Right ARM position...hurts

Ergonomics and Posture for Classical Guitarists, Aches and Pains, Injuries, etc...

Right ARM position...hurts

Postby Kris » Tue May 05, 2009 8:56 pm

Time to ask. I've been postponing it for a while, but I do hope someone can suggest something.

My problem is with my right arm's position over the guitar. The problem I have is that the edge of the bout of the guitar is cutting into my arm, causing quite some discomfort. It feels like it is not only cutting off circulation, but it is also pressing against the tendons, restricting the movement of the fingers. When I play the a finger, for example, my whole arm actually lifts a bit! I don't know if my position is abnormal, but because I angle up the neck quite a bit (which I feel is very comfy for the left arm and hand), I end with the arm making contact with the bout of the guitar quite close to the wrist, instead of the "meaty" part right below the elbow. What I end up doing is lifting my arm off the guitar slightly, kind of hovering it a bit, but that causes tension in the whole arm instead.

I have tried with a cut off athletics sock, and it helps a bit, but not quite enough. Maybe a stiffer material? I'm also considering one of those ugly "arm rests" (?), but have not been able to find any here.

Does it make sense to sacrifice the neck angle so that I can support my arm with the meaty part of the arm? Any suggestions?

A picture is worth a thousand words, so I took some pictures. I alternate between an Ergoplay and a footstool. A third picture shows it from another perspective.

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Re: Right ARM position...hurts

Postby barone.brian » Tue May 05, 2009 9:33 pm

Kris,

These things are always so difficult to talk about just based on pictures and words 1) because proper position is really about putting yourself at the best advantage for ideal movement and without being able to actually see the movement happen, it's really hard to know whether our position is working well; 2) because positioning is (or at least should be) a really dynamic process, so it's always hard to know whether the positions our bodies start and end playing in are the ones that are operative for most of our playing/practicing; and 2) because every player and every guitar is differently built, so of course what works for one player pretty much never works exactly the same way for another (relatedly, I know an absolutely phenomenal guitarist who, because of an injury, plays left-handed and addresses his plucking arm to the strings by reaching around the body in such a way that his arm crosses the bridge at almost a 90 degree angle! Yikes! It 100% works for him, but I'd never even try it for fear of my arm falling off my body!)

That said, here are a few things that jumped to my mind: First, it seems that you'll really want to continue to experiment with some sort of arm sock/covering. I think, and I think a majority of guitar players agree, that it's a really bad idea to place the bare arm on the guitar. Not only does it make string crossing and switches and gradations between rest- and free-stroke very difficult, but it certainly causes the compression of the anatomical structures that you describe. The instructor in a course I've been taking in anatomy and physiology for musicians this semester really strongly urges all instrumentalists to do whatever they need to in order to alleviate static pressure like that on tissues. On the other hand, however, most players I know seem to feel comfortable will only a shirt sleeve between their arms and their guitars, so the fact that you still feel uncomfortable even with an arm sock (the solution I use personally in short-sleeve weather) would suggest that there are other issues involved. I know from my own playing that when the guitar is poorly balanced on my legs and chest I often catch myself applying far too much pressure with the right arm to hold it stable, which seems like a possible explanation for your situation as well. When I notice this I try to re-balance the instrument by changing the various angles it makes with my legs and torso, as well as the positioning of my legs. Of course, the weight of the right arm is needed to completely stabilize the guitar (at least when using only a footstool -- I have no experience with supports or anything, so perhaps others can lend insight), so when I'm doing this whole re-balancing procedure I concentrate especially on making sure that the shoulder and elbow are relaxed and that gravity and the mass of my arm are doing the work and not my muscles.

Finally, and this is all supposition since the pictures can't show you actually playing, I wonder if bringing out a bit more arm over the soundboard and standing your fingers up a little taller might not also help. It looks in the last picture like your finger pluck the strings from slightly 'beneath' them and then pluck them upwards. If this is the case I can see how your forearm might press slightly (or maybe even more than slightly) against the corner of the guitar in order to help your fingers to gain the leverage needed to counter gravity and the tension in the strings. Does your hand/arm move up and away from the soundboard as you pluck? Do you find that your middle and tip joints bend significantly when you pluck? If either or both of these are true, this might be what's going on. Standing your fingers up taller and bringing more arm out might help your knuckle joints to contribute their strength to the stroke and to keep your arm from pressing down as a counterbalance to the stroke.

Hope this is helpful, or at least thought-provoking in a way that helps your find the solution that's right for you. Again, just taking some guesses based on my own experiences with similar challenges. Let us know how it goes!
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Re: Right ARM position...hurts

Postby Intune » Tue May 05, 2009 9:44 pm

Maybe an armrest might help your problem, since they're designed to present a rounder edge to your forearm that's less likely to dig in than the sharp edges on some guitars. Armrests can be either temporary (held on by suction cups) or permanently glued on. A forum search here for "armrests" will turn up a number of postings on this topic, including suggestions on which brands to look for. You might find them well worth looking into. Good luck
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Re: Right ARM position...hurts

Postby Mrs Segovia » Tue May 05, 2009 10:17 pm

the right arm is supposed to rest gently on the guitar it seems to me as you are resting your whole weight on your hand which could be causing your issues playing with any tension in your body is bound to cause injury , my suggestion to you is play in front of a full length mirrow , that way you can adjust your position and posture when needed and so you can see your mistakes .
Lean your body forward slightly to support the guitar against your chest, for the poetry of the music should resound in your heart -Andres Segovia
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Re: Right ARM position...hurts

Postby Kris » Tue May 05, 2009 10:24 pm

Brian, thank you so much for your extensive reply. There's so much food for thought there that I need to digest it a bit and get back with a proper response :)

Intune, yes I've seen those armrests being discussed around here. Haven't been able to find any around here though.

Mrs Segovia, yes I do rest the whole weight of the arm. If I have to keep my arm "lifted" I get tension in the arm and shoulder. I'm not pressing down, just laying the arm on the guitar, kind of like you lay it on your chair's armrest.
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Re: Right ARM position...hurts

Postby JQ. » Tue May 05, 2009 10:59 pm

Kris wrote:I have tried with a cut off athletics sock, and it helps a bit, but not quite enough. Maybe a stiffer material? I'm also considering one of those ugly "arm rests" (?), but have not been able to find any here.

Stuff some more padding in the sock at the spot where your arm rests on the guitar?

I made a ghetto arm rest by folding up some packing material, covered it with chamois, and tied the ends to make it "cup" slightly. It works just fine, but
you want to talk about ugly... :lol:
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Re: Right ARM position...hurts

Postby GuitaristOrdinate » Tue May 05, 2009 11:00 pm

I found that using a Oasis Guitar Sleeve ( the padded one ) helps me somewhat . I even wear it under my long sleeve shirts now since it's so comfortable . Undoubtedly you could make your own from a sock or old shirt sleeve and just sew a padded area on it but I'm a little lazy when it comes to sewing . This is just something for you to think about .

http://www.oasishumidifiers.com/sleeves.html

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Re: Right ARM position...hurts

Postby choctawchas » Wed May 06, 2009 10:44 am

:wink:
Last edited by choctawchas on Wed Oct 14, 2009 6:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Right ARM position...hurts

Postby Intune » Wed May 06, 2009 2:13 pm

Kris wrote:
"Intune, yes I've seen those armrests being discussed around here. Haven't been able to find any around here though."


Kris, the armrest that seems the most intriguing is the Plenosom, a "temporary" device that's held on by suction cups. It is used and endorsed by the famous Brazilian guitarist Paulo Bellinati (check out the "accessories" section of his website to read how the Plenosom helped ease the pain he was feeling in his right forearm from his guitar's sharp edge) and is made by Antonio Tessarin, one of Brazil's best luthiers. They're easy to find on the internet (on your side of the Atlantic, dealers carry them in France, Germany and Switzerland), and I'd bet that without too much trouble you could arrange to have one shipped to you in Spain. A Plenosom armrest, plus a cushioning sock in addition to that, would have your forearm as well protected as it could be.
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Re: Right ARM position...hurts

Postby hesson11 » Wed May 06, 2009 6:51 pm

Just a wild stab, but have you ever tried reducing the angle of the guitar a tad (i.e., lowering the nut, relative to your body) and repositioning your arm lower down on the lower bout? It might hit your arm in a better place. As I said, just a wild stab.

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Re: Right ARM position...hurts

Postby Kris » Wed May 06, 2009 7:52 pm

Phew! So much to consider! Thanks all for helping out with your posts. What is good to know is that this is not a unique problem to me, or there wouldn't be arm rests, etc. on the market. Feels better not to be alone :)

Let me start with Brian's comments. Brian says that one must be careful to not apply too much pressure with the arm. Mrs. Segovia said the same, i.e. that I seem to put the whole weight of the arm on the guitar. This is true, I do let the arm rest fully against the guitar. I find that if I keep it lifted I tense up, especially my right shoulder and back. I am really trying to minimize tension, and maybe I am taking it too far? Is it the common practice to not let it rest fully against the guitar?

The other point Brian makes is that I could try making contact further up the arm, on the meatier part below the elbow. I have tried several ways of doing this, and not always specifically because of this problem. This is what I've tried and the results I've had:

1) I keep the guitar positioned as it is now (i.e. as the pictures above show) but simply move my arm down a bit. Problem I have with this is that I then need to bend the wrist in order to have a "home base" of ima on 3-2-1, which is a no-no according to my teacher (I know what your thinking, please see the end of the post :) ).

2) Again, keep position as is now but move my arm more towards the end of the guitar, past the bridge. This gives me a contact point in a more comfortable place on the arm and I don't need to bend the wrist. Two problems though: I need to slouch in order to get the arm there and my thumb both looses its freedom of movement (because of the angle between the arm and strings) and the thumb's natural resting place is above the 6th string.

3) In order to minimize the slouching problem from point 2 above, I can angle the neck down, to be more parallel to the floor. Problem is of course that now my left arm is uncomfortable, and fingering becomes more difficult. For instance, keeping the palm parallel to the strings (or fingers perpendicular to the strings) necessitates quite the sideways bend of the wrist. I find the neck angle I have now to be very comfortable.

4) Have my lower arm surgically shortened. Problem: it would look funny I think :)

On Brian's question as to whether I pluck from beneath, I just checked and I don't think I do. It takes a while for me to get in position, and with the camera on a tripod and timer release I don't have time to get in the exact position. It looks like I do from the picture, but I try to press the string down diagonally towards the soundboard before releasing. I'd like to have my fingers straighter/taller, but I run into the bent wrist problem.

Seeing the Oasis sleeve and home made rest has given me some ideas. I just tried with the sock and some rather thick leather (from a long sleeved gardening glove) and it was a huge difference! I will continue to experiment with this as well.

Intune, I checked out the Plenosom rest. It seems designed to go over the wrong part of the bout. But I am going to call my luthier (Antonio Aparicio) and see if he's got something.

And yes, I do have a teacher. Why don't I just talk to him? Well I have and he's had a suggestions. The option 1 above. His solution to the bent wrist is that I should push my elbow forward. But I can't keep it that way without conscious effort and some tension. As soon as I stop concentrating on keeping the elbow forward it goes back to its natural resting place and there goes the bent wrist again. So, I'm looking for more advice.

Thanks again, and sorry for the super long post!
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Re: Right ARM position...hurts

Postby Intune » Fri May 08, 2009 2:30 pm

Kris wrote:
"Intune, I checked out the Plenosom rest. It seems designed to go over the wrong part of the bout. But I am going to call my luthier (Antonio Aparicio) and see if he's got something."



Kris, if you ever decide to try an armrest and Antonio Aparicio can't help you out, you might want to explore if Brazilian luthier Antonio Tessarin, who makes the Plenosom, might be willing to build you a custom armrest that would fit exactly where you want it on your guitar. You would probably need to send him a tracing of the shape you want, or maybe you could send him the photos you've included here of your playing position and he could see for himself where an armrest should go and how it should be shaped. At any rate, Tessarin can be contacted by email at the address on his website, and I know from experience that he responds to messages in English. Might be woth a shot if nothing else you try solves your forearm problem.
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Re: Right ARM position...hurts

Postby Aurore » Fri May 08, 2009 3:23 pm

Kris

Have you thought of leaning ever slightly forward? I found that it decreases the weight of upper body (right shoulder and arm) at the contact point of Right Arm. Might move your left foot forward a bit too to make this comfortable.

I struggled because I have wide shoulders/long arms. I solved long standing LH problems and Right Arm position by moving my sound hole to my right slightly; everything became easier to play instantly.

Keep trying different things; adjust the guitar to your body.
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Re: Right ARM position...hurts

Postby Denian Arcoleo » Fri May 08, 2009 3:42 pm

Hi Kris,

Actually, to me your arm and hand positions look very good. I think the 3rd photo tells us a little more though. I think you may be clamping the guitar to your body too hard. Try letting go of all the tension in your right shoulder, arm and hand and let your arm 'float' gently on the top of the instrument.
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Re: Right ARM position...hurts

Postby Kris » Sat May 09, 2009 10:30 pm

Thanks Denian. So you don't see anything wrong with the neck angle and how that causes the bout to be lower down (hence unreachable)? All bodies are different and all that, but I do wonder, because I don't really see any other guitarists playing with such a steep angle. Makes me wonder if maybe that's the root of my problem.

So I have experimented the last couple of days with a slightly less steep angle. This raises the bout a bit, allowing me to place my arm further down (towards the bridge) which in turn allows the contact point to be a bit higher up on the arm. I also have to lean over a bit to do this (as Aurore suggested). This is all much more comfortable for my right arm. Unfortunately it causes a pain in my back, between the right shoulder blade and the backbone. This could be simply because I'm not used to this position and am tensing up. I don't know yet. Another drawback is that the angle between hand and strings leaves no room between the thumb and index finger, so I am having trouble plucking adjacent strings with pi.

Except for the original problem point of pain in the contact point, everything else felt better originally. I will concentrate on Denian's suggestion of relaxing (I always strive for this) and "floating" the arm.

I never though the right arm position would be such an issue for me! :)
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