How To Prevent Repetitive Strain Injury

A guide including exercises on cutting down on the chances ( and effects ) of RSI and other related injuries.

Ultimate Guitar
RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) can occur from any movement that is repeated many times. For most people, it is the clicking of a mouse and the tapping of fingers on a keyboard, but it can also be contracted by playing a musical instrument. Other such conditions that can be a product of RSI are Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Tendonitis.

Ways Of Preventing RSI

01. Check Your Fretting Hand

Having a poor hand position can be a factor is having more tension in your fretting hand, this is usually because the placement of the thumb is too high and that the wrist has to bend to allow the fingers to do their job. Depending on the size of your hand and how comfortable you are with playing with your thumb quite high this should be seen as a problem that needs sorting -- look at your wrist and that should tell you everything.

2. Check Your Guitar Height

Never ever play with a guitar too low down. It does not look cool, it does not enhance playing but it does encourage injury. Playing with the guitar quite high is actually more comfortable and allows for better playing in most cases. Again the indicators here should be the wrists and how straight they are.

3. Check Your Picking Hand

Anchoring your hand, forearm, pinky or any part of your body to the guitar creates more friction and more tension in your muscles. Fact. The decision as to whether they create enough tension to be a problem is yours. If it is then it would involve learning a new way of picking all over again -- this is worth it as I'm sure you'd rather play guitar than not even be able to grip things (happens in extreme cases).

4. Relax

Like above -- any unneeded tension can attribute to more pressure on your limbs. This can result in having a sore shoulder when you play to your hand going numb. At no point is guitar supposed to hurt when you're playing (apart from calluses building in your finger tips). If you are having such problems then just try to play something easy with no tension -- think light. Sometimes tension is a result of muscle memory and needs to be wiped out through lots of practice. This should involve relearning something slow -- speed when you can't play very fast causes most people to lock up their hands a bit too much.

Guitar Exercises

The usual exercise of going 1-2-3-4 on the E string and moving up a string and up a string is good as it forces you to use all of your fingers and is a good indicator of improper technique. Your fingers should be able to easily fret after a little bit of practice and some improved finger independence. If this isn't the case then your thumb is probably too high.

Warm Up Exercises

Athletes warm up before running -- guitar is a physical exercise too. Try creating different stretches and such to help counter RSI. Something like putting your hand out before you like you were high-fiving someone, straightening your arm and gently pulling back on all of your fingers with the other hand until you feel a stretch in your wrist is a good little warm up.

Also, try to stretch the wrists gently in any other direction you can. You might also consider doing stretches for your picking arm too if you are just getting used to not anchoring as this arm is going to be feeling tired at the end of a playing session (tired, not sore -- it's muscles that need to build up).

Build Up Endurance

The strength of the wrist depends on how strong your forearm muscles are. So some good exercises would be something chin-ups if you are lucky enough to have the facilities and the strength. Otherwise, there are other exercises you can use.

For example, I use a tennis ball in each hand when I'm walking somewhere or waiting on a bus or watching TV and, with all of my fingers over the top I sit and squeeze them. This would build up muscles in your forearms and would also improve finger strength too. The stronger a muscle is the more it can endure before injury.

Golfers are known to always carry strong rubber balls for the same purpose and many of them (due to increased muscle in their wrists and forearms) have longer drives than before. Padraig Haddington uses a product called Powerball that does the same job except it puts a small amount of pressure on your muscles indirectly. It is recommended by chiropractors which brings me to my last point.

Seek Professional Advice

If your wrists are hurting (and I mean in everyday activities like picking something up) then go and seek medical advice from someone who is actually qualified. Rest any type of exercise that could have an adverse effect on your wrists and follow the advice of your doctor and you should be fine.

83 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Just don't try and self diagnose: Not every pain is RSI, you might want to have things looked at or get a second opinion, because you should do all you can to prevent ANY type of injury.
    genious!! i never knew it could get that bad!! my wrists would get stiff but i never knew about rsi thx for the heads up
    genious!! i never knew it could get that bad!! my wrists would get stiff but i never knew about rsi thx for the heads up
    I wish i would've found this and read it a couple of days ago as it would've been really helpful. My wrist has been hurting for a couple of days now from playing guitar and i was really annoyed because i didnt know how to prevent from happening again once its healed up. now i do ! thanks !
    metal4all wrote: can you get RSI from walking too much? that would suck major balls. well written article by the way.
    For a second there I thought you said wanking haha . Good article btw.
    This is good. For anyone interested in this, I suggest "Finding The Incredible Lightness," at the bottom of the "Correct Practice" page. It goes really deep into relaxing your fingers, arms, et cetera. There's also one about using a classical position for your left hand (thumb against the back of the neck,) called "Left Hand Dexterity" in "The Basics." This means your wrist is totally straight, if you do it right, and you can stretch your fingers further. I suggest that one, too.
    Great work on the article! It was well written and very informative! I'm definetly going to take a better look at my playing to hopefully prevent any injuries in the future.
    I just recovered from RSI in my right arm. It sucked. A little advice: If you get RSI, don't completely stop moving your arm! Do stretches and very light exercise. If you don't move it, you can get frozen shoulder, and that's not something you want to deal with. Anything that sends blood to the muscle, which speeds recovery is good. Get a massage, use heat packs, and get some arnica cream or gel.
    I've had RSI once... It sucks ass... BTW i think it looks bad ass, too... thats how u play killer awesome solos... watch a good music video dumbass... lead guitarists play solos super low... DAMN!
    I never knew it was RSI. Recently I have experience minor pain in my left(fingerboard) wrist and the inability to bend it back all the way using my muscles. I don't wear my guitar low but perhaps I will reconsider how I play. Nice Article.
    Thanks. I didn't experience any discomfort, but I've had a fear of getting RSI. And you're right about playing with the guitar so low. I think it looks stupid.
    Note that "warming up" should be exactly that. You should not be stretching cold muscles and tendons. Stretching is not warm-up. Do some light activity like jumping-jacks or playing very lightly for a few minutes, that's warm-up. Then do your stretches. This is exactly the way professional athletes warm up. They do some light activity to get the blood flowing before stretching.
    christ, i've been playing for 5 years, always resting my right hand somewhere on the guitar. I've just tried all the licks and solos I know without anchoring or leaning any part of my hand, and it was instantly a lot easier and sounded a lot better! thanks so much!
    a good article indeed! a have rsi on my left hand.. oh my.. gotta buy some grip enhancer now..
    I'm really glad I saw this article. I was reading some other lesson about metal warm ups and exercises and they kept mentioning RSI. I started worrying that I was gonna get it if I kept playing guitar. At least now I no how to prevent it. Thanks a bunch.
    good article and quite useful. Started feeling pain on my left wrist after pushing it a bit too hard. Very useful for beginners.
    idk what this is, but sometimes when i chord or somethin my pinky feels wierd and i need to crack it. what is wrong here?
    Alix Withani
    just to qulaify my last statement.. i thought it was practically life-threatening (exaggeration)
    Alix Withani
    I read this a while ago, followed some of it (although admittedly not all of it) and I reckon I still got RSI, bugger! Although i'm relieved that it isn't as bad a thing to get as I thought.
    does RSI have anything to do with back pain? im thinking it might be because im playing too much guitar oh btw good article
    Hey man thanks, awesome article, I've just realised that I have RSI...
    Very good information, good idea for a lesson. More info on how not to put your hands on the guitar would be helpful.
    thanks.. I was getting slight pains in my shoulder and paid close attention to all of the tension in my body.. now I play relaxed with no pains
    that depends on the situation, is it late at night? good article btw, I would like to know more about this Carpal tunnel too
    Could RSI cause numbness?? I'v had very little feeling in my pinky and ring finger for about 2 weeks now and I'm wondering if it's from too much guitar.
    my freinds got rsi and can barely move his wrists as a result he has to wear a support. thanks for tellin the masses about this.
    great info,i have been playing for years and i never knew about (rsi)and some of the other things in the article,great job every guitar player should know this stuff..
    thats was handy all kinda already knew all that...but it took someone saying its true for me to actually give a shit...Ive always warmed up first though...nice one