Hello all.

I've tried searching this in these forums and also through Google and haven't been able to find a definitive answer. The title pretty much explains it.

Here's my story:

I used to play guitar ~5 years ago. I was little more than a beginner. I learned a few songs, and all but stopped playing after graduation.

Fast forward to now, I've gotten a renewed urge to play guitar. Started playing again at the end of June. I now mainly play singer/songwriter, folk, country type stuff on my acoustic. Think songs that I can play and sing around a campfire.

Within 3 weeks of picking up the guitar again I was able to play along to some of my "goal" songs as well as singing along (something I've never been able to do). Naturally this got me even more excited about wanting to play. I began playing upwards of 3 hours a day on most days for the past few weeks.

I noticed a pain in my index finger of the fretting hand after learning a few songs by Everlast and playing them religiously. Many of his songs are in the key of C, so there's lots of open C chords, as well as F (at first I played the simplified [C-shaped] version as opposed to the barre version).

The pain comes from the way I bend my index finger to play the C chord. Some other chords that cause similar pain would be a D minor (due to the index finger position on the e string) as well as the C-shaped (non-barre) F chord. I might have something wrong with my left hand technique when playing these chords (example: pressing too hard, bad hand position). I originally played through the pain, but it's gotten to the point that it hurts when I'm not playing and I curl my index finger tight.

The pain comes from the 'middle' knuckle (first one up from my hand). To recreate the shape that causes the pain just think of making a tight fist. The pain becomes worse if I make a tight fist like this, and then move my fingers away from my palm while keeping the fingers themselves curled (this is somewhat like the way my index finger would be for a C chord).

Here is an image of the shape I'm talking about that causes pain:

My question is, has anyone experienced anything like this? Should I be worried? I haven't played guitar the last few days and I plan to take at least a week off to let it heal. I'm just worried of doing any long term damage. Additionally, is there anything I can do to make sure I don't get pain while playing C chords? I've tried adjusting my technique to something that doesn't cause pain, however once I get "into" a song and don't think about my finger/hand position I usually revert to the painful position when switching to a C.

Any help is greatly appreciated. Apologies for the wall of text.
honestly this sounds just about normal. it's pretty much what everybody goes thru when u start playing a guitar (or for that matter any stringed instrument).
i wouldn't worry too much about it. just enjoy and keep playing. if it hurts too much you can take a day or two off from playing.
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if ur playing X hours a day (or even if you're not) then fatigue or strains are probably likely yes? the solution might be take a few days off to give your body chance to recover (and grow)

i done quite a lot of gym in the past so i'm pretty familliar with when i'm overworking or damaged bodyparts and need to rest them
Last edited by percydw at Aug 13, 2015,
Thanks for the replies, it's reassuring. I figured it was probably just from using my fingers in a new way that I'm not used to; I guess I just wanted to be sure before I cause any real damage.

The gym analogy is a good one, I work out myself and know exactly what you mean. It's just so hard to stop when you're making good progress!

I'll give it a few more days and see how it feels. In the meantime I learned a pile of music theory today so I guess it isn't all bad.
It's likely excess tension. As a new player you are probably playing for hours with a lot of tension. A quick tip I use to try and release unwanted tension in the left hand is to play the song slowly and quietly. You want your hands (and your whole body) to feel very relaxed.

But it will get easier with time as you are able to change chords without thinking about it.

I would suggest looking into techniques for creating strong muscle memory. Mainly it revolves around playing slowly and to a metronome and not making mistakes. If you make mistakes slow down more. This will burn it into your brain a lot quicker than playing it incorrectly over and over. And the metronome builds your time keeping and rhythm. Has helped me immensely - songs I've struggled with for months I've overcome in a week or so with slow, metronome practice.
Thanks for the reply, you're probably right about excess tension. As it stands I am able to switch between chords on songs at full speed without thinking (I think it comes with learning to sing the song, I'm more focused on singing and simply know what the song should sound like so I switch chords). The problem is when I do switch to the relevant chord I usually squeeze the sh*t out of it.

As far as practicing with the metronome goes, I find with chord-strumming type songs I simply play along with the record a few times and learn the beat/strum pattern and then learn to sing it from there, eventually playing without the record. I find the metronome more helpful with lead-style licks that I am trying to learn/perfect. Good advice either way though.

Looks like I need to work on playing a bit looser. Thanks for the advice.
Take a picture of your hand fretting the c chord. We will see if it is bad positioning for sure and can help readjust.
Sorry, I've been away.

Here's a few pictures of me fretting a C chord. This is after playing a few other chords and switching to a C as I would do it if I was playing a song.

I notice I tend to angle my hand quite a bit because this makes my index finger have to bend less, which takes away some of the "pain"/stiffness. I say "pain" because it isn't painful to the point that I can't do it or can't play, it's just an irritation and it takes some warming up for my finger to feel normal. And then the next day it is more stiff once again.

I've been working on playing lighter but when I switch chords quickly during a song I usually revert to higher tension without trying.


I've posted hyperlinks because the images are absolutely huge when embedded
try to ditch the "baseball bat" grip. there are times to use it but open chords don't necessitate the use. in playing open chords try to keep the your thumb around the midpoint of the neck. a lot of players use this grip for open chords and i suppose it is doable but that doesn't make it efficient or even good.

i suggest this because it looks like your index finger is hitting the fretboard at a steep angle (which is common among players using the baseball bat grip). to be fair, i don't see a lot of players with that grip complain about index finger pain like this, so i would hazard a guess that your pain is a result of too much pressure combined with that angle. if you can learn to play with your thumb like that in the open position, your fingers should be almost perpendicular, and that hand structure will respond to pressure way better.

how long have you been playing? if you're really that new (as in, you started playing last month), then it might just be as other people have said -- that you need time to adjust and develop. even so, i'd suggest learning to hold the guitar like this. do it while you're not too far in.

also, to back what everyone else has said, if you're feeling some kind of pain while playing an instrument, 9 times out of 10 it's the result of some kind of unnecessary tension.
Anfangen ist leicht, Beharren eine Kunst.
Too much pressure definitely seems like an issue, I've been working on playing as light as possible while still sounding clear notes, but old habits die hard!

As to how long I've been playing, I picked it up again at the end of June of this year after having not played for 3 years. I had previously played for about a year or two with very inconsistent practice and never really learned much. I've always been self-taught, simply covering songs etc.

I'll try to keep my hand position more like the picture you provided and see if that helps, and continue to work on my tension. I'm starting to realize how little pressure I actually need to sound chords, I've always kinda squeezed the sh*t out of them when I swap chords quickly while playing songs.

Thanks for the recommendations.

Edit: Dm chords and variations also cause pain and again, this sees my index finger in a similar position to C chords so it must be related to my finger position and tension level.

Time off would probably help but it's so hard to just stop playing when I've been making great progress learning to self accompany! I can see that I need to though and come back with a (hopefully) healed up finger & learn how to play lighter.
Last edited by maccartm at Aug 19, 2015,
Baseball bat grip or not, it shouldn't hurt. Like you said, it's you squeezing your fingers on the fretboard with too much pressure. I've done it for years too. You get less flexibility, cramps, and pains. Just keep making a concious effort to play it as lightly as possible. The string need only touch the fret (it doesn't necessarily have to touch the fretboard itself).

But yeah. Old habits die hard as I'm finding out too. Another bad habit of mine is to push harder when I play louder. Trying to keep my left hand light and airy while strumming loudly is difficult for me. it's all fun and games though.
So true, as I get into the song and start playing louder my grip always tenses up.

I went through a bunch of songs last night trying to play as light as I could, and my finger wasn't noticeably more sore in the morning (as it usually is after playing) so that's something I guess.

I've realized that taking time off is going to be impossible (too addicted), and to be honest I would probably just ruin my finger again after the time off. So for the time being I'm just working on easing up a bit, which apparently is helping.

Occasionally I slip up and revert to the "baseball bat grip" but playing much lighter means it doesn't cause pain, and when I'm paying attention I'm able to avoid this grip.

Interestingly, I think I always tensed up to make sure I was hitting chords and sounding them properly, but playing much lighter seems to make switching chords "flow" better if that makes sense.

Things are looking up!
What kind of guitar are you playing? How is the action at the nut?

Many guitars come with a nut action that is way too high and this can lead to the kind of problem you are experiencing.

Fret the guitar at the third fret and look at the gap between the string and the first fret. The gap should be very small. The high E should be almost touching (you need to tap the string just behind the first fret to be sure there is a gap), with the bottom E a little more.

If you see this as the problem, take the guitar to a luthier and have it fixed pronto.
The action seems to be okay, it's a second hand guitar and I believe it was set up specifically for a beginner, as it is almost too low - there is some bad fret buzz when played open/at the first few frets.

I think the problem is more in line with what others have suggested -- excess tension mixed with bad finger position. This alongside the fact that I've been much too stubborn to take some time off to simply let it heal has made the problem worse than it should be.

I've promised myself (for real this time) that I will take at the very least 7 days off to see how my finger fairs; more if necessary. There's no point in doing some permanent damage for no reason. Thank you for the suggestion though, I will check the action using your method to see how it looks.
Quote by maccartm
Thank you for the suggestion though, I will check the action using your method to see how it looks.

Many guitars the action looks to be ok, or even too low as in your case, but the nut action is still too high. It should be almost as low as if it is were a fret (some guitars come with a "zero fret").