Basal Joint Arthritis

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

Basal Joint Arthritis

Post by jimmy9410 » Thu Jul 01, 2010 5:49 am

Hello, I don't know if this qualifies as a new topic, I am new to this forum. I have played for 45 years now, 35 professionally, and I started having pain in the basal joint of my left hand (where thumb meets wrist) a few years ago. Lately it worsened and I saw a specialist (orthopedist) about it yesterday. Clearly I will need to change and modify some things. I would love to hear from anyone who has this specific condition and what you do for it. Thanks!

Tarbaby (1953 - 2016)

Re: Basal Joint Arthritis

Post by Tarbaby (1953 - 2016) » Thu Jul 01, 2010 6:37 am

Hi Jimmy9410 and welcome!

I'm very sorry to hear about your condition. You have posted in the right place and will probably receive some helpful responses.

While we're waiting, may I invite you to tell us a bit more about yourself in the "Introduce yourself" section here?

You will get a proper welcome and some tips on how to get the most out of the Forum.

Goo luck!


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Re: Basal Joint Arthritis

Post by Robin » Sun Jul 04, 2010 12:57 pm

Hi jimmy9410,

I'm sorry to hear about your arthritis diagnosis. What did the physician recommend as treatment? I have an adult student who has arthritis in the same joint. She got a support brace that she can wear when it is bothering her. It still allows her to play but gives her added support. I'm also working with her to develop her left hand so that she can be efficient in her efforts. I hope you can find a way to adapt to the arthritis also!!

Best of luck,

So much music, so little time.

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Re: Basal Joint Arthritis

Post by muirtan » Sun Jul 04, 2010 1:27 pm

Hi Jimmy9410, welcome

I have oestoarthritis and find acupuncture and glucosamine really helps. I play for a couple of hours a day with breaks and only have 1 finger which is swollen, pinky on RH. Hope you find something which works for you.

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Re: Basal Joint Arthritis

Post by TomPage » Mon Jul 05, 2010 1:07 am

Sorry to hear about your arthritis. I have it in that same joint (of my LH only), though I have never been to a doctor for it. Both my mother and my brother have it in that joint as well, so it is clearly genetic and not simply guitar inflicted. Please keep us informed as to what your treatment is and how it goes so we can learn from your experience. I have been able to keep playing by being very careful with using minimum left hand pressure. I also am working on keeping my thumb opposite fingers 2 and 3 rather than opposite 1 and 2 as I habitually did. This keeps my LH hand balanced, and hence I can oppose the pinky using as little thumb force as possible. Finally, on the technique front, I am doing some drills playing with no thumb which is training the arm and shoulder muscles to take up some of the slack.

On the equipment side, I switched to a 640 scale with a radiused fingerboard to give my LH every advantage possible. As (or if) the arthritis progresses I will switch to lower tension strings and lower my action, sacrificing volume for comfort and playability. I also use ibuprofin and alternate soaking in ice water and hot water. The soaking is quite effective for me. When the pain gets above a low level, I just stop playing for the day, which usually allows me to come back for more tomorrow with relative impunity.
Best wishes,


Re: Basal Joint Arthritis

Post by jimmy9410 » Mon Jul 05, 2010 4:30 am

This is great to have thoughtful replies so soon. Thank you all. Today one of my brothers, a longtime physician, introduced me to a friend who is a hand specialist. This is a different doc from the one I saw last week, who gave me a cortisone shot and a wait-and-see prognosis. This latest doc gave a wide range of treatment options I won't bore anyone with unless asked, but interestingly he said to begin with DUCT TAPE. That's right, placed strategically it can support the basal joint with out loss of flexibility or function. If it works, I will move to a custom brace. Still, I plan to modify every aspect of my playing if possible. I like the ideas Tom presented here, both technique and equipment-wise. I am intrigued by the notion of keeping the thumb more opposite 2 and 3, and will try it, though it seems the toughest thing is those passages where the thumb must stretch laterally across the neck, which as far as I know cannot be helped. I have already changed some fingerings of some pieces, and might do more, but some it seems must remain unchanged to keep the integrity of the music . If anyone is interested, I would post some very short playing samples and/or pictures of such passages--maybe some of you have suggestions. Thanks again everyone, I will keep checking in.


Re: Basal Joint Arthritis

Post by wianno » Mon Jul 05, 2010 7:39 am


I once had symptoms like you describe, though I am sure that it was not arthritis that was causing them. I fixed the problem by following the advice given on this forum. I learned to play using the weight (and muscle) of my left arm rather than 'squeeze' muscles within the left hand that control some of the thumb's movement. I also brought the finger tips over the fretboard so that they descend directly from above the strings. Within a few months the symptoms were gone and my playing style forever changed. My LH thumb only is used as guide.



Re: Basal Joint Arthritis

Post by sandy » Wed Jul 07, 2010 4:26 am

Jimmy, I'm 62, but don't play professionally, only for my own enjoyment. However, I know a professional musician who performs in nightclubs, so he has a real problem. I've had a swollen left thumb in the past, very painful and almost as if someone had hit with a hammer. I first noticed it when I was playing Ponce's Chanson where the music moves from a slow tempo to a rapid one for 8 measures, then back to slow again. I kept playing this difficult section where my thumb seemed to be moving back and forth against the neck. Duct tape sounds like a good idea, though I used some gauze to wrap around the base of my thumb.

The hands age much as the hands of the carpenter who gets arthritis or the typist who suffers from carpal tunnel. My solution was to eliminate that very beautiful though demanding piece of music. I may return to it someday, but I try to avoid music that causes wrist and thumb pain.

Welcome to our forum, one of the best! Thank God for our founder Delcamp who has connected classical guitarists, from all levels of performance, where we can connect.


Re: Basal Joint Arthritis

Post by jimmy9410 » Tue Jul 13, 2010 5:21 am

To any and all who are interested in this subject (and believe me, for 40 years of playing I wasn't!), I must report the duct tape has been very effective! I still have soreness after 30 minutes or so, but then it's time to take a break anyway, isn't it--ALWAYS HAS BEEN! I may or may not get a brace that does the same thing. It is simply relieving the grating where the bone spurs flare at the joint. Still, I am trying to pinpoint passages that challenge it the most, and without a doubt it is anything that requires a full lateral extension of the thumb and fingers; that is, where the ring and pinky must separate across several frets. Also any series of full bar movements, such as in the 2nd section of the Courante (Bach 3rd cello suite, BWV1009). I am, as always, open to suggestions.


Re: Basal Joint Arthritis

Post by jimmy9410 » Tue Jul 13, 2010 5:24 am

I don't mean the ring and pinky must separate across several frets, I mean they must separate from the thumb across the entire position...if that makes any sense to you!

John Kotopka

Re: Basal Joint Arthritis

Post by John Kotopka » Tue Jul 13, 2010 6:02 am

I apologize if I missed it, but what does one do with the duct tape? Where is it applied in this situation?

I do think a picture (or a few) might be helpful!


Re: Basal Joint Arthritis

Post by jimmy9410 » Wed Jul 21, 2010 1:01 pm

Sorry I did not respond, I've been away! The duct tape is simply applied from the middle of the back of the hand across the thumb pad and into the palm. It restricts movement of the joint but not in any way that affects playing. I will post pics if you still need. It is working. As I said, if it continues to be an issue I will get a small brace that does the same thing.


Re: Basal Joint Arthritis

Post by Sean » Thu Aug 12, 2010 9:40 am

I would like to see pictures of this duct tape setup.


Re: Basal Joint Arthritis

Post by vickywatts » Tue Sep 14, 2010 11:44 am

This joint appears to be particularly prone to wear and tear from normal use of the hand. Many people appear to be predisposed to arthritis in this joint, with or without arthritis in their other joints, from E-hand. Basal joint arthritis results in pain and restricts movement of the thumb across the palm. Far more common among women than men, it typically occurs after the age of forty. Both thumbs may be affected.

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Re: Basal Joint Arthritis

Post by Vito Simplicio » Tue Sep 14, 2010 12:08 pm

Hi vicky,

Welcome to Delcamp. Please take the time to introduce yourself here. Need some ideas in How To Write A Great Introductory Post? This should help.

:merci: Vito
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