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#2459428 - 12/31/12 01:21 PM Left Hand Cramps
blake5377 Offline
Member

Registered: 12/31/12
Posts: 5
Hey everybody, happy new year!

Guitar player question...

So the other day my band played a show - first time in almost 5 months... During the end of our 35 min set my left hand (right hand player guitar) started to cramp up and it was hard to press down the chords...
Now im trying to understand why this was like this... Which never happened ever in my history of playing live shows...
1. I practice sitting down which is a different style and muscle you use... maybe need to break in my wrist more by practicing standing...
2. Since first time ive played lived song back to back it could of effected my hand since its been awhile?
3. Can be a form of carpal tunnel - which recently a Dr. did a test an said I dont have that - plus maybe too young?

Know any exercises or things I could do so this wont happen on our 20 day tour coming up...

Thanks everybody! Happy new year!!

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#2459432 - 12/31/12 01:36 PM Re: Left Hand Cramps [Re: blake5377]
A String Administrator Offline
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Registered: 12/18/03
Posts: 11910
Loc: Ontario, Canada
Be careful. Mine started with cramps and mild aching. Now, I can't play for more than 10 minutes before my hand is totally numb. Put a very quick end to my musical career.
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#2459436 - 12/31/12 01:40 PM Re: Left Hand Cramps [Re: blake5377]
LeftyBlues Offline
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Registered: 05/22/03
Posts: 1535
Loc: Cincinnati, Ohio
I would practice standing, different angle etc. Also stay hydrated, water and perhaps a sports drink like Gatorade sure can't hurt.
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#2459438 - 12/31/12 01:44 PM Re: Left Hand Cramps [Re: blake5377]
Scott Fraser Offline
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Registered: 03/20/05
Posts: 3914
Loc: Los Angeles
If your guitar is really slung low, Keith-style, that adds some real stress to the left wrist. If so, even though you may not feel as cool looking, try bringing the guitar up a couple inches.
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#2459492 - 12/31/12 04:49 PM Re: Left Hand Cramps [Re: Scott Fraser]
Larryz Offline
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Registered: 06/23/08
Posts: 5438
Loc: Hwy 49, California
Take a 15 minute break after every 10 songs...and get some potassium or eat a banana at breakfast every day.

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#2459511 - 12/31/12 07:32 PM Re: Left Hand Cramps [Re: Larryz]
Bartholomew Offline
Senior Member

Registered: 02/29/04
Posts: 395
Loc: Montreal
I've had my left hand thumb lock/clamp into the palm of my hand after a couple of sets and had to pull it open with my other hand.

Happens sometimes, not always and is ok after I pull it open.

Highly painful at times when it happens.
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#2459515 - 12/31/12 08:11 PM Re: Left Hand Cramps [Re: Bartholomew]
p90jr Offline
Platinum Member

Registered: 11/21/07
Posts: 1964
I started to get the "cramp claw" fingering hand during 4 hour cover gigs, playing acoustic (and kind of playing basslines along with chords at the same time).

I traced mine down to exactly what was causing it.

I'd fallen into the habit a long time ago of putting my thumb on the back of the neck sideways pointing towards the headstock. The way the wrist is constructed there's not a lot of strength in the joint when it's held that way and the pressure was aggravating the joints and muscles, and the nerves that pass through the dreaded carpal tunnel where the thumb joins the hand.

The solution, in addition to kind of letting it rest, warming it up a bit, is to make sure to go back to the way demonstrated in those geeky old Mel Bay books, where it says "warning: not holding the guitar like this may result in injury!" (and I thought they were just insane).

Make sure when you fret chords that require your thumb to press on the back of the neck that the thumb is pointed upward, perpendicular to the neck. And pull back/apply pressure to the string from your shoulder, NOT FROM YOUR WRIST!!!

I wear guitars low... I have problems with the other arm after all this time if they're higher than about waist level, and I fret a lot with my thumb over the fretboard fingering the E string... so I'm not a super "technique" type player, but I put some effort into training myself to not cause the cramps in the middle of those gigs. Haven't had problems since.

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#2459527 - 01/01/13 01:10 AM Re: Left Hand Cramps [Re: p90jr]
Caevan O'Shite Offline
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Registered: 04/05/02
Posts: 22296
Loc: The Great Spirit's Handprint o...
Originally Posted By: p90jr
I started to get the "cramp claw" fingering hand during 4 hour cover gigs, playing acoustic (and kind of playing basslines along with chords at the same time).

I traced mine down to exactly what was causing it.

I'd fallen into the habit a long time ago of putting my thumb on the back of the neck sideways pointing towards the headstock. The way the wrist is constructed there's not a lot of strength in the joint when it's held that way and the pressure was aggravating the joints and muscles, and the nerves that pass through the dreaded carpal tunnel where the thumb joins the hand.

The solution, in addition to kind of letting it rest, warming it up a bit, is to make sure to go back to the way demonstrated in those geeky old Mel Bay books, where it says "warning: not holding the guitar like this may result in injury!" (and I thought they were just insane).

Make sure when you fret chords that require your thumb to press on the back of the neck that the thumb is pointed upward, perpendicular to the neck. And pull back/apply pressure to the string from your shoulder, NOT FROM YOUR WRIST!!!

I wear guitars low... I have problems with the other arm after all this time if they're higher than about waist level, and I fret a lot with my thumb over the fretboard fingering the E string... so I'm not a super "technique" type player, but I put some effort into training myself to not cause the cramps in the middle of those gigs. Haven't had problems since.


Good call.
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#2459537 - 01/01/13 05:36 AM Re: Left Hand Cramps [Re: Caevan O'Shite]
Rampdog Offline
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Registered: 02/04/06
Posts: 2842
Loc: South of the South
Do you have any history of spine/neck disc problems? The old rhyme 'the thigh bone's connected to the hip bone, the hip bone connected to the etc etc etc... I'm just sayin'....
I have a bad C-6 vertebrea that affects my arm after a short time... Since I got into a quasi yoga program things have gotten better...
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#2459700 - 01/01/13 08:30 PM Re: Left Hand Cramps [Re: Rampdog]
p90jr Offline
Platinum Member

Registered: 11/21/07
Posts: 1964
The wife has been making me go to her personal trainer with her, which is actually cool. The trainer is a former gymnast who focuses on kinesiology, because we should be exercising and stretching from just our everyday movements and activities if we were doing them correctly, but as adults over time we develop bad habits that make everyday movement damaging rather than beneficial. It's an eye-opening thing... I'm a formerly flexible string bean from a family of thin athletes who's put on some pounds over the years (graphic design can be an unhealthy profession, desks are killing us all) and started stiffing up in the last few years. Being made conscious of how I stand, walk, climb stairs... I can tell a difference.

That's bleeding into things related to playing... I played a Christmas party gig a few weeks ago and somewhere on the trip from the car one of the little adjustment screws on the mic stand fell out, and I couldn't find it... I tried to shimmy it with something or use gaffers tape to no avail, so I ended up being a 6'2" guy singing into a mic stand that came up to about 5'10". I tried to not "stoop" down to it but found myself doing that, mainly for purposes of projecting into the mic to be heard at spots. At the end of that 4 hour gig my neck, shoulders, chest, lower back, knees, ankles and feet were all KILLING ME!

Lesson learned: backup mic stand goes into the car for gigs. I already crack people up by having a big bag with triplicates of everything like guitar straps and boxes of picks (using a pick that was different than I was used to gave me arm pain during a 4 hour gig, because I think you subconsciously try to compensate to hear and feel what you're accustomed to) but I find safe > sorry (and achey).

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#2459777 - 01/02/13 07:36 AM Re: Left Hand Cramps [Re: p90jr]
SEHpicker Offline
Platinum Member

Registered: 05/16/02
Posts: 1006
Loc: Inverness, Florida
My band typically does 4-50 minutes sets with a 10 minute break.
A year or so ago we were in our 3rd set when my left fretting hand started to cramp. Kinda freaked me out as I couldn't play anything - let alone complicated riffs.
I did several things to avoid this at future gigs.

1. HYDRATE HEAVILY - drink lots and lots of water - gallon a day and also drink Gator-aid - especially on day of gig.
2. HOT WATER - run hot water over your hand between sets - as hot as you can stand for as long as you can - works wonders.
3. ALIEVE - take 1 or 2 Alieves 1 hour before the gig - I never take Alieve or aspirin or Tylenol - ever - except for hand cramps at gigs.
4. STRETCH - stretching out all the tendons and muscles in your hands and forearms is essential. Don't stretch too far or too fast. Just gently bend your fingers back, bend your wrist back and all around for 10 minutes before playing.

These are the things that have worked for me to avoid cramps in my left hand - never had an issue with the right hand. Hope this helps.
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#2459787 - 01/02/13 08:31 AM Re: Left Hand Cramps [Re: SEHpicker]
Scott Fraser Offline
MP Hall of Fame Member

Registered: 03/20/05
Posts: 3914
Loc: Los Angeles
Originally Posted By: SEHpicker
My band typically does 4-50 minutes sets with a 10 minute break.
A year or so ago we were in our 3rd set when my left fretting hand started to cramp. Kinda freaked me out as I couldn't play anything - let alone complicated riffs.
I did several things to avoid this at future gigs.
1. HYDRATE HEAVILY - drink lots and lots of water - gallon a day and also drink Gator-aid - especially on day of gig.
2. HOT WATER - run hot water over your hand between sets - as hot as you can stand for as long as you can - works wonders.
3. ALIEVE - take 1 or 2 Alieves 1 hour before the gig - I never take Alieve or aspirin or Tylenol - ever - except for hand cramps at gigs.
4. STRETCH - stretching out all the tendons and muscles in your hands and forearms is essential. Don't stretch too far or too fast. Just gently bend your fingers back, bend your wrist back and all around for 10 minutes before playing.
These are the things that have worked for me to avoid cramps in my left hand - never had an issue with the right hand. Hope this helps.


These are all the right things to do. Remember that any soft tissue (muscle or tendon) problems tend to arise from overuse, so to SEHpicker's list I would add "5. TAKE FREQUENT BREAKS. Even between songs, take 30 seconds while the next tune is being introduced to shake out your hands, stretch & relax."

Additionally, be careful with NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) which include Naproxen (Aleve), Ibuprofen & Aspirin. NSAIDs, as well as Acetaminophen (a non-NSAID pain reliever) can cause short term hearing issues, like ringing & other tinnitus-like symptoms. If overdone (i.e. more than the recommended dosage for extended periods of time) they MAY cause permanent hearing damage. As with anything, moderation.
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#2459798 - 01/02/13 09:08 AM Re: Left Hand Cramps [Re: Scott Fraser]
Guitarzan Offline
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Registered: 02/26/02
Posts: 14777
no cramping for me but i have noticed my hands are sore and stiff lately compared to the past. it hasn't been a problem as i usually hold my guitar higher and play seated a lot.

our dishwasher needs repair so i get to hand wash dishes and the warm water is awesome for my hands. even though hand washing dishes sucks (IMHO).

limiting hand use is rather difficult at my job but with 12 hr shifts i get lots of down time to rest.

i should use the advice posted here and start upping my water intake.
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#2459878 - 01/02/13 01:45 PM Re: Left Hand Cramps [Re: Guitarzan]
blake5377 Offline
Member

Registered: 12/31/12
Posts: 5
Ah thanks for all the advice guys!! Yah the thumb thing seems to be it... I guess treat her like a nice lady... but yet dont be too gentle... but a nice tough love.. )

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#2459888 - 01/02/13 02:26 PM Re: Left Hand Cramps [Re: blake5377]
p90junior Offline
Senior Member

Registered: 08/01/08
Posts: 57
Originally Posted By: blake5377
Ah thanks for all the advice guys!! Yah the thumb thing seems to be it... I guess treat her like a nice lady... but yet dont be too gentle... but a nice tough love.. )


Definitely... almost every person I've known since I went through it who thinks they're getting carpal tunnel syndrome finds out it's that simple thumb position thing, which is causing the carpal tunnel problem by aggravating everything in that area...



I work with a lot of secretaries who've had surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome from decades of typing (and typing "correctly"), which screws up their mobility... I think that's crazy, but I guess they were in a position where they couldn't rest from typing as a job.

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