Why do so many guitarists have shoulder issues?
It’s really quite simple. One arm is up to work the neck and frets of the guitar, the other arm is down to strum.The strap of the guitar pulls down on the shoulder of the hand on the neck of the guitar, applying pressure to the trapezius and elevator scapula muscles, among others. Looking down at music, or the guitar itself puts additional strain on the neck and upper trapezius muscles. This strain makes the head feel heavier, but it’s the muscles of the upper traps, upper back, shoulder and neck muscles that do most of the work to provide your neck with the angle to look down. This combination, in conjunction with stress of life, is plenty to cause chronic neck and shoulder pain and fatigue.
I am often asked, when is it too late? When has the problem become “unfixable?”
Fortunately, until the spine or shoulder joint itself is involved in the way of degeneration (arthritis), disc disease, or reversal of the curve of the neck, most discomfort is muscular in origin. These muscles run down into the shoulders and will make everything hurt, but the bark is often bigger than the bite, and a bit of soft tissue work and alignment of the neck and shoulders will do the trick.
I recently worked with several members of a large band, most of whom had shoulder pain. Tension, pain, inflammation that made them rather uncomfortable while on stage. Playing for hours nearly every night after traveling on the tour bus for 3-8 hours a night, doesn’t help. But it is all predictable.
Heavier solid body guitars and basses add to the strain. Thin straps make matters worse.
Lighter guitars and thick straps help ease the strain on the upper body, and the sooner these changes are made, the longer it should take for a guitarist to accumulate enough stress to reach what is called “allostatic load.”
Allostatic Load is the accumulated stress it takes for “the straw to break the camel’s back.” It could be sleep position, workstation, guitar weight, mental stress, chemical stress, or any other stressor that piles up on top of your other life stressors until one day, you break.
Every seemingly small modification to reduce stress on the shoulders while practicing or playing, or during activities of daily life unrelated to music, will be helpful in reducing your risk of a career limiting injury.
Dr. Lou has worked regularly with musicians and their crews for over 20 years. Because of the nature of the issues, tele-chiro calls are effective in many cases for assessing the problems and creating a plan of action for home care, before a physical visit to a doctor is necessary. Shoulder pain of muscular origin is often manageable with home care. To reach Dr. Lou and his team, call (207) SPINAL-1