Hand Cramps When Playing Guitar: When you first start playing guitar, hand cramps are something that will show up really often. It’s not just beginner guitarists; it can also happen to seasoned players too, especially if they are learning something they have never done before or playing something more challenging. Hand cramps can also be due to repetitive straining and playing an instrument that isn’t set up correctly for you.
- Picking The Right Instrument To Minimize Hand Cramping.
- Stretching Your Hands and Fingers.
- Correcting Your Posture.
- Take Regular Breaks.
- Practice – The Slow & Steady Approach.
- Chord Inversions.
- Final Thoughts.
Picking The Right Instrument To Minimize Hand Cramping.
Minimizing hand cramps when playing guitar, whether you have just started or have been playing for a while and want to challenge yourself to something new. The shape of the neck and how it feels in your hand can play a big part in how much you are having to stretch to hit certain chord shapes. It’s always a good idea to try out many different guitars and get a feel for how the neck and hand marry together.
Guitar Action and Set Up.
Picking a guitar that has a nice low action (When the strings are close to the fretboard) is another thing to look for. You may have a great-sounding guitar that requires a good setup to get that kind of action. What this type of action will do is take out the finger strain because you won’t have to put as much pressure down through your fingers to hit those chords cleanly. It will minimize strain and cramping.
Another way to ease hand cramping when playing guitar is to use a light gauge of strings. If you are playing acoustic, I recommend 12s-53s that way; you have a light set of strings that don’t sound too tinny or lack depth and warmth; they still have a nice full sound. You can go much lighter than this if you wish and maybe even try a set of extra lights. Talk to your local music shop or guitar tech in your area and let him or her know what you are trying to achieve, that way you can get the guitar set up perfectly for the gauge of string you are wanting to use without the hassle of fresh buzz or possible intonation problems. (If the truss rod in the neck is not correctly adjusted for the amount of tension that the string will be put through the neck. This can make the neck move, which can cause these problems)
Stretching Your Hands and Fingers.
Stretch 1 – Fingers Back.
Stretching your hands and fingers plays a very important part when it comes to minimizing hand cramps when playing guitar. Start off by taking each finger and pulling back with your other hand just enough that you feel a slight stretch for 5 to 10 seconds each. Repeat this process for all of the fingers on both hands.
Stretch 2 – Fingers Forward.
This stretch is very similar to the one above, but what we will do with this one is again take each individual finger ( stretch one at a time) and curl the finger so it looks like your making a fist and then grip the bottom of your finger with your other thumb and pull down with you top finger giving it a very satisfying stretch of those ligaments in hand and fingers.
Stretch 3 – Wrist Rolling.
With this stretch, start by taking your hand and start to roll it over to the left, making sure always to keep the stretch feeling comfortable. (A stretch should never be painful) once you have rolled it over to the left, turn the same hand towards you so your fingers are pointing at you, and then start to put a little pressure on with your free hand. This will be easier to understand by looking at the stretching diagram below.
Stretch 4 – Wrist Stretch Forward.
For the second type of stretch, you will want to put your hand in front of you, palm facing down. You then want to push the hand down so the wrist is bending enough to feel a comfortable stretch. This will free up and ease tight ligaments. You should do this for around 10 – 15 seconds, ease off and repeat.
Stretch 5 – Wrist Stretch Backwards.
The next stretch is the opposite of the above exercise. With this stretch, rather than pushing the wrist down, you want to pull the wrist back. Start this by putting your hand out in front of your palm, facing away, so you are looking at the back of your hand. Take your other hand and gently pull back on the fingers until you feel a nice stretch within your fingers, wrist, and hand.
Correcting Your Posture.
Having a good posture when practicing guitar is a must. This will really help when it comes to keeping those painful hand cramps when playing guitar at bay. A good ergonomic chair is really important; it will help support your whole body, especially the spine, and keep you in a good comfortable position whilst you practice. I think it’s safe to say that we have all been there, sitting on a bed or uncomfortable chair with very little support, playing and practicing for hours with a sore back and rolled-over shoulders. And then, because of this, you get that knock-on effect and extra tension within the hand and wrists. Getting a good supportive chair is 100% worth the investment; the longer you feel comfortable, the longer you can practice and get to your guitar-playing goals.
Take Regular Breaks.
Taking breaks is an absolute must when it comes to stopping hand cramps when playing guitar. If you are learning a new chord or solo and those hands are really starting to cramp up and feel sore, it’s best to put the guitar down for a bit and stretch or do something different for a little while. If you continue to push yourself through the pain, you risk injury or a repetitive strain that could have you out of action for a while whilst you heal. In essence, you are building up new muscles and finger dexterity, and that is something that takes a little time. Even for someone like myself who has been playing guitar for the past 18 years, I still get that cramping feeling when learning chords that stretch the hands in ways it wasn’t meant for. Patience is the key here. Enjoy the process; slow and steady wins the race or, in this case, builds resilient hands 🙂
Practice – The Slow & Steady Approach.
We have all been there when learning a new song. We want to play it right now straight off the bat. Well, this can be a bad place to be if you are trying to keep away those hand cramps when playing guitar from knocking on the door. It is better to practice slowly, gradually getting your fingers into positions and building up the speed on those chord changes. This will allow the muscles that may not have been used in this manner before to start building some strength and memory. If you go to the gym for the first time in two years, you wouldn’t walk in and start with the heaviest weight and not expect to feel sore or, even worse, cause permanent injury. Keep this in mind when practicing, give your body time to get into a new routine and time to build. I know this can be frustrating, and if you are a seasoned guitar player, something you think you can short-circuit, but it is well worth taking your time with this, enjoy the process day after day rather than hitting it hard in one session flaring up those unwanted hand cramps to hit you on day one, potentially putting you out of action for the rest of the day or even weeks in severe cases.
What is an inversion?? A chord inversion is basically a chord where the notes have changed position, and the tonic or root note of the chord is no longer the bass note. You are just moving the notes around a little bit and playing them in a different position, which can add a whole new voicing to a song or chord progression.
When it comes to playing guitar, at some point, we will face those types of chords that just push us out of our comfort zones. A beginner guitar player may have a rough time at the beginning with keeping the right amount of pressure down on Barr chords. A seasoned player may try something that is really out there that requires them to turn their hands into something that looks unhuman-like, but there is something you can do to make it easier on yourself.
I am talking about chord inversions. There are chord positions all over the fretboard, some a lot more testing than others. Finding chord inversions is very simple now; with the internet being a digital world of information, you can search online or check out this inversion article from Applied Guitar Theory. to see how it is done.
Chord inversion can be a great tool to use, especially if you want to keep hand cramps when playing guitar out of your practice sessions or even live performances.
As you can see, there are a lot of things to think about when you are trying to keep hand cramps when playing guitar away from the door. It’s always important to stretch and warm up/cool down before and after playing. This will help keep your tendons, muscles, and joints supple and free moving with little to no aches and pains. Also, posture is equally important, if you keep your back supported, the rest of your body will stay well-aligned during those long practice sessions. And last but not least, if you don’t want to get hand cramps when playing guitar, make sure your instrument is set up well for you, with light gauge strings and a nice low action you will alleviate a lot of cramping related problems right away. Have fun, and keep on practicing daily to build up those tendons and muscles.