Playing guitar is such a great pastime and is something anyone of all ages can partake in, but what if you’re suffering from arthritis? How will it be while you play? Fortunately, there is no evidence that playing the guitar causes or worsens arthritis. In fact, playing the guitar can help to alleviate the discomfort of arthritis! There are no hard and fast guidelines for playing guitar with arthritis because everyone’s condition is different. However, here are some tips for playing guitar with arthritis that may make jamming and practicing sessions go more smoothly.
So, what is arthritis in the first place? Arthritis is a term that refers to chronic joint swelling. Stiffness, discomfort, and a limited range of motion are common symptoms. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the two most frequent kinds of arthritis. So, can you still play guitar with arthritis? Yes! Your mileage may vary, as it does with most things. What works best for you will be determined by a variety of circumstances, such as the severity of your arthritis and whether it affects your fretting or picking hand (or both). Here are a few tips that have proven to be successful in the past for those wanting to play the guitar with arthritis.
Lower your action
When I pick up someone’s guitar and see that their strings are a mile above the fretboard, I’m always amazed. Even seasoned musicians can hardly press the strings down! Even more astounding, they are completely unaware that there is a problem or that things could be done differently. Lowering your action (string height) is one of the most crucial things you can do if playing your guitar is excruciatingly unpleasant. If you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t try it yourself. Bring your instrument to a certified guitar technician or repairman and request “the lowest action possible without generating string buzz.” This will completely change your guitar playing game and give your hand and wrist much more ease.
Create the right environment
Guitarists’ hands are subjected to a great deal of abuse. It all adds up, and none of it is good for your muscles or joints. Bending strings, holding barre chords, rapid-fire picking – it all adds up. Your performance will suffer if your hands ache or your shoulders lock up. Worse yet, you may be causing long-term harm. Before you begin playing the guitar, make sure you warm up and stretch your hand. To lessen the effects of your arthritis, sit in a comfortable chair and try to play in a warm, dry environment. Warming up your hands and wrists can include placing your palms together in front of your chest. Push your hands as far down as you can while maintaining your palms flat. The stretch should be felt on the inside of your wrists. Hold for a total of 10 seconds. Slowly rotate your wrists so that your fingertips point downward while holding this stance. Keep your palms together and rotate as far as you can until it hurts. The tendons on the sides of your wrists are stretched as a result of this. Hold the position for another ten seconds. After that, bend the thumb of the other hand back with the palm of one hand. Gently press down until your thumb muscle stretches. Each thumb should be held for six seconds. Apply pressure on each finger by stretching it back with the palm of your other hand. Maintain a loose wrist. Gently squeeze your palm and wrist until you feel a strain. Each finger should be held for six seconds. This should help warm up your hand muscles and ready them for playing.
Use a capo and pick
Full barre chords are not good for arthritis, so if you can, keep to open chords. Without losing the sound of your playing, a capo can help you skip many barre chords. Whether you have a lot of songs in your repertoire with a mix of barre and open chords, see if employing a capo allows you to play them in the same key without utilising barre chords. Using alternate picks developed expressly for people with grip issues, like as a thumb pick, in addition to a capo, is a terrific idea. This relieves finger tension, which is especially beneficial if your strings are tight.
Play more comfortably
If your style allows it, play gently and keep your wrist straight. Also, keep your fingers as close to the fret as possible to reduce the amount of pressure you need to apply to the string. This isn’t the time to become a Steve Vai disciple if you’re not already a speed player. It’s easier for your hands and wrists to play at a slower pace. If you’ve always desired to be a speed player, approach with caution and make sure you’re warming up appropriately. Slide playing, in addition to being slower, may make it easier for you to play for extended periods of time because there is less movement of individual fingers and no fretting of notes.
Use lighter strings
Another thing I always tell people who have a lot of finger or hand pain is to use the lightest guitar strings they can find. They’re a little harder to come by because string producers don’t advertise them. Lighter-gauge strings will be gentler on your hands whether you play electric or acoustic guitar. If you play acoustic guitar, you might want to look at silk and steel strings as well. Make sure your instrument is in good working order. Lighter strings necessitate less pressure, making them gentler on the hands. Steel or silk strings are recommended for acoustic performers, whereas lighter gauge strings are recommended for electric players. Play a Les Paul-style guitar with a longer neck. When you play, you’ll find it easier to curl your hand around the guitar. Some luthiers create guitars expressly for people who have difficulty playing standard models. Take a look at the Zager Easy Play, for example.
Press closer to the fret
Another great tip when it comes to playing guitar with arthritis is to press closer to the fret. It takes less downward pressure to push as close to the metal fret as feasible (without muting the note) than it does to press somewhere in the middle of the fret. This is not only good fretting technique, but it also means less finger and hand pain. You’ll be able to play for longer periods of time before needing to take a break, which is essential if you’re trying to perform through entire songs.
Try finger caps
Normally, we wouldn’t recommend placing anything on your fingers while playing; however, if you have arthritis in your fingers or in a specific finger, these finger caps will be a game changer. Some (rare) medical disorders may hinder some persons from playing guitar due to their proclivity for bruises. If you’re trying to manage a medical issue like this, finger caps like these can be your ticket to playing guitar. They will relieve pressure on your fingertips while also allowing you to correctly press down on the strings, allowing you to play more sophisticated chords.
Stretching your fingers, wrists, forearms, and even shoulders for just 2-3 minutes before playing guitar is a great suggestion, especially if you have a medical issue that prevents you from playing. During guitar practise, it’s also a good idea to take a break and stretch.
Use an automatic tuner
Tuning a guitar necessitates a tremendous deal of twisting, which is bad for arthritis. Fortunately, there are a plethora of free online automatic tuners available for download from your phone’s App store. You may also purchase automatic tuners in any music or guitar store you come across. Tuning your guitar takes time and concentration, which can be challenging when all you can think about is your arthritis. These automatic tuners are fantastic; I have an app on my phone that properly tunes my instrument! I’m never going back to tuning by ear.
Have fun and don’t put pressure on yourself
The last tip is simply just to have fun and don’t put too much pressure or expectations on yourself. Although you may struggle with your arthritis, implement these tips and just have fun! Also keep in mind that playing guitar can actually help your arthritis. Low-impact movement has been demonstrated to enhance flexibility and strength in study after study. Although there is no cure for arthritis, many people find that playing guitar on a regular basis helps them manage their pain over time. Les Paul himself played guitar for 50 years while suffering from arthritis!
Can playing guitar lead to arthritis?
There is no evidence that playing an instrument increases one’s risk of developing arthritis. Keith Richards has osteoarthritis in his hands, although he may have developed the ailment without ever picking up a guitar owing to age or heredity. People who believe that playing the guitar causes arthritis may be mixing up arthritis with carpal tunnel syndrome or tendonitis. To avoid various types of injuries and joint damage, it’s crucial to play with good form and stretching.
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So there you have it. 10 tips that will help you play the guitar like a pro with arthritis. Just because you have this medical condition, doesn’t mean you should give up your passion for guitar! We would love to hear your thoughts down in the comments below. Which tip helped you the most? Thanks for reading.