Everybody who plays professionally, or near professionally, an instrument has ever felt pains in some parts of the body, or even all over the body, due to the repetitive movements one is obliged to make to play an instrument. Here we have a cool article at UG about this important matter.
Depending on how long any of you have been playing either lead, rhythm, or bass guitar, you may have noticed small discomforts or pain as time goes on. Maybe some of you who play day in, day out, and all weekend have experienced specific anatomical discomforts sooner than others. Maybe some of you have decades of playing guitar without much consequence altogether. I’d also like to include drummers and singers here as well, because you’re all putting a specific type of stress on different portions of your anatomy. I suppose it all depends on many factors such as overall health, conditioning, and potential genetic implications that may or may not make an individual susceptible to certain problems. Some guitarists that come to mind are Alex Lifeson, Leo Kottke, and even the seemingly immortal Keith Richards have had forms of arthritis, tendonitis, and osteoarthritis, etc. There are many other health issues that can be included for drummers and singers alike. Drummers can really put their bodies through a beating. There was an article published on the www.AltPress.com website in November or 2016 showcasing some of the more extreme cases of injury in the drummer’s careers. As a non-drummer, I found it fascinating, although not completely surprised. I highly suggest you check it out because it features drummers and percussion players from Slipknot, Rings of Saturn, Sum 41, and Papa Roach, just to name a few. However, this article is about the medical issues a guitarist faces, and we’ll move forward with those.
In layman’s terms, we could talk about discomfort in our wrists, forearms, fingers, elbows, shoulders, neck, and even our back (if you’re lugging around a sturdy Les Paul without any chambering or weight relief). I don’t think it’s necessarily considered an “injury” at the infancy of our playing when we’re in the process of developing callouses on our fingers. In my opinion, that’s a matter of conditioning and our skin (or finger pads) adjusting to the stress and friction of fretting the strings. The only caveat to that would be if the callouses continually split open, crack, and bleed. Then it’s fair to say there needs to be some type of treatment to correct that issue. Aside from that, what pains or problems have you experienced? For myself, I have minimal problems aside from a sore wrist and tight shoulders from time to time. That’s because I’m not a professional musician, and I’m not constantly gigging and playing for multiple hours on end – day after day, year after year. For many of you who are reading this – I would venture to say you could name a few “discomforts” or even major problems your music career has wrought on parts of your body. No, not illicit substances, alcohol, or anything else that can tear down your physical self. I’m talking about the anatomical parts that make you the amazing player you are (or want to be). What’s interesting, is that some musicians/guitarists can go most of their careers without many ill effects of the instrument.
On the other side of the spectrum, others have had surgery, physical therapy, and adjusting to how they play due to the physical demands placed on their bodies. Carpal tunnel and nerve damage are also among the problems caused by regular playing and repetitive motion. What’s truly amazing and a feat of physical fortitude, is that these guitarists continue to play! These men and women continue to play on, rock out, and give it their all regardless of pain or physical impact. When I read stories about guitarists who share their physical struggles before they receive medical treatment, it’s simply astounding they can play a grueling, multi-hour set just to give the audiences the pleasure of hearing them play. Angus Young truly amazes me because he’s the same age as my parents, but he continued “most” of his well-known showmanship we’re all familiar with. I don’t know the future of AC/DC, but those guys are still rockin’ and rollin.’
Keith Richards… need I say more? Look at Keef’s hands and you’ll see the noticeable markers of osteoarthritis. Amazing he still plays, right? Although – since we’ll all agree here on Ultimate-Guitar that Keith is immortal, I’ll leave it there. Another guitarist I want to highlight is Alex Lifeson. In an interview with him on UltimateClassicRock.com in May of 2015, article author Jeff Giles talked about Mr. Lifeson opening up about his arthritis and speaks of Neil Peart’s health struggles from the rigors of drumming. If you have a chance, I recommend you check out the article here: http://ultimateclassicrock.com/alex-lifeson-arthritis/
So many of our favorite players (well, at least many of mine) had these injuries that have the potential to be career-ending. How about you, reader? Do you have any favorite players to speak of that are now on the sidelines due to the physical strain of playing? I’d like to add that many of our favorite musicians suffer from other health issues unrelated to playing. The first person that comes to my mind is Joey Jordison of Slipknot and his battle with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Again, it’s a mind-blowing feat he was able to continue contributing to a certain point. Another musician that also pops into my mind right away is Tony Iommi. Now, I get the fact that his pre-fame injury came from an accident that severed the tips of his fingers. But, as we all know, he “found a way” and continues to rock on because of his innovation to overcome a prior injury. Add to that, his remission from cancer- what a rock icon.
Before I conclude, I’d like to direct you, the reader to two different articles published by experts in the field. The first article is regarding a not-often disorder in musicians (primarily guitarists and orchestral players) called Focal Dystonia. This disorder and the symptoms surrounding it aren’t often discussed. On the www.dystonia-foundation.orgwebsite, there are different variations of Dystonia presented. It highlights a type of “focal” Dystonia that musicians can experience and suffer from. The article states: “Professional musicians are susceptible to a number of occupational conditions, including task-specific focal dystonia. Dystonia is a neurological disorder characterized by involuntary muscle contractions and postures. The term focal indicates that the dystonia affects a single, specific area of the body.” (DMRF, 2019) I suggest you review it, as it’s an interesting look into something that isn’t brought up on guitar forums or musician’s websites all that often; if ever. The second site touches on both Carpal Tunnel and Focal Dystonia (together) by a professional writer and film producer named Jill Gambaro. She understands and feels the effects first-hand and published an excellent article about each disorder. You can find it here at: https://internationalmusician.org/carpal-tunnel-syndrome-and-focal-dystonia/ Please take the time to read it if you’re the slightest bit curious.
That’s it for now, readers. It is my hope that I opened more topics of discussion amongst each of you as guitarists, musicians, and curious minds alike. Many of us take for granted that our favorite musicians often go through hell making music for us. We also take for granted that playing an instrument we invest quite a bit of time and money into can give us some unwanted and undesired symptoms as the years roll on. This article is a general overview of only a few symptoms and disorders that are out there. If you take your own time to research the other issues brought on by playing the guitar and/or other instruments, I think you’ll be surprised, if not, fascinated that the music we love can eff us up, physically.