several weeks and I had to get several medical certificates for work and university because I couldn’t use my arm. I was in pretty intense pain all the time but my doctor couldn’t figure out what was wrong. He told me it’s not carpal tunnel otherwise it would be in my wrist. I told him it matched all the descriptions but felt like it was in my elbow, and after doing some googling discovered something called Cubital Tunnel Syndrome, which is basically the same thing but compressing the ulnar nerve in the elbow.
I was told that maybe I need to accept that my arms were screwed up, cut my losses and find a new hobby that didn’t use my arms…
But I wasn’t going to accept that.
I began my journey of healing, I would take a year off guitar in order to let my symptoms heal, and it if didn’t work, I would have surgery to decompress the nerve. Over the course of a year I tryied every remedy in the book including acupuncture, kinesiology, Chiropractic work, osteopathic work, drinking special tea’s energy healing and everything in between including almost daily massage. I felt great after all of the treatments but at the end of the day I still had the deep throb and nerve pain from my finger tips to my shoulder and even eyebrow on a bad day.
Eventually I had the operation to decompress my nerve because nothing else worked. I had to take 6 weeks off wrapped up in bandages and then had to relearn to use my arm. While this seemed to fix the cubital tunnel syndrome, I then noticed that I ended up getting tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome in my other arm because I had to compensate and use it for everything else.
I was a year down the track and had had surgery but all it had achieved was moving the pain to a new area. Then when I eventually recovered enough to use both hands again, My elbow was healed but I still had ongoing tendonitis in my forearms and now carpal tunnel in both wrists. The pain wasn’t as bad, but everything from typing, to using my phone, driving, working at the supermarket brought me pain. I just accepted that I would be in pain and got on with life.
Then, two things happened that would trigger a life changing series of events.
A friend of mine bought a jetski and invited me over to ride it. I went on the back and held on and we had a great time. Then after about 20 minutes he asked if I wanted to drive. I hesitated at first because I knew it would hurt my arm. then I thought stuff it my hand is going to hurt anyway so I mayaswell have fun here and now. 90 minutes later after some heavy duty jetski riding my hand was feeling great and I had been pain free the whole time. I was so excited that I rushed home and played guitar but within 30 seconds I was in excruciating pain. I could do things like lifting weights and riding jet skis with no pain, but I couldn’t do anything with fine finger movements…something was up.
Then my grandfather had his hip replaced and the very next day was walking. I couldn’t believe it. How could this 65 year old man have hip surgery and walk the next day and young healthy me at the ripe old age of 21 be struggling with an injury 18 months later.
In frustration I googled “how to cure RSI” and that’s when my world changed.
I discovered a blog post (you can read it yourself here) by a girl named Rachael. She had been plagued by pain for a decade and after reading a book about psychosomatic pain (pain that occurs in a genuine injury once in life but is then recreated by the brain so that your pain feels as real as day but there isn’t actually anything wrong with you) was able to cure herself. I went to the website of books author and it was littered with testimonials of people with similar stories to me where their life had been taken over by pain that only prevented them from doing certain things.
I read the book and three hours later my RSI was gone.
I couldn’t believe it.
I could have my life back.
Now this might sound like absolute nonsense to you but let me go into details bout the psychosomatic pain.
Basically I had a really bad breakup a few months before the pain started and I wasn’t in a good way. I would sit and play guitar for hours just stewing on the whole thing and replaying it over and over in my head. Then I had a legitimate injury by overdoing it at the gig. Then my subconcious brain took the memory of the physical pain that I felt and conditioned me to feel it every time I played guitar as a way of trying to get me to avoid thinking about the situation. Eventually I wouldn’t stew or ruminate when I played, but the pain remained, and it was real pain that would wake me up at night and be with me every waking moment. It might sound farfetched, but you’ve probably heard stories of amputee military veterans waking up feeling pain where their limb used to be, my brain was doing the same thing.
After reading this book and doing a quick mental routine I provided, the RSI vanished instantly and I didn’t have any more carpal tunnel or cubital tunnel issues. I did however then notice that I was carrying so much tension in everything that I did and this was what was causing my tendonitis, neck pain and back pain which I didn’t even realise I was having because I was so focused on my arms and hands.
Basically I was so tense (again as a fallout from the breakup and having to deal with really bad customers at my supermarket job) that I was almost always squeezing my muscles without realising. This is basically like trying to drive your car with the foot on the break and the accelerator at the same time, except that instead of wearing away the rubber, I was grinding away at my tendons. But now that I was aware of how tense I was I could actually address it.
I got help managing my stress and the tension around my body, and how hard I was squeezing when I was playing guitar and within a few weeks my arms were back to 100% I also better managed my posture and the way I held the guitar and then my neck and back pain disappeared too.
I was a new person.
11 years ago I couldn’t go 30 seconds without being in extreme pain and was told by doctors to give up playing guitar.
10 years ago I had an operation to decompress my nerve and had to relearn how to use my hand post surgery which I now believe I didn’t need to have.
9 years ago I read a book on psychosomatic pain which helped me cure my RSI and opened the door to allow me to address all the extra tension I was carrying in my day to day life.
Since then I’ve founded Melbourne Guitar Academy (which has grown to 6 teachers and over 200 students) completed two national and two international’s tours with my band, released 5 CD’s, built an online learning platform with over 30 courses, and written over 10 books on guitar, all because I refused to quit and stayed determined to recover from my injury.
If I can share my story and help one more person overcome the pain they feel when playing guitar then I will be happy. The possibility of giving people a second chance so that they aren’t forced to quit and give up on their dreams of playing guitar far outweighs any ridicule I receive or any perceptions of me being some crazy guy who thinks pain is all in your head.
How To Fix RSI and Chronic Pain
So not everyone who experiences pain when playing guitar is going to have psychosomatic pain like I did. Most of you will likely have various posture and tension issues which have built up over time and are now unbearable.
The first thing you need to do is seek advice from your doctor on what the actual problem is. They will probably advise you to take it easy or rest it for a period of time and then give you some pain killers but won’t actually do anything to address the problem.
My recommendation is that you do the following:
- Adopt the classical position for playing guitar and/or have your guitar on a 45 degree angle when you’re standing up.
- Buy yourself a good chair, a padded guitar strap and a footstool to facilitate good posture when practicing.
- Adjust your regular standing and sitting posture so that you are standing tall with your shoulders back.
- Consider adjusting your desk and computer monitor height as your workspace might be the true cause of your RSI
- Have a daily stretch routine with special exercises for your neck, shoulders, arms, hands and back
- Use resistance bands to build up some functional strength in your arms and shoulders.
- Keep active and do exercise several times a week.
- If you’re a stress head some form of meditation may be helpful.
- If you have Cubital Tunnel or Carpal Tunnel consider wearing an arm or hand brace that will stop you bending and compressing the nerve over night when it should be straightened out so it can get some respite.
Your body isn’t meant to feel pain. Pain is an indication that something is wrong. If you’re feeling pain it’s most likely because your body is being kept in an unnatural position for hours on end repeating the same activity over and over (for weeks, months, years or . Fix the environment your in first, then start working on your body.
Something as simple as adjusting your desk height at work will do wonders for your pain and posture. If your body is out of alignment by 2% for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, compounded over several years, you can see how this quickly adds up to developing an imbalance which cause cause extra tension, bad posture and pain.
What If I Think I Have Psychosomatic Pain
As said before this kind of pain only effects a small number of people and most of you can gloss over this section here.
Generally the people who suffer from psychosomatic pain have had a traumatic event occur earlier in life, then have a genuine injury or occurrence of pain, and their subconscious mind hijacks their brain by making them feel pain continues in an effort to keep them focused their pain and away from their traumatic event.
If your pain
- only occurs in specific circumstances and not others which might use the same body part
- sometimes randomly jumps to the wrong side of the body
- you can predict that certain things will cause pain
- you’re always worried about or obsessing over your chronic pain.
- doctors can’t figure out anything wrong with you and scans and X-rays reveal nothing, yet you pain is real to you
- It’s been months or years since the injury should have healed
If any of those sound like you then I would advise that you read the original article about how to heal RSI that I found over a decade ago. The next step would be to read one of Dr John Sarno books. I recommended reading ‘Healing Back Pain’ first and just substituting the word ‘back pain’ for whatever specific injury you have like RSI, tendonitis, carpal tunnel etc. Then do the mental routine he gives you in the book.
When I did the mental routine for the first time I felt my pain move from my left wrist to my right wrist to my right elbow and then to my left elbow, then it jumped down to the nerve in my foot I had hurt a few years earlier jumping off a stage, and then to my right knee which I had injured playing football. This all happened in the space of 5 minutes, my subconscious brain was going into panic mode. It had realised it had been discovered and was desperately trying to hijack my conscious mind by overwhelming me with pain…just like the book said it would. I did the routine a second time and my pain literally just disappeared. That was it. Gone. 3 years of pain, frustration and compromising how I lived my life cured after listening to an audiobook.
Dr Sarno has another book called ‘The Mind Body Prescription’ which he wrote after Healing Back Pain. This book was released several years later after he did more research into psychsomatic pain and discovered a number of chronic pain conditions which are all manifestations of the same subconscious mind trying to hijack your conscious mind and keep your attention away from whatever troubles you have. It’s much more long winded as it goes into details bout every one of the 100+ conditions however you can skip to the ones about RSI, Carpul Tunnel, Tendonitis etc and then do an upgraded mental routine which builds upon the one in Healing Back Pain.
Again, this all sounds crazy and I am cringing as I type this, but every single thing he talks about in his book was dead accurate and I was able to cure myself.
Unfortunately Dr Sarno passed away in 2017 and his practice and website have since been shut down, but you can read many stories and thank you from people who have cured themselves after reading his book here
If you’ve been in chronic pain for months, years or even decades, what have you got to lose by spending $30 on a book and a few hours reading it? If I didn’t I’d still be battling on in pain.
How I Can Help With Your Pain
While I’m not a doctor or a medical expert in any field. I am an expert guitar teacher and professional guitarist who has built relationships with many other professionals and field experts as I subjected myself to every treatment under the sun when trying to heal my injury.
I can help you in the following ways:
- assessing and fixing your posture
- assessing and fixing the amount of tension you are using when you play guitar
- assessing and fixing environmental factors at your work or home that may be contributing to pain.
- specific stretches that will help you relax the areas of your body related to guitar playing.
- specific exercises that will help strengthen and condition relevant muscles used for guitar playing.
- guiding you through Dr Sarno’s mental routine if you believe your pain is psychosomatic in nature.
My Recommendation To You
Your first point of contact should be a medical professional who will advise you on the nature of your injury and what your options are. If your pain persists beyond the recovery period they set for you I would recommended implementing all of the steps I outlines in the “How To Fix RSI & Chronic Pain” section of this article above. Changing your environment should have a big impact on your tension and reduce the pain but cutting out what is causing it.
If you would like help improving your posture, technique or need a stretch or exercise routine, book in a session with me and I can hep you fix all the problems directly related to your guitar playing.
If you believe your pain is psychosomatic in nature, I advise that you read the original blog post I found and then read through Healing Back Pain. If you are one of the rare people suffering from the conditions he outlines you will hopefully be fixed instantly from reading the book. If you’re finding you want to believe but have a healthy bit of skepticism holding you back then I invite you to book a session with me and we can go deeper into what may be causing it as well as go through the mental routine together.
The human body has evolved over thousands of years to heal rapidly. Short of severe structural trauma and invasive injuries almost everything should heal back to 100% with time. If you’ve been stuck with pain for weeks, months, years or decades beyond what would be a reasonable recovery time then something is out of balance and needs to be fixed. Unfortunately most medical experts can’t do anything for you beyond rest and medication and do little to treat the actual cause of pain.
Don’t battle on unnecessarily with pain, and don’t give up. Try implementing the steps I’ve outlined above, and if you need help, book in a session with me.