Guitar Player Finger Cramps
Finger cramps will put a stop to your playing, and can be really painful. They are common in players who play hard, play long, and are predisposed to cramping. If you are reading this, you’ve likely already read a bunch, tried a bunch, and nothing has worked. It’s time to look at “PERPS”.
What is a PERP?
A perp in the world of music injuries is not a perpetrator, but rather a perpetuator. What I’m about to tell you is missed by many doctors. Sometimes the cause of your problem is less important than what keeps the problem going, and they are not the same thing. Your body wants to heal, it is designed to heal itself. When it is not capable of healing itself or avoiding recurring pain, or in this case finger cramps, we have to ask ourselves a question. Why is it that not all guitarists get finger cramps, and what in my life, could be leading to this recurring problem for which resolution seems impossible.
Common perpetuating factors are things like:
Previous accidents or injuries
Power tool use
Motorcycles and bikes
Sports like golf, tennis, volleyball, football, baseball, hockey, etc.
Typing, Computer use, texting, phone use
Using a mouse at your computer
Stress (physical, mental, or chemical)
Medications (side effects)
Poor posture (at work, at play, or otherwise)
What makes a guitarist more vulnerable to cramping?
Poor nutrition. Nutrition matters. If you are not providing your body with the vitamins and minerals necessary for proper function, you’ll be much more likely to have cramps. Vegetables, fruit, and lean meats are the ticket. Vegetables should be dark, and rich, like spinach, beets, broccoli, and beans. No, French Fries don’t count.
Poor Hydration. If you are dehydrated, you’ll be more likely to cramp. Drinking water is important but electrolytes are essential. Sodium, potassium, and magnesium are all critical for proper muscle cell function. Gatorade, coconut water, or other products high in electrolytes will do.
Hunching. Poor posture will lead to bad things. One being tension. Tension in your neck and shoulders can actually lead to nerve damage that may cause cramping or finger misfiring. In fact, nerve damage is something that must be ruled out, as it can have much more serious implications than a factor like dehydration.
Stress. Stress leads to inflammation and when stress and inflammation become chronic, healing and functioning of your body is diminished. Diminished healing capacity, along with extended playing time, may very well contribute to continued finger cramping.
Make a list of your Perps. (Do these three things)
Sit down and make a list of all of the daily activities that you feel may be aggravating your hands, fingers, and arms.
Once the list is made, organize the activities into two categories. “Easy to change” and “Harder to change”.
Step three is to start making changes. You never know which one, or how much of each one will be needed to reverse the stress (straw) that broke the camel’s back (your fingers). Your job is to try to find the sweet spot that tips the scales back in your favor, allowing you to play as much as you want or need to, without compromise or recurrent, worsening cramping. This means eliminating PERPS one at a time, while taking standard action steps listed below.
Other action steps to be started immediately:
Warm up your fingers before you play
Stretch your fingers
Roll the underside of your fingers on a ball (massage)
Take more frequent breaks
Use lighter strings
Adjust the action of your guitar (lower it)
Drink tonic water (to prevent cramping)
Hydrate with electrolytes
Evaluate prescription drug side effects
Be patient. Once you start doing the right thing, you may have to be consistent with it for a while before seeing improvement.
*If these measures do not help when done at the same time as avoiding PERPS, schedule an appointment with a neurologist to investigate nerve damage.
Dr. Lou Jacobs has been working with musicians of all levels for over 20 years. Dr. Lou prioritizes Injury management and recovery, prevention, stabilization, performance, health while touring. Dr. Lou coaches musicians online upon special request. To receive coaching intake paperwork regarding your injury, and to schedule your first call, you will reach Dr. Lou by calling (207) 774-6251.
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