Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in The Guitarist
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common repetitive strain injury in musicians. Guitarists’ fingers and wrists move a lot, creating friction and inflammation in the carpal tunnel. The carpal tunnel is a tight band of ligament that crosses over the wrist, like a bridge across the wrist, and the nerves going to the hand. When the nerves are under too much pressure, numbness, tingling, weakness, and poor coordination and healing often arise.
People often “diagnose” themselves with carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), but are too often wrong. With the guidance and expertise of a doctor, CTS can be easily diagnosed and recommendations for care made, via telemedicine video calls. Specific tests and patterns of symptoms will lead to an accurate diagnosis and strategic treatment.
The problem with poor self “diagnosis” is that the efficacy of treatment will be compromised, potentially leading to a drawn-out worsening of the problem. For a serious musician, this could be career-altering…in a bad way.
Other Factors of Vulnerability
Other lifestyle factors like hobbies, sports, sleep position, previous injuries, and previous episodes may also alter the “normalcy” of your CTS, complicating treatment, even diagnosis. These additional factors may make traditional treatment less effective or ineffective altogether, leading the professional musician down a rabbit hole of tests and procedures that may have been avoided in they had consulted a specialist in musician’s injuries. An understanding of guitars, scales, finger positions, and configurations, all play a role in more effective healing. You wouldn’t take your favorite guitar to just anyone for repairs, you should offer your body the same discerning standard for care.
Having worked with A-list musicians and their wrists, it has become very clear what the risk of even moderate injury entails. Guitarists, when able, play through pain and deal with damage control later. The problem is, later does come, and sometimes the damage is deep and debilitating. Playing through an injury usually makes it worse. Surgeries, injections and medications often alter your ability to do your job, and in a worst-case scenario, could leave you partially or permanently disabled as a musician.
If properly diagnosed and strategically cared for, carpal tunnel syndrome in active guitarists can be healed in an efficient, timely, non-invasive manner. Below are some exercises to try in between suspecting carpal tunnel syndrome and seeing your specialist in musician’s health and injuries. If the exercises fail to do the job, your situation may be more complicated than carpal tunnel syndrome.
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