Recent diagnosis of OA in left hand-Guitar player!!!

CountryMan Member Posts: 7
edited 7. Jan 2024, 07:56 in Living with arthritis

Hi all,

Last March started getting pain in my left hand whilst playing the guitar (not been playing long and a late starter to it...51 now). I started getting this ache in the base of my left thumb muscle (later found out this is called the Thenar muscle). Kept playing, but over the course of the next 2 months, this pain got worse. Went to the doctors and he said to lessen playing (easier said than done), whilst I wait for an X-ray appointment to rule out arthritis.

I did lessen it as was scared I was doing damage. Then after 2 weeks and had x-ray, back to doctors who told me, no arthritis…phew. But now said need to give the guitar a rest whilst an Ultrasound appointment was coming. This came after 6 weeks. 

.Once I’d had the ultrasound and back to doctor, he told me it found Dequarivans tenosonivitis and would arrange Ultrasound guided steroid injection. Now pretty much insisted that I stop playing completely. That was May 18th. Had the steroid injection, which took ages, then waited more as advised…fast forward (again) July 23rd. Picked up guitar for the first time…exactly the same pain within 5 minutes!!!!

Back to doctors who referred me to a hand surgeon.

Mentioned all this to a friend (who doesn’t play) and she suggested to see someone she knows, an osteopath. Arranged an appointment and after initial consultation and a feel of my hand, wrist and forearm told me she thought it wasn’t dequarvians or Carpel tunnel but muscular. She worked on my hand, wrist and forearm for 30 minutes and a bit of acupuncture (said muscles were really stiff) and said to try playing the next day.

Played the next day, and although there was still something there, no where near as bad. On her advice, only played for 30 minutes per day until I saw her again 2 weeks later. As the 2 weeks started coming to an end, I could feel the pain starting to come back. Had another session with her and the next day played again. Again, pain was still there, not as much as when it started, but not as little as after the first session. In the meantime a hospital appointment came through for September 19th. A couple of weeks away on holiday (not playing) and 3 more appointments with the osteopath and the pain is back. On the last session (on 13-09-2023) she said my hand, wrist and forearm are really loose, and no tension so unless it’s doing any good, to not bother going to her again.

Anyway, had the hand appointment at the hospital in September and he told me it’s the start of Arthritis in the CMC joint at the base of my thumb (but he didn’t seem 100%). Am booked me in for Steroid injection directly into the joint (under sedation), this Tuesday (09-01-2024), but doesn't even seem certain that it will work, just said it’s wear and tear and if it didn’t work, could just keep doing them. He did however say that if I carried on playing I wouldn’t do anymore damage, just up to me how much pain I wanted to go through.

To make all this worse, on October 20th, I went to a concert, fell over some seats and broke my right wrist. This is healing now, but left hand now has much more pain as been using it for pretty much everything for last 2 months. Now, not only playing guitar is painful, but have generalised pain throughout the day. Have also been told by the doctor that am now at more risk of OA in right hand and wrist due to break.

Are there any other guitarists out there who suffer with OA in their hand. Any coping strategies? I really don't want to give it up as absolutely love playing and from what people have told me, am really good for someone who's not been playing long. Tried different strings and foot stools, fretting not as hard, but still have this pain.

Will a magnetic bracelet do any good (the type off of amazon). Also, are there exercises I should do before/after playing that would help? I'm obviously at the beginning of this journey with this horrible affliction and fully aware that it will only get worse. Am hoping this injection on Tuesday will help.

Thanks for reading (if you’re still with me), and eagerly awaiting some responses.



  • Are you self taught or do you have lessons? I'm a music teacher - primarily woodwind but I do teach beginner classical guitar to young children and my husband plays to a high level. We have also both had pain issues while playing and have made some adjustments.

    Guitar is not at all forgiving as far as hand pain is concerned and getting the correct technique with the left hand is both essential and not at all intuative. A teacher should be able to guide you to adjust your technique and give you specific directions. I can make a guess but it's impossible to say without seeing your hand position.

    I'm newly diagnosed with arthritis - currently in my right hand ring finger so I shouldn't have issues with guitar quite yet (woodwind another matter) but I'm also preparing to have to make a number of adjustments going forward so I wish you the best of luck.

  • Naomi33
    Naomi33 Moderator Posts: 194

    Hello @CountryMan and welcome to our website.

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  • Skinny Keef
    Skinny Keef Member Posts: 842

    Hi CountryMan, I am also a guitarist, played music and a variety of instruments since I was a kid.

    The only but probably quite important advice I can give you is warm up your hands, but mostly your fretting hand before playing, particularly before doing any string bends or vibrato.

    The way i do this is to vigorously rub my forearms to generate friction between my sleeves and skin, a few times on each arm. Flex and open fingers and rotate wrists a few times. Rub hands together as if shivering in the cold. Then get your guitar and starting with G on the low E string with your index finger play G G# A A# so you end up on A# with you little finger. Each finger plays one note ascending in semitones. Then move to the A string back to C note with the index finger up to D# with the little finger. Repeat this process on all strings until you are on A# on the high e string with your little finger. Then do it in reverse working back down, starting with the little finger on A# on the high e string back down to G on the low E string.

    Do this slowly at first making sure to keep even pressure and volume on each note. Use alternate picking if you can. Upstroke/downstroke.

    once you can do it slowly increase speed keeping each note clean and uniform in volume and length. Use a click track if you need to keep time.

    I do this everytime I play for at least five minutes or i get pain similar to yourself.

    work you way up and down the fretboard at different starting points but always start on the E string and finish on the e string.

    variations are to start with the little finger on each string playing the notes in reverse, but still going E to e and then when coming back down start with the index finger so it’s all mixed up.

    Once you can do all that come back and if it helps I’ll give you some more to try.

  • CountryMan
    CountryMan Member Posts: 7

    Yes, self taught from youtube. My son has drum lessons with a music teacher who also teaches guitar and he;s watched me play and cannot see any issues with how I hold the guitar/neck. It happens more when holding chords (for instance if a song has lots of time on a C/C7...they seem to be the worst). Barre chords funnily enough don't cause a problem. Also recognise it a lot when a song has lots of picking parts, although I struggle with fingerpicking, so tend to steer away from songs that are all fingerpicked. I only play Acoustic and have a Martin and a Taylor. I've also another 3 acoustic guitars and has exactly the same issue. I do have an electric, but prefer acoustic (and still get same pain on the Epiphone electric). One thing I didn't mention was had another ultrasound last week to rule out trigger thumb before my procedure on Tuesday and the consultant said definitely arthritis as joints are starting to thicken.

    Sorry to hear about your arthritis...especially as it's your work. Hope it doesn't cause you too many problems

  • CountryMan
    CountryMan Member Posts: 7

    Thank you so much, will have a read of that this evening

  • CountryMan
    CountryMan Member Posts: 7

    That's some great advice and will have a go of that on my morning practice tomorrow when the wife and kids have left for work/school. I only play acoustic, so don't do much bending of the strings.

    I have done some warm ups in the past advised to me by the osteopath, but haven't done them since coming back after breaking my right wrist, but will start you routing tomorrow. I'll let you know how I get on. Thanks again

  • Nurina
    Nurina Member Posts: 185

    I'm so sorry to hear about your pain. It's horrible when your life goes upside down. I hope that warming up your hands and not putting much pressure on yourself could work. You could try to change your style to avoid repetitive movement that could produce ligaments and tendons strain and see if things change. Maybe scruggs style or clawhammer. They are so much fun too.

  • CountryMan
    CountryMan Member Posts: 7

    Yeah, think they're more suited to the banjo which is on my wishlist. Thanks

    DODGYKNEES Member Posts: 90

    Hi @CountryMan I also play guitar and have arthritis. Proper technique is essential. I have watched quite a lot of videos on YouTube regarding hand/finger pain and guitar. Nita Straus has good warmup and technique videos which are very helpful. You can also buy arthritis gloves from Amazon which are very good. I take regular breaks when playing, practicing to minimise fatigue. One of the things that fatigues my thumb which I didn't realise I was doing was pressing it into the back of the neck too hard. It's a good idea to book a few lessons with a tutor who can help show you proper technique. Hope this helps

  • CountryMan
    CountryMan Member Posts: 7

    Thank you, I'll check her out and am looking around for another teacher beside the one who teaches my son drums to take a look at my technique.

    I must say, all these comments have been very useful and cannot thank you all enough. I'll keep you all updated

  • Moira
    Moira Member Posts: 82


    Like you I play guitar - folk and used to play classical. Yes, the pressing on the back of the fret board is a killer. As is the right hand correct posituion for classical work. I also played piano, Renaissance recorders and other instruments. Warming the hands first is good and doing the exercises the physio gave me helps. If you get a tutor make sure it is someone properly trained who understands hand physiology and might have experience of working with disabled/arthritic follks. Some tutors can't understand the difficulties that we have becaus they haven't a clue about hand physiology.

    Now I'm awaiting ops on both hands (think I'll be 100 when I'm called in with the length of the waiting lists) and the situation isn't at all good. Gave up recorders (a wee boy in our church has started and is doing his Associated board Exams - so he got them). Chopin on the piano is out - although I do play simpler stuff. I think we need to adapt as the disease progresses. However don't give up, just change but I still had to go through a period of mourning for what was and accept what I am now.

    What about a ukulele? I changed over to that and find that with a smaller fret board the strtches aren't so bad.

    Keep making music. The OT and physios at the hospital said to keep moving. Orth-putty (or a dod of blu-tak or plasticene) is great exercise when you are sitting watching tv or in the cinema etc. Do exercises they give religiously. They really do help.

  • stickywicket
    stickywicket Member Posts: 27,684

    Please forgive me, @CountryMan , if I go a little off topic here. It was @Moira writing that she used to play Chopin. I don't know whether I was more impressed by that or more sad that she'd hàd to give up on him. I started with RA in my fingers at a time when no modern DMARDS were on offer. I was never very good but I loved music enough to give it up as my fingers just wouldn't stretch to the right notes.

    But music never left me. My younger son got his first degree in music and,it was in seeing him compose that I decided to have a crack at it. I did an OU module. Again, I was no great shakes at it but so much pleasure.

    As with many things with arthritis, a sideways move can yield pleasures never contemplated.

    But, for hand exercises, Play Doh (sp?) is also good!

    If at first you don't succeed, then skydiving definitely isn't for you.
    Steven Wright
  • Thanks for the advice and support. I had the operation yesterday where they injected steroid into the CMC joint went well, but won't know if it's worked for 7-10 days. Gonna leave the guitar alone till Monday and give it the best chance to work (although the doctor said I can use hand as normal). Thumb does feel achy today the same as after I've played the guitar, but he said it would. Also had the results of my Ultrasound last week and also have thickening of the MCP joint top and inside of thumb :-(

    fingers crossed this steroid works, but as you say, probably just going to have to adapt to what I play. I know I can no longer play Nobody home by Pink Floyd as the long hold of C & C7 is a killer.

    Might also have to transfer over to electric at some point, but love the acoustic so much, which is why I haven't tried the ukulele.