Fretting hand Carpometacarpal joint

Hey everyone, been absent awhile, life got busy but continue to play guitar most days.
Curious to see if any other guitar players have developed inflammation in their lower thumb joint AKA CMC joint. May be age related in conjunction with putting pressure on the thumb while playing. The bar chords seem to require an extra amount of pressure or is it just me ? Anyway noticed my thumb getting tired easily recently and see some inflammation so
wondering if its a technique issue or just overuse of an aging joint. Think i qualify as a senior citizen nowadays, LOL.
Any advise or similar experiences appreciated !

Best to see a medical specialist I think. Are you playing acoustic or electric?

1 Like


I noticed my joints start to ache a little, especially in the morning, after I had been playing about half a year. In my case it is the distal interphalangeal joint (DIP) - closest to the finger tip. I am aware of systemic inflammation causes and effects, and diet does seem to make a difference there.

I will often massage the joint before playing. the stiffness does seem to go away after some use or massage, so I really only notice it in the morning.

I also noticed that the back of my fretting hand started to get stiffness, almost like it would pop into place, but never really did. This started after working on stretching to reach further frets. It isn’t really sore, just that kind of stiff that feels really good after a stretch. It has been reducing now that I can reach as far as I was trying to get and the only stretch I do now is to play the chord I was after.

If you are seeing local inflammation on your thumb, then you need to back off and let it heal. Working the joint a little without taxing it usually helps keep you from losing what you have gained. Seeing someone with expertise that can physically examine your problem is far better than my guessing here, so that is your better option.

Also, look into WHY you created the problem. You may have a poor form, grabbing the neck incorrectly, or maybe you just played too much for the fitness level of the joint, or maybe you had an injury there before and it is damaged… See if you can make changes to how you are forming your hand to improve the stress you are placing on it.

1 Like

OK. Have you tried light gauge strings? I have 10 gauge on my acoustic and I find it helps.

Barre cords do require extra pressure, but you need to rest and unload that joint for a while.

It is a joint that commonly gets arthritic and prone to problems.

Maybe take some time to focus on the nuance of how to position your index finger in a barre and find the least pressure you can use and still pull it off.

Remember Justin speaking about pulling gently back with your whole arm, so the pull provides some of the pressure and augments the thumb’s squeeze.

Oh, and check your setup.


Yes, setup. Was able to lower the action some. Thanks for the tips everyone. Probably will back off some and see if the swelling goes down over time. And be more careful of that thumb pressure on the neck. Who would have thought that playing guitar could be detrimental to your physical well being.

In my neurology medicine practice , we see all sorts of problems related to posture and repetitive actions from work and home lifestyles. Usually headaches and back pain from poor ergonomics and carpal tunnel from repetitive motions.

Guitar is no different, just more fun. You sit or stand looking at something low down in front of you and repeatedly doing things with your hands.

Ergonomics matter, positioning of wrists, shoulders and elbows matter. Rest and stretching matter.

It is very worth putting thought into all these things so you won’t injure anything.

1 Like

Thanks Josh, when I posted I was hoping you would chime in.
Thanks for all of your insight.

So back from a visit to the DR.
Come to find out he is
a musician as well so had a good conversation about the thumb joint flare up.
Some recommendations were similar to what has been posted above. Namely backing off a bit , technique change up in posture regarding fretting hand and guitar neck position, lighter strings too so ordered some 10ga. to replace my 12s. Hopefully on the mend.
Rock on !


Your fretting hand will love you.

1 Like

Bit late here but I have hypermobile joints and my CMC joints are unstable, which can lead to a fair bit of pain. Holding the pick gets me after a while, and as you’ve said, the fretting hand, ayiyi. I am seeing my hand surgeon in about a month, but in the meantime, I’ve seen hand OTs who recommend this thing called the Push Metagrip. It stabilizes the CMC joint while still allowing wrist and finger movement. It’s kind of expensive, though, so I haven’t tried it yet personally! Hope you have less pain very soon - it’s kind of frustrating when your hobby hurts…

1 Like

That thumb brace looks cool. Have not seen or heard of that.
Sprain of Interphalangeal joint was the diagnosis . " A thumb sprain can also happen over time from activities or sports that involve repetitive grasping or hand twisting. This type of thumb sprain is considered chronic and is known as gamekeeper’s thumb. "
10 ga. strings are on now and resuming some practice w/o
any distress so far. Although my fingertips have gotten soft since
backing off awhile.
Keep on rockin’ in the free world.

1 Like