Working to prevent carpal tunnel when playing bass guitar doesn’t need to be a difficult time consuming practice. With a little bit of know-how and some insights into what is going on when you combine poor playing form with demanding performance environments in the practice room or on stage can jeopardize you bass playing for months at a time.
Bass players and guitar players are particularly susceptible to carpal tunnel because of the natural demand on wrist and finger playing to operate the instrument. More often then not, carpal tunnel is the result of consistently poor form and poor form is can usually be identified by some of these traits:
“Baseball gripping” or “palming” the neck usually in conjunction with playing very physically demanding and technically difficult lines requiring extensive finger and wrist movement.
Unnatural twisting or arching of the right wrist over the back of the bass guitar.
Though these are some of the common ways to induce carpal tunnel, setting yourself up to identify and prevent carpal tunnel so you’re never out of playing commission is much easier then most might think it is. Keep reading to learn about this dreaded condition and how to prevent it yourself.
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, or CTS, is a narrow area formed by the bones of the hand, which are called carpal bones. These bones are directly above the crease in the wrist, and a couple of them can be found easily if one feels just above the crease on the pinkie side and the thumb side in line with the index finger.
Bony ejections should be felt on both sides just above the wrist crease, towards the fingers, not up the arm. About a thumb width above this area is the carpal tunnel itself, bordered by the bones and a ligament, which is located at the wrist crease. If one taps on this area and it elicits pain, this can be an indicator of carpal tunnel.
Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
This is a comprehensive list of the major symptoms of carpal tunnel symptoms. Of course, if at any time you begin to experience these symptoms, consult a doctor immediately for proper treatment and care:
Numbness or pain in your hand, forearm, or wrist that awakens you at night. (Shaking or moving your fingers may ease this numbness and pain.)
Occasional tingling, numbness, “pins-and-needles” sensation, or pain. The feeling is similar to your hand “falling asleep.”
Numbness or pain that gets worse while you are using your hand or wrist, especially when gripping an object with your hand or bending (flexing) your wrist.
Occasional aching pain in your forearm between your elbow and wrist.
Stiffness in your fingers when you get up in the morning.
How to Avoid Carpal Tunnel and Prevent It For Bass Players
1. Leave your left wrist and right wrist in a neutral position when playing. The number one causes of carpal tunnel for bassists with regard to the left hand is poor form when holding the neck. Long periods of time, without breaks and high stress on the wrist can come from the baseball grip on the neck. Moving your wrist as well as your fingers, according to form sticklers, isn’t the best way to hold a bass guitar let alone play with one and is usually a big reason why bad things happen to wrists.
As for the right hand, the primary culprit is for similar reasons why we get aches in our wrists from typing too long: our wrist is arched in a strange way for too long too often. When we arch our right wrist over the back end of the bass, we’re imparting an unnatural flex onto the wrist and when you compound this with rapid finger ligament movement, this is only additional stress being put on the area. My advice: position your elbow slightly more upward, relieving your wrist from pressing against the back end of the bass. You’ll feel the results immediately.
2. Limber up before playing – gigs in particular. When you practice, you have time to be aware of your form for both your left and right hands and have the ability to adjust accordingly. But come gig time, the energy is up, the crowd is keeping you going, you’re having a great time (and maybe a few beers were aiding in the fun), but you become less focused on your playing form and could pay for it in the morning. A few moments of wrist flexes can really make a difference and improve your playing stamina.
Setting yourself up to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome isn’t a particularly tedious task – especially when you know what to do and in what capacity to do it in. More often than not, a few pre-playing stretches and positioning your left and right hands in the right way on the bass guitar is a pretty common sense way to begin keeping carpal tunnel at bay and keeping you happy and playing.
Check out this cool video on wrist stretches and flexes – guaranteed to limber your wrists up before a good gig.