shoulder pain! Maybe It's my posture? Need help.

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

shoulder pain! Maybe It's my posture? Need help.

Postby Snickerbar » Thu Dec 30, 2010 4:31 am

Ok, heres my story. I started to get really bad shoulder pain about a year from now. It got to the point where I could no longer play. I decided to do some stretches, play in shorter times, get some exercise, massage the shoulders, and use ice and heat once in a while. None of this worked, so I went to a chiropractor. She did not find any cause to my shoulder pain, but she did advise that I get a chair that had back support. So I did. I purchased the Original Guitar Chair. This helped a bit. I decided to purchase one last thing. The dynarette cushion. I hoped this would help, because I heard the foot stands can cause pain in the back. Well, this hasn't helped at all either. So I took 2 months off of guitar altogether. I thought I just needed a break. This was absolutely painful. I forced myself to only play for maybe 10 or so minutes a day. This was all my poor shoulders would allow. So after my long break, I finally picked up the guitar, praying for maybe an hour or so to play. Then the shoulder pain reawakened. I don't know what to do anymore!

-Here is a list of things I've tried...

-Guitar support
-trying new postures
-variety of chairs, including the Original Guitar Chair
-Making I wasn't looking down when I played. (I heard this can cause back pain)
-Putting books under the back of the chair. (I heard this can help, from some thread on Delcamp)
-stretches, icing and heat
-Chiropractor
-Relaxing my shoulders and back

Options that I can think of...

-other chiropractors
-Physical therapists
-having others review my posture


Ok, so here's where I think Delcamp could help. Does anyone have any further advise to help my shoulder pain? Is my posture still causing the pain? I'll be posting links to my posture on Photobucket.

http://i1089.photobucket.com/albums/i35 ... at2107.jpg Side Angle

http://i1089.photobucket.com/albums/i35 ... at2105.jpg Front Angle

http://i1089.photobucket.com/albums/i35 ... at2106.jpg Side Angle




Thanks to anyone who took the time to read this! I really would like to start playing guitar pain free.
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Re: shoulder pain! Maybe It's my posture? Need help.

Postby jon » Thu Dec 30, 2010 5:06 am

Wow... I really feel for you. This topic, and it's a good one because a lot of people suffer varying degrees of pain at times. I am not qualified to really answer but from my own experience i have noticed that small amounts of tension can and will creep into the joints. Just trying to be super aware of any tension really has helped me. A top notch physical therapist might be a good idea. I'm sorry I cannot offer much more than this. Keep trying and you will identify the culprit, I'm sure. sincerely, Jon
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Re: shoulder pain! Maybe It's my posture? Need help.

Postby Snickerbar » Thu Dec 30, 2010 5:16 am

Thank you for the help Jon! I have heard that being hyper aware of all tension in your body can help alot. I need to do some more research on this though. I"ll keep trying!

Anyone see anything about my posture that looks odd in any way?
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Re: shoulder pain! Maybe It's my posture? Need help.

Postby Alan Stancliff » Thu Dec 30, 2010 7:58 am

Snickerbar wrote:Thank you for the help Jon! I have heard that being hyper aware of all tension in your body can help alot. I need to do some more research on this though. I"ll keep trying!

Anyone see anything about my posture that looks odd in any way?

Hi SnickerBar,

Your posture looks fine to me, and you are a very nice-looking young man.

Here are some suggestions to consider:

  • Don't practice in pain. You will be teaching yourself the habit of pain. Instead, stop when you feel pain.
  • Are you gripping the left hand too hard? Are you pressing the right forearm down on the guitar too hard? Are you clenching teeth?
  • Are you pushing yourself too hard to play fast? Do you feel a sense of desperation and anxiety to accomplish a specific goal in a specific time frame?
  • Do you exercise? Can you break up your practice with deep knee bends, push-ups, and gentle range-of-motion exercises?
  • Most importantly, do you hold your breath? Deep breathing is so very important. Guitar music tends to be lyrical, and the proper phrasing of the melody demands expressing musical phrases like a singer performing a lied or an aria, who pauses artistically to take a breath. Both vocal and guitar music has phrases stylistically built in to breathe and sing. If you get the chance, look at some of the videos of CĂ©sar Amaro on YouTube and see how he performs.

Skillful playing means the ability to make music on your instrument without difficulty or fumbling. That means finding the easiest, most efficient manner of making exactly the sound you want, when you want, without making a sound you don't want. That assumes you have clarity about what sound you're trying to paint on your canvass of silence and peacefulness. Your practice needs to enhance that, and you can't do that if you're fighting in pain.

If you're interested in some ideas about exercise, send me a PM and I might be able to make a few suggestions. I'm pretty new here and hesitate in posting links that may seem too off topic.

Regards,

Alan Stancliff
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Re: shoulder pain! Maybe It's my posture? Need help.

Postby jorpheus » Thu Dec 30, 2010 9:09 am

You may try contacting somebody who knows the Feldenkrais method. The very advanced Feldenkrais teachers are indeed well experienced with "hidden" sources of pain, especially those related to movement. The addresses are on the WWW, there is an international directory, so you should find somebody near to you. Feldenkrais looks a bit weird if you don't know it, but from my own experience it is really helpful. The first contact should be free of charge, of course, so you can figure out whether you like it or not.

By the way, I also have occasionally strong pain in my right shoulder and arm, and I suspect that I damaged a muscle several years ago when playing baseball with my son. Somehow it also appears after long guitar playing.

Best wishes,

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Re: shoulder pain! Maybe It's my posture? Need help.

Postby andi33x » Thu Dec 30, 2010 11:58 am

Hi Snickerbar,
well, I am not a guitar teacher or a doctor but I have some own experiences with "posture pains" and also bad advices from teachers.

Obviously your posture forces one or more muscle(s) to keep a too hard tension. This may be caused by wrong advices by others concerning the position of the guitar and hands etc. which may have turned to an "automatic".

So the error in your posture can be nearly "everything". But I don't want to add another bad advice. So please take it as a try, not more.

From the pictures I think you try to relax your shoulders while playing. Of course it sounds reasonable to relax - but when you try to relax as you do in the photos you force in reality some other muscles inside the shoulders to balance it and do the job to hold your arms in position while these muscles are not built for this task. The pain then is "beamed" from there into your shoulders.

You hold the guitar very low and your shoulders hang down.
I think the upper contact point between guitar and your chest can be 10 cm more up or even near your throat. Try to hold the guitar very much higher. Then you bend around the guitar and you build a unity with it.

Try the following. I hope I can explain that with my bad English.
Sit down on a chair without a guitar and let your arms "hang down" but twist them a bit that the open hands show ahead.
Then -since you seem to be left handed- take your right arm and bend it up but don't move your upper arm, only take the elbow joint. Now I think your hand is much higher positioned as in your picture. Here at this point or even a bit higher the fingerboard should be.

Try to take the guitar in this higher position. Maybe you have to take a high foot stool and maybe a lower chair. Then next try to twist your back a bit toward the fingerboard, so that you don't have to twist your neck too much to look at it.

Maybe then the playing is a bit easier and relaxing.
Andi
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Re: shoulder pain! Maybe It's my posture? Need help.

Postby Alan Stancliff » Thu Dec 30, 2010 8:37 pm

Those are some interesting and thoughtful remarks, Andi and Jorpheus.

I think that the best way to hold the guitar and proper posture will vary from individual to individual, and you both gave some good avenues to explore.

SnickerBar:
Personally, I'm not big on chiropractics, as I consider it to be pseudoscience. Either the Feldenkrais method or Alexander technique counseling may be helpful although rather expensive. If you can swing it, it may be worth a look. You might also look into learning Tai Chi or Aikido, not from a martial arts perspective but from the perspective of body awareness.

Regards,

Alan Stancliff
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Re: shoulder pain! Maybe It's my posture? Need help.

Postby Alan Stancliff » Thu Dec 30, 2010 9:35 pm

Hi SnickerBar,

An additional note here: I just saw a YouTube video of your playing, (clickable link) and I think I see where some of your problem lies. It now appears to me that you're off balance.

Your left shoulder is quite a bit lower than your right, which tells me you're leaning to the left. So try this little exercise.

  1. Sit in your guitar chair, without holding the guitar. Let your arms hang down by your side very relaxed. Slowly inhale, taking a deep breath and gently exhale.
  2. Slowly and gently, from the hips, sway slightly from side to side and then front to back. Breathe deeply and naturally.
  3. Lessen the degree of sway gradually until you are in the most comfortable position. That should be fairly straight.
  4. Perform the above sways again, but this time only the head and neck.

The object of this is to find the most neutral sitting position. This is important because when you're off kilter, you're using skeletal muscles to do work they're not designed for, and after a while, that leads to pain.

Now pick up the guitar and try to find a decent playing posture using the same ideas.

Perhaps it would be good if you could find another teacher. That's not a reflection on him as a teacher. No one teacher or approach is equally effective for any student. When I was teaching, I would occasionally find I was not helping a serious and committed student, and I would help that student find another teacher.

I always looked for a decent player who approached things differently than me, and the results were often quite gratifying for both me, the other teacher, and the student.

Regards,

Alan Stancliff
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Re: shoulder pain! Maybe It's my posture? Need help.

Postby lagartija » Thu Dec 30, 2010 10:43 pm

You have been given some really good advice, snickerbar.
In addition to all of the above, you might find it useful to take a look at this section on ergonomics.
After reading the overview, you can go here and it will show pictures of guitar holding positions from various angles. Notice the picture from the back and the position of the shoulder blades. Also take note of the position of the pelvis in the side view.

We can't really tell if your pelvis is tilted back from your picture because of your shirt. But perhaps you can take a picture from the side without your shirt and compare that with the pictures on the site I have given links to above.

Alexander technique is supposed to be very good for this sort of problem. I have no personal experience with it, but have a coworker who is a violinist who has. The problem is, that it can be expensive.

My own background is martial arts training and that has given me an awareness of tension and body position and motion. It has helped me immensely but I have to admit that acquiring the 30 years of training that I am applying may a be a bit long for you to wait! I have also practiced yoga and found that extremely useful, not to mention economical and it is also easy to find good instructors.

Practicing yoga with an instructor who specializes in awareness of tension, building core strength and flowing with your breathing is extremely helpful in playing guitar. You may find that your core muscles are not strong enough to give you proper support. You may find that (like most people) your musculature is not balanced. Yoga will help with that, too. Just one more thing you could check out. :wink:
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Re: shoulder pain! Maybe It's my posture? Need help.

Postby simonm » Fri Dec 31, 2010 12:14 am

You don't happen to be toting a laptop bag around on your shoulder for the "day job"? Or any other one sided bag? Changing to a rucksack plus getting some plain ordinary massage fixed it for me. Years of one sided bag carrying was the main cause.
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Re: shoulder pain! Maybe It's my posture? Need help.

Postby Jim McCutcheon » Fri Dec 31, 2010 2:23 am

I looked at your YouTube clip and agree that your shoulders need to be a the same level (unless you have scoliosis or some other back problem). And I agree that your guitar should be rotated bringing the head closer to you and up a little higher. (That will help your left wrist straighten and that will help you avoid problems there later.) But I am not certain that that will help your shoulder problem.

I don't want to state the obvious, but you did not mention any effort to see a physician who specializes in shoulder/back pain. You may be carrying around an injury of which you are not aware which is aggravated by playing guitar. Wouldn't it be better to know?

You also did not mention working with a guitar teacher who is experienced at physical problems related to guitar playing. There are not many of those around, but it would be worth a try. There is no substitute for an experienced teacher watching you play, and giving you immediate feedback.
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Re: shoulder pain! Maybe It's my posture? Need help.

Postby Alan Stancliff » Fri Dec 31, 2010 3:44 am

Hey SnickerBar,

I just was looking at the advice Lagartija gave you, and I had to chuckle a bit, and not because I disagree with anything he said. It so happens that in Spanish, "lagartija" is a little lizard just like Lagartija's avatar. But it is also the word people who speak Mexican Spanish use for an exercise called the "push-up" and the British call the "press-up." Learn to do that exercise. It is excellent for building core strength and shoulder strength. I was doing 50 to 100 a day until a few months ago when I had surgery, and I swear by them.

Regards,

Alan Stancliff
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Re: shoulder pain! Maybe It's my posture? Need help.

Postby lagartija » Fri Dec 31, 2010 3:53 am

Alan Stancliff wrote:Hey SnickerBar,

I just was looking at the advice Lagartija gave you, and I had to chuckle a bit, and not because I disagree with anything she said. It so happens that in Spanish, "lagartija" is a little lizard just like Lagartija's avatar. But it is also the word people who speak Mexican Spanish use for an exercise called the "push-up" and the British call the "press-up." Learn to do that exercise. It is excellent for building core strength and shoulder strength. I was doing 50 to 100 a day until a few months ago when I had surgery, and I swear by them.

Regards,

Alan Stancliff


:wink: Hard to tell with lizards, isn't it? :lol:
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Re: shoulder pain! Maybe It's my posture? Need help.

Postby Alan Stancliff » Fri Dec 31, 2010 5:52 am

lagartija wrote:
Alan Stancliff wrote:Hey SnickerBar,

I just was looking at the advice Lagartija gave you, and I had to chuckle a bit, and not because I disagree with anything she said. It so happens that in Spanish, "lagartija" is a little lizard just like Lagartija's avatar. But it is also the word people who speak Mexican Spanish use for an exercise called the "push-up" and the British call the "press-up." Learn to do that exercise. It is excellent for building core strength and shoulder strength. I was doing 50 to 100 a day until a few months ago when I had surgery, and I swear by them.

Regards,

Alan Stancliff


:wink: Hard to tell with lizards, isn't it? :lol:

¡JaJa!

Que me disculpe el mal caĂ­do.

Translation:

Ooopsie!

Please excuse the flub.

:oops:

Regards,

Alan Stancliff
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Re: shoulder pain! Maybe It's my posture? Need help.

Postby Snickerbar » Fri Dec 31, 2010 6:59 am

Ok, so thank you all for the comments! I"ll try to answer a bunch of questions in this one post so here goes. Firstly, no I don't do anything laborious for a living or hunch over a laptop all day. I also use a normal backpack, not one that rests on one shoulder. I think I'm going to schedule an appointment with a physician soon. About the shoulder thing...I've been pointed this out before, but for the life of me I cant seem to get them even. One shoulder slumps it seems. This could be part of my problem, among many other things. Another piece of advice I'll try out is the methods of becoming more relaxed and aware of tension. Alan, you suggested tai chi. I suppose I could also try yoga, to be more aware of tension too I imagine.
JIm, about seeing an physician, I got an appointment scheduled and will hopefully get some feedback. Also, I have the only classical guitar teacher in town. Sadly he hasn't been able to help me a whole lot on my shoulder pain. Oh well.
I have a lot of things to try out to fix this from your posts! Thanks so much!
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