Guitarists often complain about stiff fingers, hands and arms especially after several hours of practice or performing on a regular basis. Having played the instrument for over 35 years now, I’ve taken some daily precautions that have prevented everything from carpal tunnel syndrome to rheumatoid arthritis. While this article is intended for guitar players, anyone who uses the their fingers in a rapid, continuous and otherwise demanding way, whether it be fretting difficult chords or keying in data on a computer or a cash register for eight hours a day. All who use depend on their fingers for a living will benefit from the suggestions listed below.
1.Supplements: I take organic Flax seed oil, EFAs (essential fatty acids) and other supplements to keep my joints supple and pain free. SAMe (s-adenosylmethionine) works wonders for joint fluidity and I really notice the difference when I play guitar after taking it regularly. I can play for hours with out stiffening up or experiencing finger fatigue. Glucosamine sulfate also works wonders to prevent joint rigidity and discomfort. Make sure to do your research prior to taking any of these supplements to see if there are any side effects.
2.Isometric exercise: A massage therapist recommended the following when I told her about joint stiffness in my fingers as a result of prolonged guitar playing and data entry on a computer. Take a rubber band, i.e., the kind that are used to hold broccoli together and can be found at any grocery store. Wrap the rubber band around fingers and thumb of one hand and then try to spread your fingers out as far as they can go, trying to overcome the resistance of the rubber band. Repeat this several times and then switch hands. We rarely use the muscles in our fingers required to spread the rubber band out and this serves to counteract repeated grasping motions needed for guitar playing that can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. I’ve included a photo of this rubber band exercise. Please note the purple color of the finger tips, indicating a high degree of tension which then causes the finger muscles to relax even more when released.
3.Yoga: After hours of playing demanding licks I do a simple yoga exercise to keep my fingers, wrists and forearms supple: Get on your hands and knees, then turn your hands so that all of the fingers are pointing towards your knees. Lean forward gradually and apply pressure on the palms of your hands. Try to flatten them against the floor. This motion will stretch the insides of your wrists if done correctly. Make sure to be careful! Do this exercise in increments as we are not used to stretching the muscles on the insides of our wrists. You may be surprised at just how tight the wrists muscles are when you first try it. Start out with ten seconds and work up to a minute over a period of days. If you feel any pain or other discomfort, lean back on your knees, taking pressure off of your hands and wrists. Rest for a few moments and then try again, using less pressure.
4.Here’s a useful trick I learned from a blues musician: Fill one sink with water as hot as you can tolerate and another sink with cold water. Dip your hands in the hot water and then dip them in the cold water over and over again, ending the soak in the sink with the hot water. The alternating temperatures encourage one’s muscles to relax. Do this before and after you play the guitar.
If you embark on any of the above recommendations, make sure to do them on a regular basis as this will assist in keeping you limber. You will find your guitar playing and other activities involving your hands and fingers to be nearly effortless and totally pain free, making everything to fretting your favorite chords to writing a resume on your computer a joy.