I’ve been playing guitar for over 25 years. Last year, I found out that I have osteoarthritis in the finger joints of my left (fretting) hand. I’m writing about it to help other guitarists out there who are struggling with the same problem and are having trouble figuring out what’s wrong (as I was) & how to live with it.
Last January, I started out practicing guitar full throttle. I set goals to learn a bunch of new fingerstyle tunes and to start arranging & writing. I originally started this blog as a way to share my progress & tunes. But a few months into the new regimen, the finger joints on my left hand (fretting hand) stopped cooperating. They’d stiffen up, especially upon waking in the morning. Playing guitar only made the problem worse. I stopped playing for a while, thinking that I’d simply rushed into practicing too much and needed to back off & ease into it. But the symptoms persisted. As a guitarist, the first things you think about are carpal tunnel syndrome & tendonitis, but the symptoms didn’t match. I scoured the Web and even researched warm-up hand stretches, hoping to find that my normal routine was incorrect or inadequate. Nothing.
So I finally ended up at my doctor’s office about it, and she knew it was osteoarthritis as soon as I described the symptoms:
- stiff finger joints in the morning (cant make a fist)
- joints loosen up in hot water (like in the shower)
- mild to moderate pain when playing guitar, or doing other activities with my hands (typing, etc)
I couldn’t believe it! I mean, I’m not even 40 yet! Where’s the warranty? She explained that osteoarthritis, unlike other forms of arthritis, is an overuse injury. Basically, I’ve worn down the cartilage between those joints from shredding over the years. Her solution: drugs. First Advil, then prescription meds when Advil no longer does the trick.
I will tell you that Advil does indeed help, especially for gigs & long practices. But one of my bandmates recommended a DVD called Healthy Hands, Wrists, & Forearms which has really helped me out. It’s basically a series of self-massage & strengthening exercises that helps your hands prepare for and recover from all the wear & tear you put on them. I highly recommend it. My joint stiffness is still there, and occasionally I have some pain…but it no longer interferes with my guitar playing.
Here’s the YouTube video that convinced me to try it. Maybe it’ll work for you. In retrospect, I wish I’d found this video before I started having problems. But that’s hindsight for ya.