a person holding their wrist
If you experience pain after playing guitar, you should evaluate your technique.

Are you playing fingerstyle guitar and worried about carpal tunnel? Let's discuss tips and strategies for preventing carpal tunnel when practicing guitar. 

If you are practicing guitar for long periods of time, it's important to watch out for repetitive strain injury. Carpal tunnel is of the most common repetitive strain injuries you can get while practicing fingerstyle guitar.

Carpal tunnel is a condition that occurs when the median nerve in your wrist becomes compressed. It can cause pain, numbness, and tingling in your hand and fingers.

Repetitive strain injuries such as carpal tunnel can affect not only the fingers but also other parts such as the wrist, shoulder and back. Simple things like warming up before playing and practicing good posture can go a long way in preventing injuries.

How Can I Play Fingerstyle Guitar Without Injury?

Here are some strategies to help prevent injury after fingerstyle guitar practice.

  • Warm up: Make stretching a part of your practice routine, both before and after playing. Avoid practicing in a cold room, especially during winter.
  • Use proper technique: Make sure that you maintain good posture and instrument placement. Take lessons and watch instructional videos to evaluate and improve your technique.
  • Pace yourself: Take breaks and don't overdo it. Change to a different activity if you are fatigued.
  • Consult a specialist: If you experience pain or discomfort, consult a medical professional such as a physiotherapist or massage therapist for evaluation.

1. Choose A Good Warm Up Exercise for Fingerstyle Guitar

Before you start playing your guitar, it is essential to warm up your fingers and hands to prevent injury. Here are some warm-up exercises that you can do:

  • Single-String Exercises: Play through a scale slowly, alternating between fingers. This will help you warm up each finger and focus on proper positioning.
  • Play Very Slowly: Play through your songs very slowly, making each finger movement slow and deliberate. This will help you warm up your fingers and also improve your finger coordination.
Warm up before playing guitar
Playing scales slowly is a great way to warm up before tackling more complicated fingerstyle guitar songs.

Remember to take your time and not rush through these exercises. Start slowly and gradually increase your speed as your fingers warm up. By taking a few minutes to warm up, you can prevent injury and also improve your playing.

2. Use Proper Technique to Avoid Playing Injuries

Playing guitar with proper technique is essential to prevent injuries. Here are some tips to maintain good technique:

  • Maintain good posture while playing. Sit up straight and keep your shoulders relaxed.
  • Keep your wrist straight and avoid bending it too much. This can cause strain on your tendons and muscles.
  • Use as little pressure as possible and aim for a light touch.
  • Consider using a strap or a footstool to correctly position the instrument.

Correct Posture and Ergonomics for Fingerstyle Guitar

Proper posture and ergonomics are essential for preventing fingerstyle guitar injuries. Here are some tips to help you maintain good posture and ergonomics:

  • Sit down on a chair with a flat seat and keep your back straight.
  • Place your feet flat on the ground and keep your knees at a 90-degree angle.
  • Keep your shoulders relaxed and avoid hunching over the guitar.
  • Use a guitar strap to support the weight of the guitar and reduce strain on your back and shoulders.
An old man holding a guitar
Correct posture and ergonomics are the best way to prevent injury.

Additionally, consider the following points:

  • Adjust the height of your chair so that your back remains straight
  • Take breaks every 20-30 minutes to stretch and rest your hands and arms.

3. Perform Stretching Exercises

Stretching exercises can help prevent injuries and improve flexibility in your fingers and hands. Here are some effective stretching exercises for fingerstyle guitar players:

  • Finger Stretches: Hold your left hand in front of you, palm facing away. Use your right hand to gently pull the fingers back towards your wrist, holding the stretch for 10-15 seconds. Repeat with your right hand.wrist stretch to prevent injury
  • Wrist Stretches: Hold your left arm out in front of you with your palm facing down. Use your right hand to gently pull your knuckles back towards your wrist, feeling the stretch in your wrist. Hold for 10-15 seconds and repeat with your right arm.wrist stretch to prevent fingerstyle injury
  • Forearm Stretches: Place both your hands together in front of your chest. Bring both hands down towards your belly button, holding them together at all times. Hold the stretch for 5-10 seconds.forearm stretch to prevent injury from playing guitar

It's important to stretch slowly and gently, without forcing your fingers or hands into uncomfortable positions. 

When To Seek Professional Advice for a Fingerstyle Guitar Injury

If you are experiencing pain or have suffered an injury while playing fingerstyle guitar, you may need to seek professional medical help. Some injuries, such as Grade I level injuries, may go away once you correct the bad habits that caused them in the first place.

For more serious injuries, such as if pain persists while you play, a medical professional can diagnose the extent of your injury and provide you with the necessary treatment and rehabilitation plan.

Avoiding Overuse Playing Injuries (OPIs)

Fortunately, there are many steps that you can take to reduce your risk of injury. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced guitarist, it is important to prevent injuries so that you can continue to enjoy playing the guitar for years to come.

What Injuries Can You Get from Playing Guitar?

Besides carpal tunnel, here are some of the most common OPIs (Overuse Playing Injuries) that fingerstyle guitarists may experience:

  • Tendinitis: This is a condition that occurs when the tendons in your hand or wrist become inflamed. It can cause pain, stiffness, and weakness in the affected area.
  • Focal Dystonia: This is a neurological condition that causes involuntary muscle contractions. This can be specific to the task at hand, meaning it only appears when you perform a certain action.
  • De Quervain's tenosynovitis: This is a condition that occurs when the tendons in your wrist become inflamed. It can cause pain and swelling in your wrist and thumb.
  • Golfer's elbow: This is a condition that occurs when the tendons in your elbow become inflamed. It can cause pain and weakness in your forearm and wrist.

How To Know If Your Guitar Injury is Serious

The severity of these injuries can be broken down into five different levels, or grades:

  1. In Level I, pain occurs after you play fingerstyle guitar, and disappears when you are playing.
  2. In Level II, the pain occurs while you are playing, but you don't have to change how you play.
  3. In Level III, the pain occurs while you are playing, and you must change how you play in order to continue.
  4. In Level IV, the pain occurs as soon as you start playing, and you cannot continue to play.
  5. In Level V, pain is continuous, and playing guitar becomes impossible.

As you see, overuse playing injuries can develop gradually over time, rather than as a result of a single incident. This means that it's important to take steps to avoid injury, rather than waiting until the pain or discomfort becomes overwhelming.

To focus on proper technique, the best thing you can do is learn how through a program such as Play Fingerstyle Guitar Now!

Recovery After a Severe Fingerstyle Guitar Injury

A medical professional can provide you with a plan, including rehabilitation exercises, if you have a severe fingerstyle guitar injury. A treatment plan can include exercises to help to strengthen the muscles and tendons that have been strained or injured. You may be required to attend physical therapy sessions for a period of time.

A person treating a shoulder
Treatment for a Fingerstyle Guitar injury can include physical therapy sessions.

It is important to note that recovery time varies depending on the extent of the injury. Be patient and follow your rehabilitation plan to ensure a successful recovery.

What To Do if Pain Persists While You Play Fingerstyle Guitar

When in doubt, always consult with a health care professional. By taking prompt action, focusing on proper posture and getting the correct diagnosis, you can continue to play fingerstyle guitar for years to come.

It's important to evaluate your technique regularly and make adjustments as needed. Consider taking lessons or watching instructional videos, such as the online course Play Fingerstyle Guitar Now! to improve your technique and prevent injuries.