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

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

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

Postby benessa » Sun Feb 06, 2011 5:22 am

I was looking at your photos and it seems your back is almost touching the back of the chair. You may want to experiment with other chairs, as well. Generally, you want to be sitting on the edge of the chair. I would raise the position of the left leg and also angle the neck higher. I've been comfortable with both a footstool and a guitar support, but I find with a guitar support (I'm using a Gitano) I tilt forward slightly and it feels like a very relaxed position for my back.
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Re: shoulder pain! Maybe It's my posture? Need help.

Postby Gruupi » Sat Feb 12, 2011 7:27 pm

I just read through this thread and looked at the photos in the original post as well as the video later on. The posture in the photos looks ok, but I would suggest moving your legs a little closer together, this would bring the guitar up to a slightly higher position. What was immediately obvious to me was that your posture in the still photos, and the posture in the video of your playing were entirely different. in the video, your left shoulder dipped significantly because you were using an extreme bend in your wrist, this throws everything out of whack. One of the basics of guitar technique is that a straight (not stiff) wrist is the most relaxed position. Most of the reasons classical guitarists use the sitting positions they do is to get their hand into these correct positions. So what you percieved in relaxed sitting position was not what you were doing in reality when you started playing and it is no surprise you are feeling tension and pain. Maybe watch the video of yourself or look in a mirror and see if you can see what I am talking about in the video.

If you don't have access to a qualified teacher, then there are some videos and books that can help. William Kanengiser's "Effortless Classical Guitar" and the followup, "Classical Guitar Mastery" are great, so is Scott Tenant's "Pumping Nylon". A good book is Lee Ryan's "The Natural Classical Guitar". These all present some good material on how to achieve a relaxed and stable guitar playing position. It is hard to judge yourself how to go about learning classical guitar, there is some bad information out there and even with good information, it is hard to see and feel for yourself what is the best sitting position. So I think it would be good to take lessons from a good teacher if at all possible.
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Re: shoulder pain! Maybe It's my posture? Need help.

Postby terpfan » Fri Feb 18, 2011 7:29 am

First of all, dress warmly. most injuries can be avoided by dressing warmly. (practicing and also regularly) secondly most source of pain originate from your hand. often injuries from your hand is noticed in elbow and shoulders. larger muscle trying to compensate for smaller muscle. try massaging your hand. in between your thumb and fingers and all the tendons and muscle you can find in your hand. i guarantee you will find it extremely painful and feel the tingling on your shoulder.
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Re: shoulder pain! Maybe It's my posture? Need help.

Postby Lolaviola » Sat Jun 04, 2011 1:19 am

My PT said that doing pushups will strengthen the wrong muscles for what we CG's need. You should work your back and trapezius muscles.
I see pushups mentioned a lot on this topic, and just wanted to share the importance of a good PT. I am lucky that my PT is also a guitarist.
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Re: shoulder pain! Maybe It's my posture? Need help.

Postby pollepoulsen » Fri Jun 10, 2011 9:27 am

Lots of good advice here!

I never used to think I had back problems, or shoulder problems for that matter. Of course I could feel my back and shoulders after a full 4 hour practice. Since I started running and kayaking I can play all day and not feel a thing.

I blame it all on improved physical awareness, more natural breathing, and a very strong core.

Letting your body work makes it stronger, you feel it more, and respond more naturally to its signals. The design of the human body was developed to run, climb, hunt, fight etc. When you let it do the jobs it was made to do, you awaken your natural awareness of it.

Running is the best way to improve your general physical condition and oxygen absorption. It also strengthens your back and abs.

Kayaking is great fun, and further strengthens your abs and back muscles giving you the strong core you need.

Find some sporting activities that suit you and do it. It takes away from your practice time, but once you get in shape, you gain a lot of extra energy, and find the time to practise a lot anyway, and spend less time in front of the TV. Just don't overdo it at first. Especially running needs to be eased into. Find a beginners program, and stick to it. Your muscles and joints have to be built slowly before you attempt to run for 30mins straight for instance.
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Re: shoulder pain! Maybe It's my posture? Need help.

Postby fingerstyle1952 » Wed Jul 13, 2011 4:34 am

Chiropractic adjustments help keep me playing. Stretches are also very important. But I have found that there was a lot of tension in my playing (some of it do to arthritis and tendinitis) with clenched teeth and trying to force myself to master a certain sequence of movements. The breathing exercises and playing slowly without tension work for me. I am 59 and don't have the hands I used to have for any kind of guitar playing. Its better to relax and play slowly, very gradually building up your speed to whatever your body can handle.
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Re: shoulder pain! Maybe It's my posture? Need help.

Postby Jean-Paul » Mon Jul 18, 2011 2:13 pm

This topic is right up my alley...

I'm a classical guitarist, but I'm also a practitioner of several rehab modalities, my expertise being movement therapy. I work primarily with athletes, but I have started rounding up a good number of classical guitarists with the same problems. The issue is SO common that I'm contemplating writing a short book on it.

I am very familiar with Alexander technique, and I am not a big fan of it. If you are trying to correct postural imbalances, gentle prompts aren't sufficient. It really comes down to understanding what muscles have become shortened, lengthened, or inhibited. Some muscles need to have a deep tissue release to physically break adhesions that occur, some need to be stretched, some most certainly DON'T need to be stretched or the problem can only be exacerbated, and some need to be strengthened. Something that does not address muscular infrastructure with that in mind just doesn't cut the muster. I think the principle is valid, but the practice just isn't effective.

In looking at your photos and video I can clearly see the problem. You have an anteriorly rotated shoulder posture. Your joints have "crept" out of place over the years and created very unstable joints that are vulnerable to impingement, which is what you are experiencing right now. It's something we NEVER used to see in young people, but I am seeing it more and more due to the sedentary lifestyles and time spent in front of a computer. That is where the problem started, not from the guitar.

(End part 1)
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Re: shoulder pain! Maybe It's my posture? Need help.

Postby Jean-Paul » Mon Jul 18, 2011 2:14 pm

(part 2)

Your shoulder socket sits too far forward in the glenoid capsule, and this makes it very easy to impinge the bursa sac that sits under the acromian. The reason your humeral head has glided so far forward is actually rooted in the laxity in your lower traps and weak serratus anterior muscles (connects the outside bottom portion of the scap to the thorax between back and chest area, and is responsible for "protracting" the shoulder blade). What I would like to see is a picture of your back with your hands on your hips (no shirt as I need to see the line of your scap). What I predict is that your scaps "wing" when your hands are on your hips.

Housed in each muscle is a "spindle fiber"... A tiny strand of nerve tissue that determines the length of the muscle. If over time you sit in a posture with your upper back curved and your neck craned forward (sitting in front of a computer), your muscles attempt to compensate for the change in the way they react to gravity. The lower traps (which connect the bottom of the scap to the spine) detect that they have spent a LOT of time in that lengthened posture, so eventually the spindle fiber says "hey, we need to let out a little."

Conversely, the pec minor (connects from the front of your rib cage to the head of the humerus) says, "we spend a lot of time in this shortened length, so lets take up this slack." The net result is that your shoulder blades "exo-rotate," which means that the top of your scaps move outward. This puts your levater scap on stretch, creating constant competing sheer force on the C2/C3 vertebrae in the neck (where in originates, inserting at the inside top of the scap). Between your short, tight pec minor and your stretched tight levator scap, all you need to add to that mix is weak rotators (infraspinatis, supraspinatis, terres minor, etc). They are caught in the crossfire - if you will - in the tug of war going on between the neck and the chest.

Looking at your posture right now, and especially based on the fact that you are now experiencing shoulder pain, I can predict with certainty that your neck will soon follow.

The "fix" is actually simple, although it will take some patience. The process is called "reciprocal inhibition." It entails strengthening the "agonist" (your lower traps) and stretching your "antagonist" (your pecs). Your pecs may also require something a little more aggressive, like a deep release technique). Your muscles made structural changes over time that allowed "joint creep" to occur. Basically what you need to do is create conditions that reverse creep your joints back to their natural position, but this process fast-tracks the process.

Let me go back into my archives and see if I have any video of the specific corrective exercises you need. If it violates the rules to post them I will email them to you.
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Re: shoulder pain! Maybe It's my posture? Need help.

Postby Kenbobpdx » Mon Jul 18, 2011 6:29 pm

The various responses presented for the shoulder problem are very interesting and well thought out. However, I am going to be a bit of a heretic and offer up an alternative as a possible approach. I have an ongoing problem with my left shoulder from multiple martial arts related traumas. I am no longer comfortable playing in the "classical" position of the guitar on my elevated left leg. I have switched to placing my right foot on a stool and resting the instrument on my right leg (I am right handed). This allows my left elbow to move closer to my body, alleviating the left shoulder pain. This required some modifications to my right hand position but that was a lot easier than laboring through shoulder pain after 15 minutes or so of playing. Perhaps the young man in question should give this a go before he spends any more money on chiros, yoga, or other professional types.

While I was certainly trained in the classical posture I find it no longer works for me. Sometimes I think these traditions seem a bit too rigid when the music is what matters the most. At the same time I really do appreciate maintaining some continuity in tradition and pedagogy so I am conflicted to say the least. Since I do not teach nor perform professionally I can go on my merry heretical way when it comes to revising my posture to accommodate my old wounds.
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Re: shoulder pain! Maybe It's my posture? Need help.

Postby Lorette » Mon Jul 18, 2011 7:00 pm

Kenbobpdx wrote: I have switched to placing my right foot on a stool and resting the instrument on my right leg (I am right handed). This allows my left elbow to move closer to my body, alleviating the left shoulder pain. This required some modifications to my right hand position but that was a lot easier than laboring through shoulder pain after 15 minutes or so of playing.


I have been suffering with a frozen left shoulder for more than a month and like Kenbobpdx I could not play more than ten minutes. The pain is severe. And like him, I can play if I put my right foot on a stool or cross my right leg over the left and resting the guitar on the right leg.

So, Snickerbar, give it a go. I find it quite confortable now.

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

Postby Snickerbar » Wed Jul 20, 2011 1:49 am

Hey everyone, I know this thread is old, but I thought I would give a reply for anyone who was curious. The reason for my pain is I have different length legs and this caused a huge imbalance in muscles and also curved my spine. That is the very short summary of my problem. After some months in physical therapy, I am much better! I haven't made a full recovery, but can now play again. Thanks.
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Re: shoulder pain! Maybe It's my posture? Need help.

Postby Jean-Paul » Wed Jul 20, 2011 2:20 am

Kenbobpdx wrote:The various responses presented for the shoulder problem are very interesting and well thought out. However, I am going to be a bit of a heretic and offer up an alternative as a possible approach. I have an ongoing problem with my left shoulder from multiple martial arts related traumas. I am no longer comfortable playing in the "classical" position of the guitar on my elevated left leg. I have switched to placing my right foot on a stool and resting the instrument on my right leg (I am right handed). This allows my left elbow to move closer to my body, alleviating the left shoulder pain. This required some modifications to my right hand position but that was a lot easier than laboring through shoulder pain after 15 minutes or so of playing. Perhaps the young man in question should give this a go before he spends any more money on chiros, yoga, or other professional types.

While I was certainly trained in the classical posture I find it no longer works for me. Sometimes I think these traditions seem a bit too rigid when the music is what matters the most. At the same time I really do appreciate maintaining some continuity in tradition and pedagogy so I am conflicted to say the least. Since I do not teach nor perform professionally I can go on my merry heretical way when it comes to revising my posture to accommodate my old wounds.


Here's the thing... Your body should be able to do what you want it to do without pain. It is normal and natural that we compensate, but those crutches lead to new problems unless you deal with the source of the problem. So if you have pain, listen to your body. Don't just accept it. I say this as someone who has had 4 shoulder surgeries, non-stop neck issues, hip injuries, hamstring pulls (also from martial arts), and although I had to find work-arounds for a lot of things, I never accepted the pain as normal and never gave up looking for solutions.

This neurotic approach is no doubt a side-effect of my profession... I just don't think anyone has to suffer if they can figure out how to unravel the puzzle of why their bodies really hurt. The OP is way to young to be worrying about how to deal with this pain for the rest of his life. The pain will eventually make him dread practicing. Using gadgets and braces don't solve the problem... They just put off dealing with it until it's so bad that even the gadget doesn't work well enough.
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Re: shoulder pain! Maybe It's my posture? Need help.

Postby Jean-Paul » Wed Jul 20, 2011 2:31 am

Snickerbar wrote:Hey everyone, I know this thread is old, but I thought I would give a reply for anyone who was curious. The reason for my pain is I have different length legs and this caused a huge imbalance in muscles and also curved my spine. That is the very short summary of my problem. After some months in physical therapy, I am much better! I haven't made a full recovery, but can now play again. Thanks.


First, who measured your legs and told you one was longer than the other. This is one of the oldest Chiro tricks in the book to get clients. The thing is, if one of your hips has shortened muscles, the ball will get sucked deeper into the socket and create the appearance of in-equal leg length.

How was your spine "curved?" Was it hyper-lordodic? Or did you have a posterior pelvic tilt? Or was it rotated? Or did it curve sideways?

I'm glad the PT has worked for you so far, but if it comes back soon you are going to need to look at the SOURCE of the injury, not where the pain appears. A PT is trained only to work on the place where it hurts. It is the equivalent of spackling a crack in your wall. But if the crack shows up again later, do you keep re-spackling or do you have a foundation expert to come out and level your house? I truly hope the treatment lasts. Being that you are so young it has a better chance than it would with some of us old folks.

What exercises did they do to correct your spine curvature? How are they correcting the leg length asymmetry? Or are they addressing that? Many PTs/Chiros take the wrong-headed approach of throwing an orthotic in one of your shoes, which doesn't fix the problem in the long term.

Sorry for the barrage of questions, but these are important details if you want to fix the problem for good.
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Re: shoulder pain! Maybe It's my posture? Need help.

Postby Kenbobpdx » Wed Jul 20, 2011 4:08 pm

Your body should be able to do what you want it to do without pain. It is normal and natural that we compensate, but those crutches lead to new problems unless you deal with the source of the problem. So if you have pain, listen to your body. Don't just accept it. I say this as someone who has had 4 shoulder surgeries, non-stop neck issues, hip injuries, hamstring pulls (also from martial arts), and although I had to find work-arounds for a lot of things, I never accepted the pain as normal and never gave up looking for solutions.


Jean-Paul -while I certainly agree with you in GENERAL, as a medical professional you know the devil is always in the details. While you may have been able to address some underlying injuries through surgeries I happen to be a major surgical risk due to an underlying genetic disorder, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. Given your professional field you may be familiar with it but unfortunately not many medical professionals are. I am fortunate in that the primary researcher works in Seattle and one of his main colleagues heads up the pediatric genetics clinic at OHSU in Portland. While its main distinguishing characteristics are funky, sloppy joints, as a collagen disorder it can also affect soft tissue healing and this has certainly been the case in my family. My family's particulars also include a high risk of throwing post-surgical blood clots. Given the risks associated with surgery I find it much easier to alleviate my shoulder pain while playing the guitar by making a simple adjustment in how I hold the guitar. I certainly don't view it as a crutch but as a reasonable solution to a much more complicated problem.

While our bodies should do what we want without pain (and within reason) if pain is present I think the simplest solutions often are the best. Given that the "classical" guitar position is rather arbitrary anyway perhaps the position itself is the problem in some instances. I my opinion pedagogical rigidity dictates a lot of discussion surrounding classical guitar ergonomics. Perhaps this is normal given that pedagogy is passed along in a traditional manner where teachers teach as they have been taught and any analysis done tends to be from within the guitar world and subsequently is biased toward supporting the status quo. Cue passionate responses:-)
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Re: shoulder pain! Maybe It's my posture? Need help.

Postby Snickerbar » Thu Jul 21, 2011 7:10 am

Hey, Jean. Alrighty so I first saw a chiropractor and she took an X-ray of my spine and found a big deviation to the left near my shoulder. This is where I was complaining of pain. She gave me the honest truth and said I really should see someone more professional, I.e. Physical therapist. So I did just that. my PT is very very kind and I'm sure she's not claiming I have any problems that I don't in reality actually have. No scams here I reckon.

We've taken new X-rays after P.T and my spine is MUCH better. I feel great. Not perfect, but I'm on my way. I do strengthening exercises and stretches to work out my shoulders, arms, and other muscles as well. As for the correcting of leg length asymmetry, they put something called a heel insert in my shoe of the leg that is shorter. This makes me walk on even ground if that makes sense. I'm also being trained on proper posture, and good lifting techniques etc.

If I missed a question or you would like me to explain better, I will be more than glad to!
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