Why Does My Wrist Hurt When Playing Guitar?

Why Does My Wrist Hurt When Playing Guitar

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I’m sure most of us can recognize that horrible feeling after we’ve hit the gym, or moved all of our belongings from one house to another. The sore leg muscles, the bad back, and the constant grunts that follow each move.

If you’re playing the guitar for the first time, or you’re after finishing a gig then you know that there are some parallels between these painful experiences, however, when it comes to guitar playing the main area where the throbbing pain might be more persistent is the wrist.

So, why does my wrist hurt when playing the guitar?

It’s common for new guitarists to experience some wrist soreness, or for players that don’t warm up, or don’t take breaks. Pushing the strings too hard can also lead to wrist pain. Additionally, the pain can be caused by bad posture, bad guitar, and hand positioning. As a result, guitarists often suffer from guitar-related injuries.

Let’s explore together the possible reasons your wrist might be hurting when you play the guitar, whether that’s something to be expected and how can you stop it!

Why Does My Wrist Hurt When Playing Guitar?

There’s nothing more unpleasant than your own body stopping you from playing the guitar, but before you try to find ways to stop your wrist from hurting it’s important to realize why this is happening in the first place.

So, let’s take a look at the possible reasons!

Reason 1: You Don’t Warm Up Properly

Let’s start with a simple and common enough mistake that I see plenty of guitarists make and I must admit it had been my own source of pain for a long time, and that’s forgetting to warm up before playing the guitar.

It might seem strange to do warm-up exercises to play the guitar, after all, it’s not some kind of sport or intense activity, however, your hands have muscles that still need to be warmed up, in order to improve their elasticity and avoid injuries.

In fact, I would suggest doing a few warming-up exercises for your back and arms as well since back pain and soreness can affect your posture.

Reason 2: Bad Posture

Speaking of posture, this is definitely one thing that can cause wrist pain. Next time you sit down to play the guitar pay attention to your whole body, especially your back and shoulders.

If you feel that there’s tension somewhere in your body then it’s probably because of how you are sitting or standing.

I must admit that I spend most of my day looking like a shrimp, with my back extremely slouched, but this is something I’m trying to work on, at least when I’m playing the guitar because I’ve noticed that slouching affects my hand positioning and that alone results in wrist pain.

Reason 3: Bad Hand Positioning

Bad hand positioning could be the result of bad posture, perhaps when you started learning how to play the guitar you didn’t know any better, maybe your teacher never corrected you or you are self-taught.

Those initial mistakes can turn into dangerous habits that are difficult to unlearn.

I often see new guitarists add unnecessary tension to their wrist by bending it as they place their thumb lower than the middle of the back of the neck.

While it’s best to position your thumb at the top half of the guitar’s neck, in some cases, guitarists place their thumb under or over instead. This can work in some cases, depending on the length of your arms, etc., but these are not the safest positionings.

I also want to mention your arm as a whole, since it’s easy to forget about that part of your body when you’re playing. If you notice that your elbow is sitting at your side, then try keeping your forearm and elbow in a straight line instead. This seemingly minor change can stop you from unnecessarily bending your wrist sideways.

Reason 4: Bad Guitar Positioning

Bad guitar positioning could be another reason why your wrist is in pain. Remember that anything you do, whether that’s your posture, hand, or in this case guitar positioning has to prevent your fretting wrist and plucking hand wrist from bending or taking any uncomfortable positions.

It’s also worth mentioning that the way you hold and position your guitar will change depending on whether you are sitting or standing. If you’re standing while playing the guitar then you definitely need to make sure that your guitar is not hanging low.

Reason 5: You’re Pushing The Strings To Hard

Another thing you need to pay attention to when playing the guitar is how hard you press the strings. If you realize that that’s the case, then in addition to the wrist pain, you might also experience tension in your forearm and sore fingertips.

I get that as a new guitarist, you are likely to experience soreness in those areas because you haven’t built the finger and hand strength, but if the discomfort is persistent and too much for you to play then the technique you’re using is more at fault than your lack of experience.

Sometimes in order to avoid the initial finger soreness guitarists may use their wrist in order to press the strings down, or they will use their fingers more to avoid straining their wrist.

Instead of applying the right amount of pressure and distributing it equally, you basically end up causing more pain either to your wrist or fingers, let alone the fact that pressing strings too hard will get your notes out of tune.

Reason 6: Barre Chord Wrist Pain

The habit of pressing strings too hard actually takes us to our next reason and perhaps if you struggle with barre chords you will relate to this section in particular.

Barre chords are difficult because you have to use your index finger or sometimes other fingers to hold down multiple or all of the strings.

This requires a lot of tension and the closer your hand is to the headstock the more complicated it gets because the strings are much tighter there and the frets more spread out.

As a new guitarist, you will need to slowly build up the strength in your wrist to be able to play barre chords for a prolonged period of time.

As you’re building up those muscles your wrist will feel a bit tense, however, you need to make sure you’re positioning your wrist and hand properly when you’re playing barre chords otherwise the discomfort will be greater and you might end up injuring your hand.

Reason 7: You Don’t Take Breaks

There are a lot of things on this list that can explain why your wrist hurts when you’re playing the guitar, and if you are an enthusiastic guitar player then not taking breaks could be your own personal vice.

I know for the most part media representation of guitarists and musicians shows legendary icons of music working themselves to the bone, however that’s not what your guitar journey should be like.

If you’re guilty of being a workaholic when it comes to guitar playing then you are bound to feel pain, even if your technique and posture are on point.

You need to understand that playing the guitar is a craft that takes time, not pain, and one way of improving your skills is to actually take breaks.

Reason 8: You Have A Pre-Existing Injury

Being a guitarist you are bound to feel some soreness here and there, but if you are suffering from a pre-existing injury, like arthritis for example, or any kind of condition like tendonitis then you are going to feel more pain and discomfort in your wrists.

Moreso, if you are pushing through the pain and you’re not listening to your body then the pain in your wrist is only going to get worst, as well as any condition you might be already suffering from.

Is Your Wrist Supposed To Hurt When Playing The Guitar?

Feeling some discomfort after you’ve done playing the guitar can be normal, especially for new players, but also experienced guitarists.

So, let’s take a look at both groups and see if one pain is more justified than the other and if your wrist is supposed to hurt.

Beginner’s Vs Experienced Player Wrist Pain

As a beginner, you are bound to experience wrist tightness and maybe soreness for several reasons. First of all your muscles are untrained to perform such movements, so when you start playing the guitar it will take some time until the muscles are adapted to the new positions of your fingers, wrist, and hand altogether.

Your wrist might also feel sore in the beginning because you’re still making mistakes. Perhaps you’re pushing the strings too hard, or your teacher hasn’t noticed that your posture isn’t right.

I do want to make one thing clear though, the pain you feel in your wrist as a beginner shouldn’t be severe, it might feel more like an ache, but experiencing shooting and stabbing pain is a bad sign.

Experiencing severe pain in your wrist might be the result of over-practicing and pushing your hands to their limit, or you might be making certain beginner’s mistakes when you’re playing at home because your teacher is not there to supervise you.

If on the other hand, you’ve been playing the guitar for half a year or over a year now, then you might not expect to still be experiencing some discomfort during or after sessions. But that’s something that can happen to more experienced guitarists.

Even after many years of playing the guitar, my wrist can feel sore from time to time. This slight ache can be normal, especially after a gig where you over-exerted yourself. It can also happen if you’ve taken a short break from playing altogether.

As you gain more experience you may try new techniques like bending and sliding and you may feel that discomfort you felt when you first started playing the guitar. Let’s also not forget that even experienced guitarists might suffer from bad posture, or they might have picked up a few bad habits along their guitar journey.

I’m going to repeat myself and tell you that mild discomfort is completely different from severe pain. I also want to emphasize that you should not play through pain, it’s not cool and it won’t make you a better guitarist. If you stress your body too much, then a short-term injury can grow into a long-term one.

Is Wrist Pain From Playing Guitar Serious?

As I already mentioned, feeling severe wrist pain from playing the guitar is definitely a bad sign that shouldn’t be left ignored. In fact, it’s not uncommon for guitarists to sustain injuries from playing the guitar or feeling pain. According to this study, “the most often reported location was the fretting hand.”

Another study found that “the guitar-playing community is the largest group at risk of developing playing-related musculoskeletal disorders.” Among these musculoskeletal disorders, you can find tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Tendonitis is an inflammation or irritation of a tendon and when it comes to guitar players they will often experience pain and tenderness just outside a joint in their wrists. Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by pressure on the median nerve in your wrist and will actually feel like a tingling sensation, numbness, and pain in your hand and fingers.

While it’s common for guitarists to acquire such injuries, it’s important to take every precaution, and if you do end up getting a wrist injury, you will need to treat it properly otherwise it can turn into a long-term condition.

I also want to mention arthritis, a condition that is caused by inflammation of the joints. This condition can come with age, and if you are a seasoned guitarist you might start feeling wrist pain, swelling, and stiffness.

It’s also possible that an old wrist injury has developed into arthritis and now that you’re playing the guitar more vigorously you may be experiencing pain because of this condition.

So, if you feel any type of discomfort when playing the guitar, especially persistent pain, and numbness then you need to understand that this can be something very serious and in order to avoid any further injury or complication you need to go and see a doctor.

How Do I Stop My Wrist From Hurting When Playing Guitar?

If you’re experiencing wrist pain when playing the guitar then looking at the root of the problem is not enough, first and foremost you need to deal with this problem as soon as possible.

So, let’s take a look at some of the steps you can take!

Visit A Doctor

I said it once and I’ll say it again, if you’re feeling pain while playing the guitar then you need to go see a doctor.

If the pain is mild you can go to your guitar instructor first and ask them to look at your posture and technique and offer appropriate corrections, but a doctor can do more than that.

Even if you’re someone who has never suffered from chronic pain in your hands, seeing a therapist can help you understand whether the problem is caused by an injury or a condition you weren’t aware you had.

Even if the pain is nothing serious a therapist can give you advice and suggest a few exercises to reduce nerve irritability, and wrist strain and to strengthen your hands. A medical professional can also show you proper massage techniques to increase blood flow.

Most importantly if they tell you to take a break from your guitar then you need to listen to them!

Rest Is Necessary

Speaking of taking breaks, rest is really important when you’re learning how to play the guitar.

I know it might sound counterintuitive, and one might think that only with constant practice can you become a phenomenal guitar player, however, science has a different opinion.

National Institutes of Health researchers found that “our brains may solidify the memories of new skills we just practiced a few seconds earlier by taking a short rest.”

Don’t get me wrong practice does make perfect, but if there’s pain involved then the best thing you can do is listen to your body, in this case, your wrist, and let your muscles heal.

Reduce Guitar Practice

Most new guitar players spend fifteen maybe thirty minutes a day practicing, but this time will most likely start to increase as their fingers develop calluses and they experience less wrist and finger soreness.

So, if you’ve recently started increasing the amount of time you spend practicing and you feel that the pain in your wrist is also increasing or simply persistent then you should probably cut back the amount of time you spend practicing.

In some cases, putting the guitar down and doing a few stretches every ten to fifteen minutes, can help with soreness. However, if the stretches don’t seem to help or you find that after thirty minutes or an hour of practice you can’t get rid of the cramps then take the whole day off and have a good night’s sleep so your body is ready for the next day’s practice.

Use Ice

Ice is not a long-term solution, but it can help decrease pain and inflammation. Just remember to wrap the ice pack with a towel or any cloth barrier so you don’t freeze-burn your skin.

Wear A Splint or Brace

Another reason why you might want to visit a medical professional is to get a splint or brace recommendation.

Wearing a brace or splint if you experience wrist pain can reduce the discomfort you are feeling. Additionally, the splint or brace will immobilize your wrist in a position to facilitate healing. Plus you can wear them at night.

I wouldn’t advise getting these products without the advice of a doctor, especially if you’re suffering from a chronic disease.

Change Your Posture

To stop your wrist from hurting you need to ensure that you maintain a good posture while playing.

You can ask your guitar teacher to help you by correcting your posture while you’re in class. Even as a self-taught guitarist I would advise you to go to a couple of classes just so another professional guitarist can pinpoint your mistakes.

I also find it helpful to stay still for a moment and feel where the tension is coming from, if it’s from my back then I know I need to change my posture because that can affect my wrist position. If my arm feels tense then I’m probably holding the guitar a bit too low.

Additionally, if you’re playing your guitar without a strap, especially while sitting consider using the strap to maintain a good guitar position.

Work On Your Technique

Another reason why you would want to go to a professional guitar teacher for advice is to figure out whether your technique is responsible for your wrist pain.

It’s common to see new guitarists, bend their wrist on their fretting hand excessively when they are trying to reach for the strings. This adds more tension than is needed and as a result, you will feel pain in that area.

Aside from technique, it’s also possible that the string gauge is too heavy for you, or the action of your guitar is too high. Either way, a guitar teacher can help you get past all of these issues and mistakes!

Strengthen Your Wrist

In the first three to six months of your guitar journey, you are likely to experience some wrist and finger soreness and it will take some time until you build up the strength in your wrists and develop finger calluses.

So, it’s possible that you are applying too much pressure on your strings through your wrist instead of making your fingers do some of the work because they are still not strong enough.

You can build up the strength of your hands without sustaining any injuries by keeping the practicing time short and taking more breaks in between.

How Can You Strengthen Your Wrists For Guitar?

Relying only on your wrist to apply pressure on your guitar strings can turn into a bad habit, and in order to avoid wrist pain and possible injuries it’s important to strengthen both your wrist and fingers.

So, do you do that?

Warm Up and Stretch Exercises

Before you start playing it’s important that you warm up the hand muscles. Make sure the stretches are gentle, and if your hands feel too stiff you can warm them up in hot water.

I would however avoid wetting your calluses before playing because that can cause them to peel.

I actually make sure to stretch my whole body, especially my shoulders, neck, and back to ensure that my muscles and joints are ready.

This video is a really great way to explore different warming-up techniques not just for your wrist but your whole body!

After stretching you can start by playing something very simple and preferably slow, and then work your way up to more complex musical pieces.

Cool Down Exercises

I know a lot of musicians talk about warm-up exercises but I do think that you should repeat the same steps once you’re done playing.

I personally take some time to stretch my body from head to toe, and I spend a few minutes massaging my hands. For me, it’s like meditation and a way to release any stress or tension, especially after a long and tedious session.

Build Up Your Wrist Strength

The only way you can build up the strength of your wrist and fingers for that matter is by playing the guitar.

Of course, you shouldn’t be playing through pain, and if your hand is positioned correctly you shouldn’t really feel pain in your wrist, perhaps slight tension, especially as a new guitarist.

Remember that your wrist can’t carry the weight of the strings alone. Keep the wrist loose and let it drive your hand, instead of resting it on the body or the bridge of the guitar.

By distributing the pressure that is required to press down the strings between your wrist, knuckles, and fingers you will be able to apply more pressure and strengthen your hand as a whole.

Closing Thoughts

It’s easy to assume that playing the guitar should feel fluid, easy, and natural, but this instrument will test your limits until you actually get to that stage.

You can expect muscles you never thought you had on your body to feel sore, and that includes your wrist. This doesn’t mean that experiencing severe pain while playing the guitar or after is normal.

This pain can be the result of your bad posture, or bad hand and guitar positioning, or you may need to work on your technique. But even if you’re on top of all of that you might be in pain because you’re not getting enough rest.

No matter where your wrist pain is coming from it’s really crucial that you go see a doctor because wrist pain can also be a symptom of various conditions and if left untreated it could result in something more serious.

Playing the guitar is not all fun and games, but it shouldn’t be all pain and tears, so take care of your body, and get some rest, before you pick up your guitar again!