Avoiding and Healing the
Mechanical Problems of Guitar Players
guitar can be painful, particularly if you stay at it for hours at a
time. To begin with, we must use our bodies in an asymmetrical way to
hold the guitar, resulting in muscle imbalances. In addition, we cave in
the front of our bodies as we wrap around the instrument and we usually
distort our necks and compress our vertebra as well. We risk injury from
repetitive motion and we tend to build tension in our necks, arms and
hands with extended practice. Even the most body-conscious players can
fall victim to pain and injury at times. With some information and a few exercises,
these problems can be avoided or solved.
The following stretches,
exercises and therapies are very powerful and may be all you need to
quickly recover from your pain. Please keep in mind, however, that regardless
of the amount of therapy
you receive or the number of
stretches you perform, you will continue to experience pain if
you continue to injure yourself while playing guitar or in your
daily life. If
you are experiencing pain related to guitar
playing, It is imperative that you learn to hold the guitar correctly and use your body in a balanced manner.
By seeing you
in person or on webcam,
I am able to instruct you in these areas, to respond to questions about
your symptoms and to discuss an approach to healing your pain. Please consider
a telephone consultation or a lesson using Skype (webcam).
A pain-free consultation may take as little as 15 minutes or could
last as long as an hour - you choose the time frame.
me to discuss the options. (If a webcam consultion is not an
option for you, I can still help you, if you are able to send me
pictures of yourself playing your guitar. )
of my personal experience in this area, I have some understanding of the
many levels of life that can be affected by pain that is related to
guitar practice and performance. In order to help guitar players through
I offer substantial discounts for
consultations related to pain relief.
Get back to playing and feel good
doing it with
in person or with a
live video lesson using Skype!
Purchase a 30-minute consultation
and receive 20 extra
(In order to receive your discount,
either write a note "pain relief" on the
payment page or
critical to warm up each time you play. Warming up will not only help
you avoid pain and injury, it will also prepare your mind for a
productive practice session. Start each session with the
stretches that follow. Then, begin your guitar playing with slow and
simple finger exercises, progressing gradually to those that require
more speed and stretching. (See "Practice")
every 20 minutes of guitar playing, take a 2-minute break. Stand up, breathe
deeply, shake out your hands and arms and move your eyes around the room
before you go back to practice.
Every 40 -
45 minutes, take a slightly longer break. Walk around the room, take a
drink of water, stretch your arms and hands, breathe deeply and do some
slow, gentle neck rolls.
(These and the following exercises and postures, plus more, are demonstrated
constructive rest position will allow your body to relax in a natural
position and come into alignment. Because you are not having to support
your body, you can tune in to any place you might feel tension or pain
and release it. Practice it twice a day for maximum
benefits. You may want to use the time you lie in this position to
practice breathwork, visualization or meditation.
your back on the floor with your knees up and feet flat and allow your
lower back to sink into the floor. Place a small book under your head to
allow your neck a natural, healthy curve. Relax in this position for 15
minutes or more.
and hand stretches
players, we are usually more aware of our arms and hands when we play
than we are any other part of our bodies. Use these stretches daily, not
only as a warm-up, but also during and after playing. Don’t stop here,
though. Most pain occurring in the arms and hands actually has its
source higher in the body and need to be
addressed with exercises to stretch and strengthen the neck and torso.
Stretch the fingers out to avoid
tendonitis and the resulting pain.
Before playing and every fifteen or twenty minutes, relax the
flexors by pulling
the fingers of the left hand out to the count ten.
the forearm by extending the arm out straight in front of you with
fingers pointing upward. With the other hand, gently pull the fingers
toward your body and feel the stretch. Next, turn the fingers downward
and use the opposite hand to pull them toward you.
for any tight or painful spots, massage
your left forearm with your right thumb, starting at the elbow and
working all the way to the wrist. Massage your right arm in the same
Neck and upper body
is important to be slow and gentle with stretching. Never force through
pain or make sharp or rapid movements.
stretch the neck, bring your left ear to your shoulder, as you do in the
beginning of a neck roll. Instead of continuing through the roll, stay
with the stretch for a full thirty seconds. Try to create as much space
between the right shoulder and the ear as possible. Really breathe into
keeping the stretch, turn your head toward the floor. Breathe and hold
for thirty seconds. Finally, look toward the sky (or ceiling). Hold and
the stretches on the other side.
open the front of your body and stretch the shoulders, stand in a
doorway, with your left side close to the doorframe and your left foot
forward, as if you were stepping through the opening. Bend your left arm
90 degrees at the elbow so that your fingertips are pointing up (think
of the classic “traffic cop” position), and rest your forearm on the
doorframe. Gently lean in to a slow count of thirty. Relax and breathe.
Be certain to keep your head up and your back straight. Move your forearm
up along the doorframe until you feel a place that is tight in your body
and repeat the 30-second stretch. While you are stretching with your arm
high, you can practice your neck stretches, including the upward and
downward rotation of the head.
the entire process on the on the other side.
Of all the
exercises and stretches that I have used to open my body and overcome
pain, working with the tennis balls has offered the most profound
relief. I have long used the balls to massage my own back and break up
tension, and I include them in the props I make for my workshop/retreat students.
Much as I enjoyed the temporary relief they provided in the past, I only
recently discovered the deeper value of reclining on them for more
extended periods of time. I feel that they are ultimately the solution
for the chronically problematic area in my back. (This area is such a
common source of pain in guitar players that I refer to it as
“the guitar spot”.)
To use the
tennis balls, take two tennis balls and drop them into the toe of a long
sock. (You will be able to use the top of the sock to adjust the
position of the balls during your session.) Place the balls on the
floor. Lie on your back on the floor with the balls on either side of
your spine and about six or eight inches below your shoulders. With a
little experimentation, you will be able to feel the spot that is most
beneficial. Let your body fall heavily into the floor and the tennis
balls. Breathe deeply and focus on relaxing. You can lie in this
position for as long as fifteen minutes for maximum benefit, although
you may need to work up gradually to that amount of time. As in any
exercise or therapy, it is important to tune in to your body and follow
are ready, remove the balls and rest quietly on the floor for several
minutes before rolling up gently. Remain quiet for the time immediately
following your session.
Healthy Body Use While
It is a quite a
challenge to hold a guitar in a healthy way while sitting. Ideally, we
distribute our weight evenly over both seat bones when we sit. This is
difficult to manage, however, while keeping the guitar in a reachable
position! Although some people prefer to use a guitar strap, supporting
the weight of a guitar with your shoulders can cause more pain and
sitting asymmetrically. The ideal solution is to bring the guitar to a
comfortable height by using a prop (apoyo).
You can also use a footstool to bring the guitar to the proper
level, just be sure that you don’t lock into one position and stay
there. Also, if you use a footstool, it’s important to do exercises
that stretch your hip-flexor, in order to avoid back pain.
should be held upright and close to your body.
By bringing the guitar neck (and, consequently, your left arm and hand)
close to your body, you the lower your risk of pain and injury to your
shoulder and back.
Go to “The
a complete written description, or
watch the DVD in “Getting Started” or
Guitar”, where I demonstrate this
common error and solution.
you’re playing, remember to lengthen your spine and to move your body
frequently to avoid energy blocks and tight muscles. Remind yourself to
breathe deeply from your abdomen.
To keep your
arms and hands soft and pain-free (and improve your sound!), visualize
your neck and shoulders filled with a warm, liquid light. Let the light
pour down your arms, through you hands and into your guitar. When you
press on the frets, use only the amount of pressure necessary to produce
a clear sound – no more!
that when you’re reading music you use a music stand and set it at a
comfortable height and distance. You don’t want to have to strain or
contort your body to see the music!
The most common
injuries can often be totally avoided simply by playing a guitar that is
properly set up and is suited to your body type. Be sure that your
guitar isn't too large for you. (I recently acquired a parlor guitar
that I love to play and find more comfortable than any acoustic
guitar that I've owned. I wrote about it - and about playing with small
hands - on this
breathe properly is the foundation for all of the other exercises. It is
also the foundation of health! Conscious breathing from the diaphragm
will nourish, cleanse and alkalize your body, bringing it to a higher
level of health and energy.
progress with your breathwork, your ability to tune in to your body will
become more acute and consistent and your capacity for relaxed
concentration will improve. These are all important skills for life-long
learning on the guitar!
possible, practice breathing while lying on the floor in the
constructive rest position. After you’ve become familiar with proper
breathing techniques, you will be able to practice correctly in a
sitting position, as well.
this technique for general health and well-being, as well as for moving
through physical or emotional pain. It is invaluable in managing
performance anxiety, and is the first step of the visualization
exercises for learning or reviewing material.
by placing one hand on your abdomen and the other hand on your chest.
Take a deep breath low in your body. Fill up your lower body and feel
the expansion. You will be able to tell if you are mistakenly breathing
into your chest, as your upper hand will rise. Mentally send the breath
deep into your body, feeling your lower hand rise with each inhalation.
Take several breaths into your abdomen until you are comfortable with
the technique. Then begin three-part breaths, filling first the belly,
then the ribs and chest. Bring your awareness to your shoulders,
allowing them to sink into the floor, away from your neck. Let your
lower back relax deep into the floor.
your comfort level deepens, begin to slow the breath even more, making
your exhalations longer than your inhalations. After a few minutes,
allow your breath to return to its normal tempo and relax.
slowly come up to a seated position and relax quietly for a moment
before picking up your guitar or progressing to alternate-nostril
technique will create energy for your practice session, while allowing
you to stay calm and focused. It is also excellent before guitar
practice, as it facilitates right and left-brain integration.
by sitting in a comfortable position. Make a gentle fist with your
dominant hand and extend your index and middle fingers, placing them on
the bridge of your nose. Place your thumb on one side of your nose and
your ring finger on the other, creating a tripod. (If you prefer, you
can tuck the index and middle fingers into the palm of your hand.) Close
off each nostril a few times, until you feel comfortable and relaxed
with the sensation and are ready to begin the breathing practice.
by closing off the right nostril and exhaling through the left nostril.
Inhale through the same nostril, and then switch sides by closing off
the left nostril and exhaling through the right. Inhale through the
right nostril and switch sides. Continue closing off alternate sides,
always beginning the new side with the out-breath. Breathe from a
relaxed abdomen and allow each breath to be slow, gentle and calm. Focus
on the sensation of the breath coming in and out of your body and on the
energy moving up your spine. If at any time you feel stress, return to
normal breathing and try again when you have regained your sense of
calm. Continue to practice alternate-nostril breathing for at least two
minutes or until you feel that you have received the benefits you seek.
Sources of Help
A few of
the therapies that I recommend include: the Egoscue Method, Alexander Technique,
Feldenkrais, Reiki, biofeedback, massage (including deep tissue massage,
myofascial release, cranial-sacral work and more); acupuncture and chiropractic.
can find related websites on my
for other resources or information.
To download a video demonstrating the techniques
described in this article, as well as additional exercises, visit
page or the
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