There are many obstacles to becoming proficient on one's instrument. Jobs, companions, and other "responsibilities" and irritating human needs - food and sleep - are all competing for your valuable guitar-time. But, you've found a way to shut all of that out, because, surely, you are the next Jedi-Knight of the six-string domain. Anything less than your daily, six-hour guitar juggernaut is unacceptable, unfathomable. If you can identify with this particular scenario, you are at risk of suffering from a most insidious threat to your playing that many practice hounds never give a thought to - Repetitive Stress Disorder and other hand maladies.

Common RSDs include Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Tendinitis, Bursitis, and "Trigger finger/thumb." Some signs that your digits are defecting are numbness, "pins and needles" sensations in the fingers, wrist pain, and "clumsy fingers" (not to be confused with the results of failure to practice). If you already suffer from arthritis in the hands and still have the will to play, you live the term "play through the pain." Imagine playing the add9 chords to "Message In a Bottle" for 30 minutes at 200bpm, outside on a windy, Chicago winter night your hand is no longer your "partner." This does not have to be your fate. Before you begin your epic practice sessions, warm up slowly and thoroughly - those dizzying cascades of 128th notes can wait, Paganini isn't going anywhere.

Take breaks and stretch periodically during your regimen. Don't forget to relax and breathe when you play, your body needs oxygen! This may seem like a given, however, when working through a difficult practice exercise or when woodshedding on a new lick it is common to tense up and hold one's breath. Examine your posture and hand position when playing. Avoid bending the wrist acutely for extended periods of time. In short, pay attention to your hands. Those of you whose occupation requires repetitive, specific hand movements - butchers, programmers and carpenters, I'm looking at you! - are at greater risk. The proliferation of computers in every aspect of human endeavor has led to an increase in RSDs, most notably Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. With the bad, however, comes the good. As a result of the medical community's intensified focus on the rise and cause of these ailments, we are steadily gaining access to more useful research. Take advantage of the volumes of information on hand disorders accessible via the Internet. Arm yourself with this information now and you'll be able to land the highly coveted gig as the Glendale Seniors' Home guitarist/bandleader 40 years from now. By John Helsley

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Also see:
Health & Safety for Guitarists & other Musicians

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