How To Prevent RSI

A revised and renewed edition of my series on how to prevent Repetitive Strain Injury when playing the guitar.

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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 aproduct of RSI are Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Tendonitis.

Ways Of Preventing RSI

1. 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 sorted -- 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 calluse 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 considering doing stretches for your picking arm too if you are just geeting use to not anchoring as this arm is going to be feeling tired at the end of a playing session (tired not sore -- it's muslces 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 every day 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. The Performance When you're on stage, and rocking out and jumping up and down and moshing and putting on a performance, bear in mind a couple of things: a) Don't strain yourself - whether this is cramp in a leg, your arm feels like it's going to fall off or seriously hurting your neck from headbanging Solution - be able to do all of this comfortably for longer than you need - if the gig is an hour long, be sure you can play a set for longer than an hour and keep the energy up. If anything you can always be confident of doing an encore. b) Know what you're playing well - nerves can cause you to tense up, especially if that solo is challenging and you don't know if you're going to get through it. Solution - nail your tunes, play confidently and you will be at ease. Make it look easy by taking all the stress out of the performance and enjoy it more. c) Know your limitations - if the drummer cannot spin his sticks and catch them, don't let him try mid-performance. Solution - practices are for the horsing around. Piss about and try new things and if they work, put them into performances. Don't add unneeded stress to a performance because it will only add pressure and tension. Anything that can go wrong will go wrong so prepare for the worst.

35 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    scimitar_255
    Dillinger Escape Plan. Ben plays his guitar super high up, and looks like a god damned pimp while doing it. An inspiration
    Damikeyg
    Low players arent' necessarily untalented. Look at the bassist from Anthrax, he wears that shit on his ankles. James Hetfield plays really low and his techniques are fine. Whereas I play in the middle. Its just preference, no need to give a shit. lol
    SoA_Joseph
    Low guitars aren't really a problem if what you're playing is too simple to be strenuous...
    Kiwi Man
    Where you have your guitar is the same as where you have your pants. The higher they are the cooler you look.
    Reign77
    i like how everyone is totally not worrying about whether or not low guitars are cool and worrying about the problem this article indicates. also low guitars are definitely cool dawg
    Karz1993
    "Having a poor hand position can be a factor is having more tension in your fretting hand" The more I read it, the more my brain hurts
    Warrior47
    Andrew C. S. wrote: I will settle this low/high guitar debate with two words: Tom Morello
    You're right, a good person not to imitate.
    Bottle of Dirt
    How are you going to tell me that playing with my guitar lower doesn't feel better and allow me to play better? I've played all my guitars at different levels to find what worked best, and for almost all of them, it's pretty low. Playing with my guitar on my chest(or more than 50% above my belt buckle for that matter) actually hurts my wrists and my picking hand shoulder. Not everyone's body is built the same, when are you people going to realize that and stop acting like how you were told to play is the only way to play to not get hurt??
    Dumpster510
    Andrew C. S. wrote: I will settle this low/high guitar debate with two words: Tom Morello
    LOL Tom is a joke, you're kidding right?
    ne14t
    Lost Dog wrote: Flibo wrote: What's up with hating low guitars? Really, what does it matter to you if someone has their guitar low? How does it make any difference if it looks cool or not? Saying that it looks stupid is a retarded argument and can also be used against having your guitar set high. It's not like it looks cool either, but really, that's irrelevant. You just called calling it stupid stupid therefore making your own argument hypocritical. And stupid.
    Actually he said arguing about it is retarded, re-read the comment and you will see the poster is obviously not biased about where his guitar sits and is saying everyone should be the same way. So its not hypocritical, but your post does make you look like a douche trying to use big words. Who cares where it sits as long as it feel comfortable for you? I commented on this early in the forum but I constantly change where mine sits to try and keep myself comfortable.
    sketallica
    It's all about personal preference. Low guitars are cool, but so are high guitars. I've seen phenomenal high guitar players, but I've also seen phenomenal low guitar players. They're phenomenal for a reason, too; they play with their guitar as high or as low as it needs to be according to their comfort and their playing style. It comes down to the way your body is proportioned. Don't put your wrists at risk just to look "cool" by the standards of other people, because trust me, you're gonna look a lot cooler when you're having fun kickin' ass on stage instead of straining and hurting yourself to get through a song. You'll play better, have more fun, and be a helluva lot more comfortable if you find the height that suits you the best. Low or high, it doesn't matter. As long as you're comfortable and not in pain, you'll be fine.
    Dumpster510
    lunatocg2003 wrote: lol alot of ppl like to play low and its comfortable for some ppl, once again i am disappointed by these articles, i hate how i have to register just to i can download guita pro files, **** u ultimate guitar
    apparently you've never heard of free will? nobody made you sign up for anything, and if you have a problem, leave instead of whining like a 12 year old.
    Dumpster510
    I've always done the stretches John Petrucci shows in Rock Discipline and they've always worked for me.
    trashbeast
    Lost Dog wrote: Flibo wrote: What's up with hating low guitars? Really, what does it matter to you if someone has their guitar low? How does it make any difference if it looks cool or not? Saying that it looks stupid is a retarded argument and can also be used against having your guitar set high. It's not like it looks cool either, but really, that's irrelevant. You just called calling it stupid stupid therefore making your own argument hypocritical. And stupid.
    someone needs to look up the definition of hypocrisy
    lunatocg2003
    lol alot of ppl like to play low and its comfortable for some ppl, once again i am disappointed by these articles, i hate how i have to register just to i can download guita pro files, **** u ultimate guitar
    lank81
    Most_Triumphant wrote: we should start a new fad, everyone tighten your straps to Beatle lengths!
    I agree it may encourage good music again...
    Svennetjuuhh
    I've got like permanent RSI or something.. Even when I don't play the guitar, my wrists hurt like hell
    pigeonmafia
    conroy91 wrote: That Old Geezer wrote: Snowman388 wrote: Low guitars are not cool and show you do not have proper playing technique.
    Fix'd
    Flibo
    What's up with hating low guitars? Really, what does it matter to you if someone has their guitar low? How does it make any difference if it looks cool or not? Saying that it looks stupid is a retarded argument and can also be used against having your guitar set high. It's not like it looks cool either, but really, that's irrelevant.
    conroy91
    That Old Geezer wrote: Snowman388 wrote: Low guitars are not only cool but encourage proper playing technique.
    Fix'd
    link no1
    Hmmm, I have been wondering whether I have RSI for the past week or so... I'm gonna take your adivce and go check in with the Doc.
    Lost Dog
    Flibo wrote: What's up with hating low guitars? Really, what does it matter to you if someone has their guitar low? How does it make any difference if it looks cool or not? Saying that it looks stupid is a retarded argument and can also be used against having your guitar set high. It's not like it looks cool either, but really, that's irrelevant.
    You just called calling it stupid stupid therefore making your own argument hypocritical. And stupid.
    NHECOS
    I use my strap high (sort of like Petrucci), and I find it to be much more confortable.
    maximumrocker
    maximumrocker wrote: Id rather be able to play comfortably and look cool
    and not look cool**
    Darkmessiahnz
    I think they both look cool, but if it aint like poser music eg anything pseudo-pop then don't do the low one.
    bikervince
    I think the low-hanging guitar really does look cooler, but it is easier to play well with it up high. I'm conflicted, so I keep it just low enough so it doesn't affect my playing.
    sahil2304
    I think that Style < Performance . So even if it doesn't look very cool to a comfortable stance, keep in mind that it might just take you to a new level of playing. Maybe you will be able to do that sweep you haven't been able to do during all this time. nice article btw
    ibrahimasood
    I dont see the hate for low guitars, if its comfy for you let people play how they want to