Guitarist and Overuse Injuries

Q: My son is 14 years old and has been playing guitar since he was 4 yrs old.  He has recently begun working on his speed and playing complicated pieces such as Guns & Roses guitar solos, putting more stress on the left hand/wrist/forearm than normal.  He is now experiencing a combination of an ache & stabbing pain in the left wrist under along the pinky side of the wrist.  The pain is after he plays, and is painful to apply any pressure on the hand.  it extends to about an inch up into the hand (pinky side) and about an inch up the forearm.  We have been soaking and he has cut down on his playing extensively over the past couple of days.  He is also extremely upset over this as he wants a career in guitar/music and this is his main focus.  What kind of treatment/therapy or rest would you recommend?  Thank you in advance for your time.  Your piece on Cubital Tunnel Syndrome was very interesting and helpful

Answer:

Your son may be experiencing an overuse injury of his muscles and tendons due to the more challenging pieces he's been playing lately.  The area you're speaking about that is hurting him has many tendon attachments and muscle insertions.  These muscles and tendons work hard when performing faster moving solos, especially involving reaching with the pinky finger to higher frets. There's a few things you can do at home to try and remedy this before you seek the help of a professional:
1) You can first easily evaluate your sons muscles by putting some deep pressure starting in the hand and working your way up the forearm.  Find out which muscles are sore to the touch.  Also check the biceps and triceps in the arm, and finally, make sure to see if his shoulder and neck muscles are sore to the touch.  Many times, even though the hand may be the painful area, these problems can travel all the way up to the neck.

2) Once you've found where the sore muscles are, begin a daily massage routine of "stripping" the muscles upwards towards the heart.  You may want to do this a couple of times a day.  After that, massage across the muscle fibers as well.  This will help push the swelling out of the area and release tension in the forearm.

3) Consider giving your child fish oils - you can find these in your local health food store in capsule form.  They are antiinflammatory in nature, and tremendously beneficial to the body, and will help the healing process.  Also, if you son isn't taking general multivitamins and minerals, add those as well. DO NOT give your child antiinflammatories to remedy the pain and swelling. These will prevent healing and will simply mask the problem, making him more prone to serious injury if he plays while taking the drugs.

4) Have your son drink at least six glasses of pure, spring water per day.  (not from the tap). Muscles are about 70% water and dehydration will make him more prone to these types of injuries.

5) Avoid all soft drinks and caffeinated products. Increase green leafy vegetables and more natural whole foods to enhance his nutrition to allow his body to overcome the problem.

6) If you find that after a week of doing this there is no change in your son's condition, and especially if it seems worse, then visit a chiropractor on my referral board located on mywww.musicianshealth.com site.  Click on the Chiropractic Performing Arts Network page. If the problem persists, there may be neurological involvement that would need to be evaluated by a chiropractor who can restore the function to the nervous system and to the hand.

7) Finally, many of these problems are the result of poor posture, playing styles, technique, and other physical factors such as poor diet and nutrition.  To really prevent this in the future, you have to evaluate that overall state of your son's health and find where improvements can be made.  Make sure a good guitar instructor helps him improve technique and posture while playing.  I would refer you to another article I've written "What Makes Musicians Prone to Repetitive Injuries" that you can find at this link:  Musician's Health .  It will give you a new perspective at injury prevention.