Pain in the shoulder – Upright Bass

Whether you are playing slap style bass, bowing, using pizzicato techniques, or other extended techniques, the double bass has been known to be the cause of shoulder injuries. Shoulder impingement is one of the more common injuries. Form is critical, of course, but sometimes a history involving stress on the shoulder, either shoulder, will predispose you to an injury while playing. Below is a synopsis of shoulder impingement, and solutions for quick, strategic healing for bass players.

Shoulder impingement and the bad news.

Shoulder impingement syndrome is typically a repetitive stress injury. This would be more common in the shoulder of the upper hand, because of the position and constant tension on the upper shoulder. Even with a relaxed shoulder and proper form, your shoulder is still engaged in a compromised position. Your shoulder moves as your hand navigates the neck of the bass. The constant engagement along with the up and down, Is repetitive stress. Friction and inflammation in the tendons connecting the supraspinatus muscle and your arm, reduces space underneath the shoulder blade and above the ball of your shoulder joint. When the shoulder is compressed through rotation, twisting, or lifting of the affected arm, it will cause severe pain that is sharp. It feels like you would imagine the pinching of tendonitis would feel. Because of the intense pain, lifting the arm, pushing with the arm, and internal/external rotation of the arm becomes difficult to impossible. If the pain and immobility are not yet extreme, it can become much worse if symptoms are ignored and no action is taken. If severe, the healing process can easily take weeks to months, and for this reason, should be taken seriously by any professional musician. IF your income and livelihood are dependent on playing, shoulder impingement may shut you down.

Shoulder Impingement looks like this. It is common, painful and may quickly lead to an inability to practice and perform

Shoulder Impingement looks like this. It is common, painful and may quickly lead to an inability to practice and perform

Good News.

Shoulder impingement is easily diagnosed, and typically, easily treated. The diagnosis may be made with telemedicine evaluation. Therapeutic exercise and physical therapy may be implemented at home, with professional supervision, and eliminates the need for time wasted, as well as risky visits to offices with sick people during this time of COVID-19 pandemic. With diligent home care and rest, it is common for shoulder impingement to improve rather quickly, restoring your ability to play again.

An example of an exercise that typically helps shoulder impingement, is this shoulder retraction movement. It’s also, as this video focuses on, great for your posture. If you have shoulder impingement, this exercise may feel good from the very beginning. If not, proper diagnosis and therapy strategies should be pursued immediately. If it does feel good, you should still seek help, but perform this exercise on your own leading up to your telemedicine or in-person evaluation by your doctor who specializes in the health of musicians.


Dr. Lou Jacobs is a chiropractor and acupuncturist in Portland, Maine who has been specializing in the health and injuries of musicians and their crews for 20 years. Dr. Lou is available for telemedicine consultations for music-related injuries and health problems. Among those he has permission to mention, Dr. Lou has worked with Mumford & Sons, The Pixies, Steve Vai, Tommy Emmanuel, Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, Blackberry Smoke, Gogol Bordello, Trey Anastasio, and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. PHOTOS