Acromioclavicular joint and acoustic guitar

Hi everyone,

it’s somehow depressing that I once again have a question for the medical part of this community, but well… As the question also is on guitar gear - sort of - please feel free to move this to the correct part of the forum if it’s better suited there. :see_no_evil:
Let me start at the beginning: I’ve been learning guitar (acoustic) for almost 9 months now and after the initial finger pain, I’m able to play for about 40 minutes without any problems and after that, usually, my fretting hand (left) reminds me that despite calluses, steel strings still aren’t the most comfortable surface on the planet. So all in all: I can pretty much play as long as I like and it feels great.

Two weeks ago, however, I started having pain in my right shoulder. I thought I had slept weird (I’m over thirty after all), treated it with home remedies and hoped it would go away. As it felt better when playing guitar, I didn’t think about it much.

The pain didn’t go away and I went to a doctor, described the syptoms, he looked at my shoulder, asked questions etc. and said it’s an inflammation in the “acromioclavicular joint” (Schultereckgelenk, if you’re German, I had to look up that translation). I also told him about learning to play guitar and about not changing anything in my practice routine in the last weeks (roughly 20-40 minutes practicing each day).

To my dismay: The doctor said, that the guitar might be one of several reasons for the pain, as my shoulder turns in a way that the joint gets aggravated. He jokingly recommended an electric guitar but unfortunately also said my health insurance wouldn’t cover the cost :joy: :see_no_evil: As for now, his recommendation is to not play too much (whatever that means) and to listen to my body.

The husband of a friend of mine is a guitarist and recommended a guitar strap (which I don’t yet own), as it would allow me to practice whilst standing. He thinks that this way my shoulder is not turned forwards too much, so I’ll be able to play a bit more than I’d be able to when just sittig down.

Now I don’t know if any of you experienced similar problems - I hope not, for your sake. But if you did: Did it help to stand whilst playing? Did anything else help despite not playing for a while?

As for the guitar strap: I have no clue on what to look for. I know from one of Justin’s videos that I need a strap with a strap lock(?). I have two “pins” on the body of my guitar that I think are used for a strap, but I also saw pictures of straps where one end is basically bound to the neck. I know myself and how even slight changes will confuse me, so I don’t really want a strap that’s connected to my guitar’s neck but rather it’s body.

Do you have any recommendations that aren’t too pricey (20€ would be fine, 30€ is almost my limit) and come with strap lock(s)? It doesn’t need to be something fancy, grey or black will do as I have some cool looking patches to iron or sew on.

If you’ve read all of this: Thank you in advance and sorry for rambling. I’ve not been able to practice thanks to the pain and I’ve come to realize that this makes my rambling worse - even online.

I think if you have two pins any standard strap is fine, my acoustic doesn’t have the top pin and so would require a ‘lace’ bit which is used to hook around the neck somewhere. But haven’t got that far yet, I now play electric with strap and along with a stool has stopped my slouching.

Edit: The electric is a lot heavier though

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It’s a shame that you have this problem but a strap may help!
Have a look on EBay or Amazon for Grolsch bottle washers, they can be used by putting one on the strap buttons AFTER the strap has been put on, this will stop the strap coming off very well and is a minimal cost!
If it was good enough for Jimmy Page it’s good enough for me!

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Sorry to hear about your shoulder pain. With an acoustic guitar, I wouldn’t sweat too much about strap locks as they are generally lighter than electric guitars. As for the strap, a lot of people recommend wider ones as they help with weight distribution and won’t cut in your other shoulder.

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Hi Sarah,
When I started playing 2 and a half years ago I also wanted to add acoustics for half an hour a day…but not only did my back hurt way too much, but my shoulder also started to hurt a lot where I even lying awake at night … Absolutely no idea if that was the same condition, but with electrical my shoulder never hurts (because my shoulder stays in place much more)… By the way, do you still do contact sports? almost half of these shoulder complaints are caused by contact sports … you must have discussed it with the doctor, but I thought I’d tell you anyway …
Good luck and I wish you a speedy recovery :bouquet:
Greetings,Rogier

Edit:A guitar strap probably won’t help you much with this condition,

But above all, first discuss this all with a good physiotherapist and not DR Google…

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I would suggest strap locks on all guitars. the other day my strap came off a large strap button, I was sitting and it was the first time but the acoustic guitar now has strap locks.

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I knew I could count on this community, thank you so much!!!

@liaty: Thanks for clearing up why some use the lace thing - thankfully I have two pins. I think my fretting hand has enough to get used to without a strap being in the way :joy: I’ll have a look at that stool, maybe I can arrange a trip to a music store here close to me to even try one out.
As for the electric being heavier: Unfortunately (or fortunately for my back?) it’s not even an option right now. Damn that health insurance that doesn’t cover an electric :joy:

@DarrellW That’s a great recommendation, maybe even my brother-in-law has something like this as he’s a genius in the kitchen and known to use bottles like this.

@Jozsef A wider strap, I’ll keep that in mind. Do you think additional cushioning is needed? I saw some that have it.

@roger_holland Thank you for your kind words. Don’t worry, I’m relying on an orthopaedist and he also said that if it doesn’t get better within 14 days, I’ll get an MRI. So no Dr Google for me (I’m kinda scared to even look there, anyways. I’m always dying when I google symptoms…) As for sports: Not anymore. Due to me being at risk if I catch covid, I’m not really comfortable to continue that sport. The gym it’s at doesn’t even have big windows… It might be the other way round, though. The doctor said that too much time spent at the computer is also a common reason for this kind of pain. So I’m trying to move more - but thanks to the pain, this is also difficult. I’ll see what my physiotherapist says, though. I have an appointment today and hope for some recommendations (he helped me to learn to walk after breaking my leg, I trust him).

The strap is basically one puzzle piece for me to get through this. Pain plaster with medication on it is one part, physiotherapy is another and the strap would be my chance to play for longer than the one song I’m allowing myself per day at the moment. I have to admit, it almost hurts not to be able to play. I never thought I could love an instrument as much as I do, but well, here I am.

@Malz Thanks! Yes, I’m terribly afraid something could happen to my guitar, so it’s either no strap at all or strap and something to make sure it doesn’t come off easily. Not taking any chances :sweat_smile:

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@Estel what style of guitar do you have? If it’s a Dred I’d recommend getting something with a thinner body. I started having right shoulder problems (work related) and couldn’t play guitar for more than 5 minute at a time. Had to get physiotherapy for a few months. I can now play my L00 and L48 for hours both are under 4 inch thick but my J35 (almost 5 inch thick) I can only play for short stints before my shoulder start to hurt and I have to change guitars.
Did your Doctor recommend any shoulder exercises to help prevent this in the future?

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Ugh, shoulder problems. I got them beat up a bit in my life. Currently I have issues at the other end of the clavicle, the sterno-clavicular joint, arthritis. It isn’t guitar that aggravates it fortunately. At least that is what I tell myself.

Look at something closer to the classical playing position. I use a Sageworks lift, but there are cheaper options and you can get to a similar position using a strap.

The classical position brings the neck up and closer to the body and reduces strain on the shoulder and wrist.

Don’t be too literal about it. Classical instruction for positioning can seem rigid. It doesn’t need to be. Adjust the position of the neck so you feel most comfortable.

For me, the neck is close to 45 degrees and doesn’t need to be forward of my body much. My shoulder is completely relaxed and hardly used at all, with my upper arm almost resting at my side and only some small movements at the first position (open cords) and higher frets. I even find it easier to play barre cords in this position. My wrist and forearm rotation are less of a strain.

If you do explore this, keep in mind that it is different enough to change how your hand finds frets and the angle of strings to your strumming/picking hand. It is enough that it takes some time to get used to, so bear with it.

Lots of players, both acoustic and electric, use this position with success. There have been several threads on this forum about it, with pictures and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one (any one get the reference😉?).

This is the best picture I can find of how I hold it. I hold my steel string the same way.

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Hello Sarah, unfortunately, I cannot tell you something useful regarding your question, but simply wanted to wish you “gute Besserung” :bouquet::hugs:. I really hope, that your shoulder will get better soon, and that you find a suitable solution to play guitar for longer than just one song a day.

…and looked at the seein’ eye dog…

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@stitch It’s a Fender CD-60S, so yeah, it’s a bit on the thiker side. Unfortunately, I really cannot afford another guitar. This one’s a gift from a more than generous friend, I wouldn’t even have that one without her. I’d really love to get an electric guitar - with that, I’d also have the option of not having to play acoustic when my shoulder is like this - but I’m between jobs and money’s really tight at the moment. Even second hand… not possible. I probably have no other choice but to wait this out and hope my physiotherapist and the medication can fix it.
As for excercises: My physiotherapist will recommend something once the inflammation is gone. Until then, the only thing I can do is use those plasters with painkillers and anti-inflammation stuff in them and keep the shoulder as relaxed as possible (easier said than done with the pain). Fortunately: The plasters seem to work. On a scale 1-10 the pain was a 5 yesterday, and thus far it’s mostly a 3. So… fingers crossed that I don’t have to wait until the calluses on my fingers are gone until I can play again.

@Jamolay That’s a really interesting advice! Thank you! Once I dare to move my shoulder a bit more, I’ll try this. At the moment everything feels as if it’s aggravating, so I try to be patient (ha, me being patient… that’s a desaster waiting to happen…). The picture looks really cool by the way and what a beautiful place, too!

@NicoleKKB: Thank you so much <3 The support from this community means a lot to me!

@jjw: Okay, now I’m curious - can you fill me in on the joke? xD

Sure, if you have 22 minutes of free time, have a listen to Alice’s Restaurant, by Arlo Guthrie. Listening to Alice all the way through is a Thanksgiving Day tradition in some households!

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And…”You can get anything you want…excepting Alice.”

I got to see Arlo play it live, with additional political commentary, at the Newport Folk festival in the late ‘80s.

I want to apologize, I missed that it was your right shoulder, not the left. My problems and solution are more for the left than the right.

With my right, I do think a more upright classical position can help, though. I found that my right arm rests lower and there is lest of a desire to reach or rotate the shoulder forward. Using some type of arm rest also allows you to find a better position.

Like:

Saddle-A-Bout Genuine Leather… https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07QD13MTN?ref=ppx_pop_mob_ap_share

I have chronic impingements, which is the chronic issue that puts me at risk of what happened to you. So I have gone to great lengths to make sure the guitar doesn’t aggravate my shoulders.

Speedy recovery!

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It’s good to hear you’re going a physio. It makes a huge difference on recovery time and prevention of it coming back.

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Me, too. Same time period, in my case at the Philadelphia Folk Festival. Arlo was great.

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Once again: Thank you all for your great advice!

A quick update from my side: The shoulder is better! I received a guitar strap a week ago and the shoulder had lots of rest beforehand. So I tried it out - just for a few minutes - and my shoulder didn’t protest. I still need to get used to the way the guitar feels when I’m standing instead of sitting (especially the “lovely” C-chord feels very different…) but after a week, I can already say there’s progress there as well.

I cannot tell you how happy I am that I’m able to practice again. I keep the sessions short, so my left wrist can get used to slightly different angles and the rest of my body doesn’t come up with the next way to disrupt my guitat journey, but I’m very optimistic that this will all work out.

And even when I’m not playing, the shoulder barely hurts anymore and I’m off the painkiller plasters, so everything looks good. Fingers crossed!

(Didn’t have time to listen to Arlo though. I’ll have to find a few quiet minutes when my mind is open to new music as well.)

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I’ve only just come across this post, but I am glad that some good advice has been given, and the shoulder is improving.
I’ve posted elsewhere on the forum regarding AC joint issues - acoustic guitars tend to be fairly large, and force the shoulder into a really unnatural position (on the strumming hand side) which can be especially troublesome for those of a slighter build, especially women.
In short, the humerus MUST rotate externally when being raised to the side, otherwise the AC joint smacks on to the humerus, squashing muscles in the process.

The Clavicle has to move about as well - rotating and raising away from it’s rest position at both ends, so standing up, playing in the classical position will help a lot, as the shoulder isn’t forced into a such a nasty position.

(I was a sports therapist, and have some neck and shoulder problems of my own, so have a real interest in this area. You have my sympathies and best wishes :slightly_smiling_face: )

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