Any guitarist can own the most sophisticated gear in existence — stacks of Marshall cabinets, rows of Les Pauls and Strats, and almost every effect pedal imaginable. One may argue that those gizmos are what makes a guitarist’s signature sound.
In truth, that assumption is worthy of someone without prior musical experience. A guitarist’s life’s work relies heavily on something far more simple and apparent: his hands. When carpal tunnel syndrome hits, a guitarist’s world can crumble.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is characterized by numbness, tingling, and weakness in the hand due to excessive pressure on the median nerve, which is located in the wrist. The nerve is responsible for controlling movement and feeling in the thumb and first three fingers, excluding the little finger.
The condition gets its name from the “tunnel” in the wrist through which the median nerve goes. If anything makes the carpal tunnel narrower than normal, it causes carpal tunnel syndrome. Anything can make that tunnel smaller, from simple swelling to specific illnesses like arthritis or diabetes. Continuous strain on the wrist can also be a culprit — repeated hand movements, especially if the wrist is bent down, can cause the problem.
Linking Guitar Playing and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Unless a guitarist is touring full-time with a major band, it’s likely that he keeps a separate day job to supplement his income. Most of the time, these day jobs are non-musical and would require one to sit in front of a desk, typing away at a computer keyboard.
It’s an accepted fact that continuous typing on a keyboard can cause carpal tunnel syndrome due to repetitive strain. The hands’ normal position when typing is having the wrist face-down, which is a recipe for disaster. Playing a guitar, on the other hand (pun intended), requires the wrists to be in a more relaxed, limber state.
Dealing With Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Mild symptoms can typically be treated with home care. To alleviate pain, avoid activities that cause repetitive strain for the mean time, and afford the wrists longer rest times between activities. Icing the wrist for 10 15 minutes once or twice an hour can also do the trick, as well as wearing a wrist splint at night. Lastly, there are certain over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs which can relieve pain and reduce swelling.
For more advanced cases, therapy is often recommended (surgery being a last resort). ManhattanSportsTherapy.com, among others, offers physical therapy treatment that includes ultrasound, stretching, and various range-of-motion exercises. Several clinics can even employ the services of an occupational therapist, if available and required.
Carpal tunnel syndrome can make even the world’s greatest guitarists suffer. Preventing it should be among the topmost priorities for anyone in the scene, and should it manifest, it must not be left untreated.