Arthritis is a pain!

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I stopped playing the guitar for many years because of arthritis in my left-hand fingers. I started to take daily vitamin and mineral supplements and about 3 years ago I was able to return to playing.

I don’t overdo it and usually play for only 30 minutes or less each day, but of late the pain has returned with a vengeance. Only my 1st and 4th fingers (left-hand index and pinkie) are affected. Both sometimes lock-up when I am playing and the pinkie is always swollen and stiff. I am treating the condition as best I can and I thought it might be helpful to share some of the ‘remedies’ I have read of or personally applied.

  • People on the various classical guitar fora recommend two external interventions:
    • Consult a medical specialist so that she can diagnose the condition and prescribe appropriately. I have not done this myself yet because of the high costs involved in specialist consultations and prescription medication, but I may well do so if I can’t alleviate the condition in other ways. I am taking an alkalising agent (base powder) regularly to get my body acid level down. I am hoping that this will ease the inflammation in the joints.
    • Consult an experienced guitar teacher to check your technique and the pressure you apply when playing. Again, I have not followed this advice because of the paucity of good classical guitar teachers in my area.
  • Every so often, I take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, but I don’t want to do this too often because of the risk of damaging the stomach lining. I have found that externally applied anti-inflammatory gel is next to useless for joint pain.
  • Some folk recommend Curcumin (Tumeric) with Piperine (Black Pepper) as a herbal anti-inflammatory and I am currently experimenting with this.
  • A common piece of advice I have read is to practice for short periods but very regularly. I practice for only 30 minutes every day and so can’t cut down on this and still hope to make progress as a player.
  • Warming up the hands before playing is also something others recommend and I have found it very beneficial to soak my hands in very warm water for a couple of minutes just before I play.
  • Warm-up hand and finger exercises also help. If I attempt to play complex pieces before warming up with simple exercises (scales etc.) then I invariably pay the price within minutes.
  • One blogger I read suggested changing the guitar configuration – lower tension strings and lower action, or even using a guitar with a shorter string scale length.

There doesn’t seem to be any greater wisdom out there on offer for classical guitar-playing arthritis sufferers like me, so I hope that this little list of possibilities may help those who also find arthritis a pain.

3 Replies to “Arthritis is a pain!”

  1. Oh friend,
    That sad but I wounded if you ever try complementary therapy treatment, I mean those doctor who use natural medicine and including advanced technology of detoxification and give advice about what kind of foods and drinks to take and when to take them and what kind of foods to stay away depend on your complication.
    If you are in my country I will direct you at the best complementary therapists that I know but because we are apart, I’m pray to Almighty God to guide you to the best in your area; and I believe He will.
    Wish you to fully come back so soon.

  2. Arthritis is a cruel and debilitating condition, especially for musicians, but sometimes we surrender to health problems prematurely. Several years ago I suffered badly from tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis). Playing was extremely difficult. Steroid injections helped for the short term but it always returned.
    Medical wisdom prescribes rest for the affected area (and for what can be a very long time). Not wishing to argue with qualified opinion, which is in the main very good, I nonetheless, continued to practice. My heart said one thing; my body (and the medical profession) said another. And they had to settle their differences.
    I persisted with playing the guitar throughout a great deal of pain, but I also found myself modifying my technique in small, perhaps unconscious, ways. I suppose then that I listened to my body too. Tiny increments of change led to notable improvements. Over time it became apparent that pain could be a teacher too. To cut a very long story short I am now free of tennis elbow, and have been for years. More importantly, my playing has improved immensely.
    Of course, this is a very different tale to arthritis. Yet a degree of debility will someday challenge and defeat us. It’s important not to give up at the first hurdle. Remember those, like the great jazz guitarist, Django Reinhardt, who turned actual deformity to their advantage. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way” – as my mother used to say.
    I recall as a child, at the beginning of my ‘journey’, being frustrated when my hands wouldn’t do as they were told. The guitar then was still a comfort just to hold. If a cycle of events returns us to this state of affairs, things could still be worse. A life-long companion, or a passing recreation, virtuoso or perpetual novice, the guitar will always have the power to brighten our days.

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