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#1738647 - 04/21/07 09:11 AM Hand cramps, conditions that inhibit playing
Jere-n-Deb Offline
Senior Member

Registered: 04/08/07
Posts: 37
I'd like to hear if any of you bass players have or have had any conditions that inhibit playing but not prevent playing.

Things like arthritis, injury, and just plain cramping while playing.

I have a condition called Dupuytren's contracture, it's in the very early stage but my left ring finger has a thickening in the tendon (the part affected is in the palm/hand about 1 inch below where the finger meets the hand). The effect in the real long run is that my finger could curl up and not be able to straighten; but could stay the way it is which is an awareness of the nodule or toughening of the tendon. Sometimes when I've been playing a real fast repetitive twelve bar blues pattern my ring finger will cramp & I'll be forced to not use it & switch to the index or little finger which is kinda okay because it teaches me versatility & to relax. I keep forgettin' that I don't have to press that hard to play notes!

So can anyone direct me to some worthy tips, experiences or exercises that can help improve speed and relaxed technique?

SWR Super Redhead, Carvin Pro Bass 200
BASSES: Epi El Capitan Acoutsic, ESP-LTD B304, Warwick Thumb Bolt-On, Fender Jazz Fretless, Schecter Stilletto 8

BP Island
#1738673 - 04/21/07 10:53 AM Re: Hand cramps, conditions that inhibit playing [Re: Jere-n-Deb]
Mr. Chris Offline

Registered: 04/21/07
Posts: 4
Loc: Fox Valley, WI
I can sympathize with you, my brother. I am an "older" bass player...well...let's just say that I'm not 20 anymore. \:\(
I, too have gotten a little cramped up while playing, but so far I have just been able to "gut through it" and keep using the finger (or fingers) and it eventually goes away. My dad is an "old school" cello player from way back and he has a condition called "trigger finger" - it's where (like you said) the fingers will curl up and stay in that position - but luckily for my dad he can uncurl them, but he has to exercise them a bit. I'm hoping and praying that this is not a genetic condition that I may be subject to later on in life.

I can also relate with not using the one finger...a few years ago, my daughter and I were racing in the hotel pool and I won, but I also slammed my middle finger into the side of the pool and fractured it a bit. I spent the next month with one of my main picking fingers in a splint, so I had to learn to play with my ring finger on that hand.

Just a couple of suggestions for you though:
1. Check the action on your basses. Sometimes we don't realize how much difference a few small adjustments can make. If you are able to lower your action, you may not have to press as hard / work as hard as you are presently.

2. Try taking 3 or 4 Ibuprofen (I think the limit is 4) before you play...that might help lessen some of the discomfort and help with blood flow.

3. Look at positioning of your instrument. I play Warwicks (6-strings) which are traditionally neck heavy, so I have to wear them high up - as opposed to the heavy metal (down by your knees) method. Seriously, if you look at the angle your hands are addressing the neck, that may have an affect on your playing and comfort.

There are more things that I'm sure I just can't think of at the
moment. The idea is that maybe there are some adjustments you can make to lessen the effects you are experiencing.
The reality is that you may still have to deal with your condition, but I suppose there are worse things in the world to be afflicted with (AIDS, Alcoholism, Civil War....the list goes on). Put things into perspective. Maybe you have to look at playing a different style...say GRUNGE or PUNK ROCK, eh?

In any of luck to you.
Live to groove, groove to live!

#1738696 - 04/21/07 11:37 AM Re: Hand cramps, conditions that inhibit playing [Re: Mr. Chris]
Rocky McDougall Offline
MP Hall of Fame Member

Registered: 04/08/06
Posts: 4272
Loc: San Antonio, Texas
A little humor.....
A man goes to the doctor and states that every part of his body hurts. He pressed his finger to his left arm and says "that hurts", and repeats this on many parts of his body and reacts with pain.
The doctor said, "Are you a bass player"? The patient says "yes, how did you know that"? The doc says, "Becuase your finger is broken"

"Democracy is two wolves and a lamb, voting on what to eat for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb, contesting the vote."
Benjamin Franklin

#1738698 - 04/21/07 11:43 AM Re: Hand cramps, conditions that inhibit playing [Re: Mr. Chris]
moot Offline
MP Hall of Fame Member

Registered: 07/27/04
Posts: 3442
Loc: My Moms Basement
Stretch your hands before you play. Also make an effort to build your hand strength.
When I first switched from skinny to fat strings I carried a raquette ball around and squeezed it to build finger/hand strength. I am also a surviver of CTS so I (literally) feel your pain.

Try a search on the topic. There is a ton of posts on this subject.

Good Luck
"He is to music what Stevie Wonder is to photography." getz76

I have nothing nice to say so . . .

#1738779 - 04/21/07 02:57 PM Re: Hand cramps, conditions that inhibit playing [Re: moot]
theTragicRich Offline
Gold Member

Registered: 05/02/05
Posts: 831
Loc: Naperville, Illinois
I agree with Mr.Chris. Alot of things can be resolved by the positioning of the instrument. I know alot of people don't think it's "cool" to wear your instrument up high, but that's how I wear it. 1) Because when I was younger and took guitar lessons, you sat down. That positioning I just transferred to the strap when standing so I keep it high. 2) It's WAY more comfortable to me on both my hands (guitar or bass). Your elbows bend at a more natural position, and if you raise your neck a bit, you don't have to bend your wrist in awkward positions to play, allowing the muscles to move more naturally and should lessen cramping and most other stress in that area. 3) Well, for guitar anyways, lot easier to speed pick (flat pick) though I suck at it, and for bass it's lots easier to slap/pop if the instrument is higher (for me anyways).

But that's just my theory... I have no proof or documentation to prove any of it, but it just feels 'right' in my hands. (Begin Rant) One of the things that irks me, is when bands comment on my positioning asking me if I'd lower my instrument to be 'hardcore' or whatever... I play my guitar or bass for the music not the image or to look cool/hardcore/whatever. Just because I have long hair and listen to metal, doesn't mean I HAVE to look metal. (End rant)

Outside of positioning the instrument... just keep the fingers moving... allow yourself some warmup time before gigs/practices etc. And even when you don't have your instrument, just wiggle your fingers as if you're fretting or plucking etc. If I'm waiting at the bank counter or whatever, my fretting hand is always playing scale patterns (2 4, 1 2 4, 1 3 4) etc on the counter, steering wheel. Crack the knuckles, stretch the fingers etc... all that should help as well.

I hope it's nothing to serious and that it can be prevented or at least with treatment, become more controllable.
[Carvin] XB76WF - All Walnut 6-string fretless
[Schecter] Stiletto Studio 5 Fretless | Stiletto Elite 5
[Ampeg] SVT3-Pro | SVT-410HLF

#1738800 - 04/21/07 04:12 PM Re: Hand cramps, conditions that inhibit playing [Re: theTragicRich]
ClarkW Offline
Platinum Member

Registered: 07/23/02
Posts: 1160
Loc: Boston/MA/USA
Back in the very earliest days of playing, I started developing forearm and hand pain in my left hand. I was bucking around a HUGE nasty old amp, and playing with the bass strung pretty low and my thumb wrapped all around the next.

1. I bought a lighter amp.
2. I shortened my strap.
3. I took lessons and learned better hand position, keeping my thumb gently planted in the middle of the back of the neck, pressing lighter for notes, and using "layering" which means fretting using the index and middle finger to back up the ring and pinky fingers.

Since then, I have been pain-free in spite of play for much longer periods of time and playing much more physically demanding music.

#1738817 - 04/21/07 05:40 PM Re: Hand cramps, conditions that inhibit playing [Re: ClarkW]
SmittyG Offline
Senior Member

Registered: 10/12/03
Posts: 149
Loc: Texarkana, Texas
I'm also on the bandwagon with better bass/hand position and lots, I mean LOTS, of slow, methodical stretching for the hands. I've gone through a couple of rounds of hand and arm problems being an older bass player (at 20, I had the bass around my knees and played like I was having a seizer for hours with no problems at all) and, in each of these cases, a little coaching from an instructor and some stretching routines helped me through the problems. Now, I won't touch a bass before I've gone through my hand warmups.
The groove is in the spaces.

#1738841 - 04/21/07 08:26 PM Re: Hand cramps, conditions that inhibit playing [Re: SmittyG]
kerk Offline
Senior Member

Registered: 11/09/06
Posts: 310
Loc: N. Florida
I have read that sometimes a lack of potasium in the diet can cause cramping. Just throwing it out there. You might want to investigate it.

#1738937 - 04/22/07 03:19 AM Re: Hand cramps, conditions that inhibit playing [Re: kerk]
lug Offline
MP Hall of Fame Member

Registered: 03/13/01
Posts: 2285
Small world. I have a similar condition called Flexor Tendinitis (trigger finger) in three fingers. I'm going in monday to have it evaluated. The treatments are cortazone shots or surgery. If surgery, they just open up the sleeve the tendon travels though.
You can stop now -jeremyc
STOP QUOTING EVERY THING I SAY!!! -Bass_god_offspring
lug, you should add that statement to you signature.-Tenstrum
I'm not sure any argument can top lug's. - Sweet Willie

#1738950 - 04/22/07 04:55 AM Re: Hand cramps, conditions that inhibit playing [Re: lug]
Mr. Chris Offline

Registered: 04/21/07
Posts: 4
Loc: Fox Valley, WI
Sounds like there are some like-minded brothers out there. Nothing beats comfort when you have to play a whole night. I say wear your instrument and position your hands in the most comfortable way and half the battle is won.
As for the "lack of potassium" thing...I have heard that as well.
I've been told that bananas are a good source of potassium. It couldn't hurt to add these to your diet if you don't already eat them on a regular basis. It's worth a try.
Like a good friend of mine always says..."Nothing ventured, nothing ventured." ;-)
Live to groove, groove to live!

#1739015 - 04/22/07 10:52 AM Re: Hand cramps, conditions that inhibit playing [Re: Mr. Chris]
Edro Offline
Gold Member

Registered: 06/09/06
Posts: 510
Loc: NY
I have tendinitis in both wrists and a ganglion cyst in the right one.
So far, the left hand hasn't been effected as much as the right.
A pick gets used for most of my playing lately. But stretching, an occasional ibuprofen, keeping both hands relaxed, and finding the "sweet spot" for the strap length have helped.