Left Hand Thumb Pain

Classical Guitar technique: studies, scales, arpeggios, theory
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John Moans
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Left Hand Thumb Pain

Post by John Moans » Mon Jan 29, 2018 12:07 am

I have been playing classical guitar for several years, however recently I have suffered a Basal joint injury in my left thumb. It has been diagnosed as Osteoarthritis of the Basal Joint. I have rested for several months and recently returned to lessons. The pain is manageable.

I rest and shake it out as they say between short practice pieces. F major and Barre chords are examples of shapes that can result in pain. I understand correct technique requires only slight pressure with the thumb is required and that the weight of the hand and fingers pressing on the strings is the most efficient way.

I wish to continue to practice and play. The Hand Specialist says that this is possible. However, efficient and correct technique must be practices to minimise pressure. Can anybody advise me of the correct technique to minimise pressure by the thumb when forming shapes.

Thanks

John

Rasputin
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Re: Left Hand Thumb Pain

Post by Rasputin » Mon Jan 29, 2018 10:48 am

I think that's something you can only find by trial and error - how about doing scales with the thumb not touching the back of the neck to get the feel of it? In order to get a clean bar with the thumb off the neck, I have to pull so hard with my arm that I worry about the guitar.

Conall
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Re: Left Hand Thumb Pain

Post by Conall » Mon Jan 29, 2018 1:11 pm

Barre chords are exactly the shapes which force you to adopt a good left hand thumb position as without a good position they are impossible even for guitarists who have not injured their hands.

We often talk about the minimum movement principle but minimum pressure i.e only pressing as much as absolutely necessary is equally important.

I think you could probably do a number of things to help you:

- Get a short-scale length guitar
- Use as low an action as possible
- Use the softest tension strings you can find
- keep left hand nails very short
- Place left hand fingers as carefully as possible (v close to frets) & make sure fingertips are bent properly (general points of good technique)
- Test how much you have to press each note of each chord before it starts to buzz or muffle until you learn how little you generally have to press to get a clear note
- Play quietly as a rule
- Try playing in higher positions i.e. a capo on the 3rd fret or above since less pressure is needed further up the neck

If those don't help, buy an amplified classical with the same set-up, play quieter but turn up the volume on the amplifier.

Or take up a requinto with the same set-up

I can't comment on exercises that a doctor might suggest for strengthening the thumb but I presume there are some that might help. Maybe resting the thumb frequently and avoiding pieces with many barre chords will help too.
Last edited by Conall on Mon Jan 29, 2018 2:01 pm, edited 1 time in total.

PeteJ
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Re: Left Hand Thumb Pain

Post by PeteJ » Mon Jan 29, 2018 1:59 pm

Some good advice above. i've found that the best thing for these pains is to make sure that your LH is getting good exercise away form the gtr. Otherwise it's always the same muscles than are being worked and the same muscles that are being neglected. So I'd recommend a hand-exerciser of some sort, as golfers and tennis players would use. Perhaps also practicing a lot of staccato would help since I find it helps lightness of touch.

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georgemarousi
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Re: Left Hand Thumb Pain

Post by georgemarousi » Mon Jan 29, 2018 2:06 pm

Great advice from Rasputin.

Regarding tips:
"- Use as low an action as possible"

Let me add: Go to a good luthier and ask him for a new nut and saddle, action as low as possible. As soon as your guitar neck is straight (if not, find one.. ), ask for action about 2mm trebles and 3mm basses at 12th fret I suggest. Along with low tension strings, I bet that the effort to play a barre at your guitar will be the minimum possible.
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Yamaha cg 110 1988 (the 1st)
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John Moans
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Re: Left Hand Thumb Pain

Post by John Moans » Mon Jan 29, 2018 7:31 pm

Thank you all for your excellent advice. Low action, low tension strings and correct technique, supplemented with thumb exercises should assist me in reducing any discomfort. Again thank you for your invaluable advice.

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lagartija
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Re: Left Hand Thumb Pain

Post by lagartija » Mon Jan 29, 2018 8:13 pm

John Moans wrote:
Mon Jan 29, 2018 7:31 pm
Thank you all for your excellent advice. Low action, low tension strings and correct technique, supplemented with thumb exercises should assist me in reducing any discomfort. Again thank you for your invaluable advice.
With osteoarthritis, please be careful with "thumb exercises". Although many doctors say, "motion is the lotion" when it comes to arthritis, you want to be careful what type of exercise you do so as not to aggravate the condition if you have bone-on-bone contact. Visit a physical therapist and get their advice on the best type of exercises for *you* to do.

Also remember that with barre chords, you rarely need to hold down all of the strings at once. Become an expert at knowing exactly which strings need the pressure and which are already fretted by other fingers. That way, you only apply pressure with the index finger to the necessary notes. When you do this, you may find that you can perform barre chords without a lot of help from the thumb, using mostly finger pressure driven by arm/shoulder/back muscles. Think smart...not strong!
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steampick
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Re: Left Hand Thumb Pain

Post by steampick » Sun Feb 11, 2018 6:08 pm

I have this problem with the basal joint too. I also had to rest it for about a month (pretty much no playing at all), and now it's a lot better. Before the injury I didn't really do any warm-up exercises and just went straight to the pieces I was learning. Now, I do a lot of warm-ups before getting to any piece, and I also now practice the difficult parts of the piece slowly and carefully before playing the whole thing. The pain now has been reduced markedly and some days I don't feel it at all.

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