Hi, started learning guitar in November, and things were going well till last Saturday. I strained my right lower trapezius and or rhomboid muscle and now I can’t strum a guitar without pain. As such, I have stopped all playing since then to give it time to heal, which, judging from past injuries, is about two weeks. I know the root of the problem is constant overuse plus a weak core. And yes, I have just purchased a gym membership because I am determined to strengthen my muscles so I can get back to doing what I love. But I’m feeling really depressed about not being able to play guitar for now. I hate feeling my calluses starting to get soft again. My question is, for those of you who have had injuries that temporarily affect your ability to play, what did you do in the meantime to keep up your motivation for guitar for the future? Did you spend time doing other guitar related things or did you just forget about it for a bit?
Sorry to hear about your injury.
I think you could use this time to hit the books and work on your theory and ear training.
I have bad back so have periods were playing the guitar is painful. I brought a cheap keyboard and used this to work on the theory of scales and chords etc. This was a good way to continue to move forward without causing any physical discomfort.
When I broke my wrist (bad enough to need a metal plate to hold all the bits together) I couldn’t play guitar for several months. When the plaster was still on I bought myself a harmonica and started to dabble with it. Later, when the plaster was off but I still had too much pain and weakened muscles to play guitar (there was a point where I thought I wouldn’t be able to play guitar again) I started to learn piano - I was lucky enough to have an old Casio keyboard in the house, a relic of the time my second ex-wife owned a second-hand shop. Eventually I did pick up the guitar again and within about 18 months post-injury, I’d got back to where I was before and then progressed beyond my previous level. Getting through those first days and weeks of playing again, I took inspiration from Blues legend Walter Trout - as described in my post from the time here.
TL;DR - Do something to keep your interest in music alive, spend time learning theory, the first two grades of the Theory course are free. Listen to lots of music, seek out bands/artists that you wouldn’t normally listen to. Learning to play another instrument isn’t compulsory, although music theory is a lot easier to comprehend with a keyboard in front of you! The most important thing is to keep a positive mindset!
Sorry to hear about your injury I feel your pain! I’ve had a few injuries over time that have temporarily prevented me from playing guitar. I spent my practice time doing what I could music / guitar related. I would totally recommend it to keep up motivation and momentum I’m also lucky enough to have an electric piano and worked on singing.
Are you able to hold your guitar and just practice chord changes without strumming? That might help with your calluses
Also, Justin has a couple of apps for ear training and learning notes on the neck that are very reasonably priced, you might be interested in. They’re also great for when you’re not injured and have some spare time away from your guitar.
Couldn’t agree more with this.
Also, don’t rush back to it before you’re ready. I have a bad tendency to be impatient and end up taking so much longer to heal.
Ouch, I know what that can be like! Like the list of injured growing in this thread I smashed my fretting hand index finger badly last summer.
Good thing is that you are thinking weeks, not many months like @theoldman66 . I don’t think you need to go out and buy a keyboard, necessarily (still a good music idea…).
I hope your interest in guitars is stronger than a few week break. Regardless of what you do. So do what doesn’t hurt and have fun.
Listening, music theory, fretting hand exercises, rhythm training, researching and growing a song list, listening carefully to the songs you are learning, silent 1 minute changes, cord changes in time with a metronome (or the app), slur training (hammer on/pull offs), just a few ideas.
Can you hold the guitar and pluck individual strings (without strumming)? You can then work on scales, or even look at Justin’s beginning finger style lessons and start practicing the first patterns.
Or use an app for ear trading or rhythm Something like this?Complete Rhythm Trainer on the App Store
This isn’t quite what you asked for, but…
Note that you can often self treat upper back pain by massage with a ball:
This is just a clip…watching the whole video will explain other options.
I find that this kind of self treatment usually lets me keep practicing while I recover … and I stay motivated.
If the pain persists or comes back, you are doing something to cause it. Check your sitting position, your posture, how you hold your guitar, whether your guitar is the right size for you, and your strumming technique…these could all play a role.
Wishing you a quick recovery!
Great question. I had a serious injury on my fretting hand a few years back. It was all my fault, a stupid mistake with a power tool cut a decent slice out of the top of my middle finger.
Fortunately I was able to continue to play by switching to slide guitar for 2 or so months.
If strumming hurts too much, and I’m not about to suggest powering through the pain, what does fingerpicking do? if that didn’t hurt it would give you a chance to try something new in the mean time.
Two weeks does go quickly. Good time to get on youtube and find lessons you like for all sorts of songs?
Hang in there
Thanks for the encouragement, Tony. My issue isn’t strumming, per se, it’s the action of reaching around the body of the guitar with my right arm that is aggravating to the injury. Basically I can’t do anything with that arm right now. So I am listening to lots of music currently and trying to stay positive!
Hi, thanks for your reply. I am trying to sit with my guitar with my right arm under the body to hold it in place while practicing chord shapes with my left. My issue is I can’t stretch my right arm around the body of the guitar without pain along my right shoulder blade, so the right arm is basically useless for now.
I hear you about not rushing. At one point yesterday after some gentle stretching I tried to play a little because it was feeling better, only to have the pain rush in like a tidal wave five minutes after I started. Lesson learned!
Hi, Simon, thanks for taking time to respond to my post. I think your idea of getting a keyboard is fantastic, and I’m seriously considering it.
Hi Ian, thanks so much for your words and sharing your injury journey here. I can’t imagine dealing with what you did and being able to come back to functioning . Your story is inspiring. I know I mustn’t take my health for granted and I am committed to doing what it takes to keep music in my life.
I didn’t realize the first two grades of the theory class were free, I’ll definitely look into that! Thanks!
Hi Tom, I suspect this type of thing is what I have going on. Although I am aware of my posture most of the time, my livelihood involves long periods of sitting in front of a computer, and I suspect that makes me prone to this kind of pain. I do use a foam roller already, as well as ice/heat and TENS, but honestly time seems to be the only thing that gets rid of the pain. This injury seems to happen for me over and over, so I don’t think it’s specific to guitar. I just need to work on my overall fitness level. Thanks for the video!
Hi Joshua, I’m fairly limited with what I can do with the guitar since the issue is pronounced when I reach around body with my right arm, but I keep trying things. I most definitely have interest in guitar that will survive a few weeks. It’s just that I only started a few months ago, so of course a few weeks seems like an eternity, lol. I guess I’m afraid I’m going to lose everything I worked so hard at accomplishing, and that stinks. Thanks for your reply!
I hear you. I worked in software dev for decades, and had my share of repetitive stress injuries. It can be a bad combination with playing guitar, which has it’s own challenges WRT to RSI. Guitars - especially acoustics - can be ergonomic nightmares, unfortunately.
Based on some of your other comments, I suspect your guitar may be too big for you. Or your playing position is putting undue stress on your shoulder/back.
It would be really useful if you could post a pic of yourself from the front, with your right arm in playing position.
Also, one from your POV, that shows your right arm.
This would help us see what is really going on. I’ve learned the hard way that what I think is the problem is not the actual problem.
That must be frustrating. Hang in there.
I thought I would use this thread to remind everyone who spends a lot of time on the computer, and who is aging into reading glasses (mid 40s on up) that you may want to consider computer range glasses.
Often the computer is too close for our distance prescription and to far and too high up for our reading prescription.
That leads to headaches, neck and shoulder strain. I have cured more than a few of my patient’s headaches with this simple suggestion.
I am in my mid-40s, but haven’t had to deal with presbyopia just yet. I know the time will come, but that is actually one health concern I don’t have to deal with at the moment
Good insight, though!
Well, I am playing a parlor guitar, so if that’s too big, I’m probably out of luck!
What I suspect is going on, and this is not the first time I have had this pain, I had episodes of it before I ever picked up a guitar, is that this is actually trigger point pain, brought on by habitual poor posture, and having to sit a lot during the day. I suspect the pain is from my back just being really weak. I do sit straight most of the time, and when playing guitar, too, as I have realized the problem with the posture, but my muscles do not want to play ball and tire easily. I think what happened two Saturdays ago, was, my back muscles were telling me to stop playing guitar for an extended amount of time but I kept going and got the trigger point inflamed. So I don’t think there is a quick fix for this issue, except that I need to take a serious look at my physical fitness and actually do something about it. I spent some time reading stories about other guitar players who had injuries and a recurring theme was that you have to look at yourself as an athlete of sorts and take care of your body. The art of guitar requires a commitment to a level of physical fitness in order to maximize your abilities as a player. I never thought a musical instrument would be a motivator for me to get off my butt and exercise, but here we are.