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Old 12-12-2012, 09:11 PM   #1
Skruzz
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Thumbs down Crippling pain when playing barre chords

So, just so you know a bit about me as a guitarist:
I've been playing for about 6 years now. Self-taught, have studied some online lessons(theory), but primarily self-taught.
I started out doing mainly picking, soloing, lead-style techniques, with some rhythm and chords thrown in, but in the past 2 and a half years or so, I've switched over to primarily strumming, with some classical guitar(involved in a nail gun accident with my fretting hand - couldn't play for 6 months, still find it difficult to play simultaneously quickly and accurately - classical is about as close as I come to picking).
My technique is about as close to flawless as you're going to get without playing for 45 years. My progressions are smooth, and I can play for hours straight without any fatigue or cramping - provided I'm not playing many barre chords.

Now, here's the issue:
When playing a song that makes liberal use of barre chords, or pretty much any use of B major at all, I very quickly develop severe pain along my thumb and into where my thumb meets my forefinger, down into my wrist, and then down the forearm to the elbow(in this order. Stages begin about 15 seconds apart from each other). This has been happening since I started playing barre chords(about 2 years ago).
At first, I chalked it up to being new to playing them, then after about 6 months had passed without change, I figured it must be a normal thing. However, I've come to find bands where most of their songs are barre chords, so clearly, this is not the case.
My action height is fine - I play both a classical guitar and an electric on a regular basis.
I've been using a hand trainer for years, and, again, I can play basic, non-barred chords (and F, Fm, F# and F#m) just fine, for hours on end, without any cramping.

Has anyone else experienced problems like this, or perhaps knows a way to fix it? I'm sick of not being able to make use of barre chords, as it both severely limits my songwriting abilities, and my ability to learn and play songs for around the campfire, or at a ******* party.
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Old 12-12-2012, 11:01 PM   #2
jake2412
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when i first started playing them,i had some cramping in my hand like that,not all the way up the arm,but there was pain. my problem...i was tensed up and straining my wrist and my index finger (barre finger). its possible you're doing this unconsciously,if you pay attention to your playing and discover you're doing it,it takes awhile to learn to relax your whole body when playing,and it may also help to adjust your strap to a comfortable height and doing small wrist exercises and stretching before you play. and if you aren't tensing,and your strap isn't too low,then im not really sure what it could be...good luck
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Old 12-12-2012, 11:41 PM   #3
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Loosen up a bit.
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Old 12-13-2012, 11:20 AM   #4
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I know how you feel mate. Barre chords are my archenemy too!

I'm 41 and only starting playing again 4 years ago after a 20 year break. I'm currently doing RGT and the rhythm sections are all full of maj, min, 6th and 7th barre chords. It absolutely kills within about 30 seconds of playing. I've tried the hand trainer but I don't think it really helps. I just think at my age its harder to force your fingers into these agonising positions but we have to soldier on.

Practise, practise and more practise is the only way as far as I can see.
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Old 12-13-2012, 05:23 PM   #5
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Watch this, It Works!!!

How to deal with Wrist Tendonitis



Rest for as long as it takes, work on something else like theory or rythym.
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Old 12-13-2012, 05:40 PM   #6
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These videos lol. Some stuff is common sense, the best thing is to go see your Doctor and stop doing this activity that causes the problem.

This video is not evidence based, it's anecdotal. I wouldn't take any notice of this guy. Not once does he say go to the Doctor, he just dismisses treatment that works for millions and talks about taking supplements based on what? I'm not gonna trust some kid who just talks and doesn't say what makes his knowledge superior to trained professionals who deal with this stuff daily.

Of course, icing is going to help with inflammation. But there's some iffy information mixed in with legitimate.

Besides, this guy might not have Tendinitis. He might have very poor technique, he might be really tense. Could be a C-spine disk prolapse.

Don't listen to videos of random people on YouTube. If you have pain while doing something stop doing it. Go to your Doctor, see a Physio. If they say you're fine its most likely technique. Which I suspect as it only happens when you start playing barre chords. We all had pain when we started learning them, maybe not as much as yours though. That's just a suspicion, I'd see a Doctor if you were concerned enough.

Maybe post a video and we can see. Freepower has a good video on tension.
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Last edited by Mephaphil : 12-13-2012 at 05:44 PM.
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Old 12-13-2012, 08:08 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mephaphil
Don't listen to videos of random people on YouTube.


Yes take most of what you watch on youtube with a "grain of salt", however this technique (warm and Cold Buckets) has helped me. Combined with me basically re-learning how to play, without tension.

I had an idea (after a week into it was starting to feel really good) so I Stretched while in the warm water. It felt good but I think I must have over Stretched and it made the the situation worse. So I went back and started again. DON'T over stretch!!

Warming up in a bucket of warm water before playing is good but be careful! it's easy to over stretch. If you do it right, it can't hurt and if you don't see any improvement in a month, then see the doctor with his big needles and drugs.
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Old 12-13-2012, 08:59 PM   #8
Mephaphil
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wiggedy
Yes take most of what you watch on youtube with a "grain of salt", however this technique (warm and Cold Buckets) has helped me. Combined with me basically re-learning how to play, without tension.

I had an idea (after a week into it was starting to feel really good) so I Stretched while in the warm water. It felt good but I think I must have over Stretched and it made the the situation worse. So I went back and started again. DON'T over stretch!!

Warming up in a bucket of warm water before playing is good but be careful! it's easy to over stretch. If you do it right, it can't hurt and if you don't see any improvement in a month, then see the doctor with his big needles and drugs.


Oh yea, I definitely agree that if there is an inflammation, that cooling it is advisable. That's common sense. And people get a lot of good results from heat/cold cycles. That's good advice IF you have an inflammation of your medial tendon.

This video is about Tendinitis. You had it also I expect? I've had it. I currently have C5,6,7 disk herniation (that's a different thread though ), Tendinitis is terrible, but mine was a walk in the park compared to this. I clicked on the link in case someone was having a similar issue to me, but I don't think it is.

Anyway, this guy may not have it, so a video that spends 10 minutes talking about how to loosen up would be much better than one that talks about a load of other stuff and loosening up for 1.

I also found some of the content questionable, but mainly because he says 'This didn't work for me' and then went on to essentially dismiss medical opinion. It's largely anecdotal.

But whatever. I'm glad you got better with the hot and cold cycle
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Old 12-13-2012, 10:50 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mephaphil
I currently have C5,6,7 disk herniation (that's a different thread though ),


That sounds serious, hope you didn't get it from playing guitar.

How did you deal with your Tendonitis?
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Old 12-14-2012, 12:35 AM   #10
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OK I think the answer to this problem should be sticky'd already. It feels like I've answered this 10000 times. The problem is you are using your thumb to apply the force needed. You should be using your fingers. Your thumb is only there to support the neck, nothing else. You're squeezing the neck when you should just be using your fingers to push the strings down.
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Old 12-14-2012, 05:04 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Skruzz
(involved in a nail gun accident with my fretting hand


Did you have any broken bones? Did you get any physio?
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Old 12-14-2012, 05:23 AM   #12
Mephaphil
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wiggedy
That sounds serious, hope you didn't get it from playing guitar.

How did you deal with your Tendonitis?


Well possibly. It's caused by two things normally.

Wear and tear or trauma. Wear and tear caused by poor posture caused by having your neck in positions that put stress on it. I ride a sports bike. My neck is kinda bent forward with stress lower down towards the base of the cervical area. What other activity would I do that puts me in that position? Guitar!

It definitely contributes. No question about it.

But I'm pretty confident it was trauma that happened at work when I lifted incorrectly and felt tingling all down my arm, it got bad from there but yea, posture is very important. You know what, again Freepower has videos on all this stuff.

I'll be taking some medication soon that's meant to contain the pain extremely well and generally speaking it clears up in most people after 5 months, but if not I'll have surgery in January. Yay

The Tendinitis went due to me stopping doing what was causing the problem. I didn't play much guitar for a while, didn't ride my bike unless I really had to and got the bus to work, didn't play xbox and pc. Just had to change my lifestyle for a few weeks.
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Last edited by Mephaphil : 12-14-2012 at 06:28 AM.
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Old 12-14-2012, 05:34 AM   #13
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Go ahead and spend your money, I don't care. It won't make you sound better.


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Sure upgrading your gear will make you sound better.


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Old 12-14-2012, 08:37 AM   #14
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Maybe you could try playing those chords not as a barre?

Personally, I don't really care to play barre chords with my finger barred, so I'll play them more 'open', like how Hendrix would. Not sure if using your thumb to fret the low E would give you problems, though.
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Old 12-14-2012, 03:40 PM   #15
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Ok, i'm still not sure if this is because of physical limitations, or just bad technique? A video may help.

Anyway, if it is bad technique then don't worry so much, almost all guitarists have problems learning barre chords and get pain/cramps until they figure them out.

By far, the biggest problem I've come across with barre chords is with the placement of the index finger, It's usually slightly to high or low, causing a dead/muted string, so the player then presses harder and harder to get the string to ring out, Then complain of massive cramps in there hand.

Try this, barre the fifth fret with only your index finger with very little pressure applied, then pluck each string individually to find a dead note. now try to move your index up, make note of where the dead string is contacting your finger, You want to find a spot where all strings ring out with as little pressure as possible.

Most players that I've helped with barre chords, Tend to have the B string dead while playing an E-shaped barre chord, by moving the index up slightly the B string then contacts the harder area that begins the middle knuckle, usually the tip of the index is then rising over the fretboard. Rolling the index a little on it's outer edge also helps.

Check your thumb placement as well, Directly behind the index may work well, But you could also try the thumb directly behind the middle finger. This will allow you to use your forearm to help apply pressure to the barre, instead of your hand muscle squeezing the thumb to index.
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Old 12-14-2012, 08:28 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Junior#1
OK I think the answer to this problem should be sticky'd already. It feels like I've answered this 10000 times. The problem is you are using your thumb to apply the force needed. You should be using your fingers. Your thumb is only there to support the neck, nothing else. You're squeezing the neck when you should just be using your fingers to push the strings down.



There it is you should be able to bar cleanly without using your thumb
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Old 02-02-2013, 01:19 PM   #17
Skruzz
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Junior#1
OK I think the answer to this problem should be sticky'd already. It feels like I've answered this 10000 times. The problem is you are using your thumb to apply the force needed. You should be using your fingers. Your thumb is only there to support the neck, nothing else. You're squeezing the neck when you should just be using your fingers to push the strings down.


Funny you should say that, if I try to barre without my thumb touching the fretboard, it's actually worse. I'm not stupid, I know the proper technique. That's not my issue. I've tried changing where my thumb is, adjuting my grip, adjusting how my index finger touches the strings, and I'm playing with a classical guitar with nylon strings, it doesn't take any force at ALL to barre that. And yet, my hand and forearm still cramp up as I play them.
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Old 02-02-2013, 01:51 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Skruzz
Funny you should say that, if I try to barre without my thumb touching the fretboard, it's actually worse. I'm not stupid, I know the proper technique. That's not my issue. I've tried changing where my thumb is, adjuting my grip, adjusting how my index finger touches the strings, and I'm playing with a classical guitar with nylon strings, it doesn't take any force at ALL to barre that. And yet, my hand and forearm still cramp up as I play them.

I never said 'don't touch the fretboard' (and it would be neck, fretboard is just the front part where the actual frets are).
It will still take some force to play a barre chord regardless of what strings you are using.
You say it's not your technique, but I'm still convinced that it is. Post a video of you playing a barre chord. Focus the camera on your fretting hand, looking down on it from the top of the neck. With that I'll most likely be able to tell you exactly what the problem is.
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Junior's usually at least a little terse, but he knows his stuff. I've always read his posts in a grouchy grandfather voice, a grouchy grandfather with a huge stiffy for alternate picking.
Besides that, he's right this time. As usual.
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