3 Things That Can Cause You Pain When Playing Acoustic Guitar And What To Do About Them
by Maurice Richard
Playing acoustic guitar is a lot of fun once you've gotten past the basics and you have learned to play decently.
It's even more fun when you can play as long as you want without feeling pain.
The longer I teach guitar the more I run across the fact that many people seem to have to deal with pain when they try to play.
I've rarely experienced this myself and usually only when I have been playing for several hours so it was a bit of a surprise to me.
Before you decide to use any of the following advice you need to know that this is not medical advice.
You should NEVER play through pain!!! If you do you can cause yourself serious and permanent injury that could lead you to not be able to play guitar.
I recommend that you go see a professional physiotherapist and/or your medical doctor to diagnose you pain issues as soon as possible.
Having done that, here are 3 types of pain that people experience the most and that can usually be eliminated with the right approach.
1. Excessive Pressure On Strings
I used to think this only happened to beginning players.
As it turns out many people who learn to play acoustic guitar by using a lot of pressure on the strings continue to do so even after they get beyond the basics.
It becomes a habit and unfortunately it brings with it many problems.
One problem this can cause is pain to the fingertips which means you have to stop playing sooner than you may be able to otherwise. Even if you have really good callouses this can become a problem if you want to play for extended periods.
This could cause pain in other areas of your body, for example, your forearm, elbow, or neck. The harder you push down the more support your fingers need and that can easily strain those other areas.
What I have found is that most people use too much pressure on the strings because they want their playing to sound better. And although a better sound is good, it is not worth the pain required to get it this way.
Instead, stop worrying about the sound and learn to relax and use very little or no pressure when pushing down with your fingers while playing.
For now, playing chords will not sound great, however, you can spare your fingertips the pain and over time you will start to find a balance between pressing just enough and too hard.
If you have been playing for a long time it will take some concentrated effort but it can be done.
2. Playing Too Fast
This is the most common root of all the problems that cause you pain outside of pressing too hard to try and make your playing sound good.
Almost everyone, and I used to be one of them, tends to try and play everything they learn at speeds that are much too fast for their abilities.
When you do this consistently you end up creating a lot of excessive tension in every part of your body and can very easily lead to pain just about anywhere.
Think about it. If you try to strum a simple pattern between two common chords that you know well, you likely feel relaxed all over your body.
As you increase the pace and start to strum faster you will notice that more muscles become engaged and begin to get tense because the harder you press the strings, the more tension will build.
Of course, you need to do this to get faster at playing. This is not a problem if you only do it for a minute or two at a time.
What I have noticed is that most people actually play like this all the time which definitely contributes to injuries.
What you need to do is learn to play slower and focus on relaxing all of your muscles most of the time.
You can still work on increasing your speed but remember to start off slowly, warm up, feel relaxed, and then push things for a specific amount of time. Then go back to playing relaxed.
This is a lot harder than you think and will require some effort to train yourself properly. The best way to do this is to get help which I will talk about later.
3. Wrong Technique
This is another very common problem that I see people run into and typically happens a lot more when you have tried to teach yourself to play guitar.
Every chord you learn to form can be done many different ways and some of those require a lot more work than others. There are different ways you can hold your guitar and some of them can cause you problems as well.
Most people are unaware of these things and learn to compensate for the less efficient techniques instead of correcting them. That leads to awkward positions that can create excessive tension in your body and eventually cause pain.
If you find that you experience pain in the forearm or elbow (especially) whenever you play guitar it could very well be because you are using the wrong technique.
The obvious fix to this pain problem is to find out the right technique and then learn to use it in your playing. I'll talk more about how you can do that next.
Find An Experienced Guitar Teacher To Help You
Hopefully you are able to eliminate the pain you are experiencing while playing acoustic guitar by using some or all of the things discussed above.
But that may not be enough and you may need additional support.
Eliminating bad habits and pain can take a while if you have been playing for a long time so you may not want to wait. I know I wouldn't.
In that case what you should do is look for a local guitar teacher to help you solve the problems you may still be experiencing.
Don't just hire any teacher you find. Make sure to be very specific and find out if they can help you with your specific pain problems.
About The Author:
Maurice Richard is a professional guitar teacher that operates out of the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. He has been a member of an elite guitar teaching mentorship program since 2007 and has taught many people how to play acoustic guitar.