Pain in Thumb

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

Pain in Thumb

Post by Underdog » Mon Mar 21, 2016 6:07 pm

Hi guys.

I'm new here, but I think I'll stick around.
I joined because lately I'm starting to have bad pain in my thumb, (fretting hand) which is bad enough to stop me playing.
I've play for quite a few years now, but around 2 years ago I switched to classical guitar.
I had always played just standard style, but after obtaining a classical guitar I changed to classical style with thumb behind the neck.
Within the last 6 months or so I started developing pain mainly when playing barre chords. Now the pain has progressed enough to hurt when I'm just playing anything, not just barre chords. I still play steel strings, but mostly classical.
I have the pain when my thumb is against the neck, and any pressure is applied. The pain feels like its on top of my bone (on the top of thumb).
Has anyone else experienced this? I play anywhere from 1-3 or more hours a day, each day, but I know many people play more than me so it's not like I play too much. Is this common, is it due to switching to classical style after having played standard way for years or what?

Any help is greatly appreciated.

Thanks,
Gerrit

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GeoffB
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Re: Pain in Thumb

Post by GeoffB » Mon Mar 21, 2016 8:11 pm

Hi Gerrit, welcome to the forum. Could I ask you to introduce yourself here?

I'll leave it for others to comment more fully on your question, but there are a couple of points I'll just mention in passing. Firstly, people new to the classical guitar nearly always apply much more pressure than necessary with the left hand. It's useful to experiment to see just how little left-hand pressure you need to apply while still producing a clean note, and in fact it's possible experimentally to play quite a lot without using the thumb at all, just bracing the guitar body with the right forearm. Often it's not doing much more than steady the hand. Even barré chords usually need less pressure than you might think, and you don't always need to apply pressure across all the strings anyway, only those being played. Incidentally it's important that the first finger is correctly placed just behind the fret to produce a clean sound with minimal pressure.

Secondly it's always a good idea to take regular breaks, every hour perhaps, if not more frequently, and to stop promptly if you feel pain. Playing through pain can lead to lasting damage.

Needless to say, it would also be useful to get it checked by a doctor if it persists.

Geoff
Classical Guitar Forum.

"Experience is something you don't get until just after you need it." - Steven Wright

Underdog

Re: Pain in Thumb

Post by Underdog » Mon Mar 21, 2016 9:08 pm

Thanks Geoff,
I think you are right on that. I was actually trying to play with less pressure with my thumb before you mentioned that, so I think I'll keep on and see.

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GeoffB
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Re: Pain in Thumb

Post by GeoffB » Sat Mar 26, 2016 12:09 pm

Gerrit, further to my earlier points, I notice someone on another thread just pointed out a useful Youtube video from Kevin Gallagher here illustrating how to make barre chords more effective without needing to use a "deathgrip" on them with the thumb. You may find that helpful.

Geoff
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tom2977
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Re: Pain in Thumb

Post by tom2977 » Sat Mar 26, 2016 12:34 pm

Obviously rest is need to break the cycle. But i find it helpful to practice some easy stuff, with no thumb pressure at all - just concentrate on using arm weight transmitted through the fingers. Don't visualise the left hand as squeezing. Watch Kanensigers videos on technique - he describes it well. Best of luck.

thesixthfret

Re: Pain in Thumb

Post by thesixthfret » Sun Apr 17, 2016 7:11 pm

Sorry to hear about your pain. If you haven't tried already, just confirm that you are keeping your thumb loose and not bent at all. It should be completely flat on the back of the neck and typically sit behind strings 3 and 4, not hanging out by string 6 unless you are playing that string primarily. I find most newer CG'ers bend their thumb unintentionally and press the tip of the thumb against the neck rather than the thumb pad.

Also, make sure your thumb is facing the same direction as the frets, and not pointing towards the nut when you play. Hope you feel better!

oorakoora

Re: Pain in Thumb

Post by oorakoora » Wed May 04, 2016 9:39 pm

i have had a very similar problem , be very cautious - I had a hand therapist examine and the issue is an inflamed tendon, which eventually caused my thumb to get stuck in a permanent thumbs up! I wear a splint for six weeks, then if the problem hasn't gone away it will be surgery. I was advised that the best thing is to rest, massage and use the splint , I can still practice with the splint on. early diagnosis is critical apparently. Sorry - This is not what you want to hear - as I didn't :( - but I had to reply to your post so that you can have the opportunity to avoid lasting damage. Best of luck .

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Re: Pain in Thumb

Post by GeoffB » Wed May 04, 2016 10:44 pm

Hi oorakoora, welcome to the forum. Could I ask you to introduce yourself here?

Geoff
Classical Guitar Forum.

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Steve Langham
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Re: Pain in Thumb

Post by Steve Langham » Tue May 24, 2016 3:08 am

underdog, I had a similar thing. Came to classical from steel string, loved it but got carried away practising Sor Study in Bm which has a lot of barre chords and ended up with pain and numbness in my left thumb. Ended up leaving the guitar alone for 4 months but this didn't really help. Went to the doctor and after having a test that ruled out carpal tunnel I was given prescription anti-inflammatory tablets which I took every day for a month and this really settled the thumb down. I can now play pain free although I still have to be careful and I can do barre chords again but not for too long and I'm trying to work on my overall technique of better controlling the left hand and thumb pressure, it's difficult though after years and years of habit.

Sounds like me, you've inflamed the muscle/tendons in the thumb, give the thumb a chance to heal (ie, rest it) and maybe see the doc for some anti-inflammatory tablets if they think it will help. Worked for me.

Good luck.

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Re: Pain in Thumb

Post by Jack Douglas » Tue May 24, 2016 1:08 pm

Hi Gerrit,
I injured my thumb playing football in high school and re-injured it a few years ago while out gardening. I had it xrayed and evaluated by an orthopedic surgeon. He suggested several steps to take the first of which was the anti-inflammatory tablets and resting my thumb. I'm always aware of pressure against the neck with my left thumb but there are physical attributes of the guitar itself that can help or hinder thumb pain. You didn't mention the scale length. Unless you have very long fingers beware of the longer scaled (664, 660) instruments. I recently changed to a 640 mm guitar that is like a new lease on left hand thumb life. Next make sure the nut width and string spacing are in the normal range (52 mm nut, 43 mm string spacing). Lastly, the neck thickness and shape at the first fret needs to not be extra thin or thick. Hold your left hand up and pretend to do a barre. Notice the closer your thumb comes to your fingers how the pain intensifies. Also, don't forget that string height can cause you to over press with your thumb. The last thing to be concerned with is string tension. Maybe a switch to normal tension would help. For my taste Pyramid makes the most comfortable and responsive nylon treble strings. I hope these comments provide some insight for you.
Jack
Richard Brune 'Artist' Cedar/Brazilian 1996

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robin loops
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Re: Pain in Thumb

Post by robin loops » Tue May 24, 2016 6:13 pm

Aside from the advice here on ppaying with less tension, I have found it useful to practice with a low action guitar using a very light touch and focusing on precision. Once you have precision it becomes much easier to play a normal action guitar without applying too much pressure or tension. I still use this approach when starting a new piece that is very difficult. Especially helpful during the process of reading through a new piece slowly (playing more slowly requires holding barres(and fretted notes in general) longer and can result in a lot of hand strain.
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Re: Pain in Thumb

Post by italian_job » Tue Jun 21, 2016 3:06 pm

The thumb is there only as a guide and stabilizer, virtually you could play without thumb touching the neck.
In fact I remember my teacher would make me play short sessions without thumb and then playing again with the thumb, the goal of the exercise is not relying too much on the thumb squeeze to get fretting strength, same applies to bars.
good luck!

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