Finger Cramping

I was at a gig the other night and toward the end of the third 45 minute set, my index finger on fretting hand curled up to the point of me having to use my right hand to physically uncurl it. This has happened only once before after playing bluegrass mandolin for several hours. After limping through the song and massing/stretching it out, I was able to finish the set, though with discomfort and stiffness.
It's several days later and finger is still a bit sore, as well as muscle running down down forearm.
I play often and have been for over 40 years, so not due to laying off the instrument. It was an outside gig in SC, very hot and humid- I may not have been hydrated enough. Additionally, I do have minor arthritis.
Would love to hear thoughts or similar stories.
Wondering if gypsy and jazzy chords have anything to do with it?


  • ScoredogScoredog Santa Barbara, Ca✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 874
    sounds like a repetitive injury and as we get older these things happen. I also have issues and the best remedy is lay off it for a bit. You can also take an Alleve but it masks the symptoms and does not cure the situation. There are exercises you can start doing for your arm. Also deep tissue massage has helped me a lot in the past.
  • Thanks, Scoredog! I've laid off practicing the last few days so we'll see how it goes.
  • BluesBop HarryBluesBop Harry Mexico city, MexicoVirtuoso
    edited July 2014 Posts: 1,379
    Maybe a lack of potassium? Eat some bananas everyday and see if things improve... Try eating a couple 30 minutes before your next gig too... Good luck!
  • BluesBop, thanks for the suggestion! When playing tough gigs like I mentioned, I usually do eat a banana! I failed to do so that night. I wasn't ever convinced that it makes a difference, but you confirm my ideas about potassium.
  • ScoredogScoredog Santa Barbara, Ca✭✭✭✭
    edited July 2014 Posts: 874
    potassium is great so keep eating bananas but once you have an injury there are other things to do. There are wrist and forearm exercises and since these kind of injuries are often a form of tendinitis you might consider getting one of these...

    I have been a certified tennis teaching pro and I consider guitar related injuries to be similar to sports injuries.

    Basic rules.

    If it does not get better when you are playing stop doing it and rest it.
    If it improves while you are playing then keep playing.
  • Scoredog, like you I've been involved in tennis, coaching high school and playing, and have had bouts of tendonitis myself. I tried to play through my last flair up some years ago and did more damage! So your closing advice is good...tho I hate not playing!
    I appreciate the link and will get on board with some exercises.
    Gonna increase my potassium daily and certainly before a gig. Have also started Chodroitin upon advice of doctor friend.
  • Just to add something regarding technique, I noticed last night while practicing that my index finger hurt while barring top three strings in my admittedly bad fashion of resting my thumb over neck, that pain was more prevalent. When I switched to better technique, pain was not present. Should've been playing correctly anyway!
  • ChiefbigeasyChiefbigeasy New Orleans, LA✭✭✭ Dupont MDC 50; The Loar LH6, AJL Silent Guitar
    Posts: 341

    Found this old entry while researching the topic here. Don’t know if you’re still dealing with this, but I’d be interested in anyone’s experience.

    Here’s a question for all you players who put in hours practice time every day (you do, don’t you?): anyone ever experience cramping in their left hand fingers, especially while making some variation of a bar chord where your left-hand is really curling around towards your palm?

    This has popped up in the last few years as I have been practicing more and playing more long gigs. I try to stay hydrated, take extra magnesium and potassium, and do some stretching before the gig or practice session.

    It’s not a problem at home as much, and I suspect it has to do with the amount of tension in my left hand. I’m trying to stay relaxed, but it can be a real shock if it crops up in a show in the middle of a tune that I’m about to solo in.

    When it starts happening, it involves the index, middle, and ring finger, and can happen on pretty much any chord that requires me to reach around in a big curl, like an Am6 or that form almost any place on the neck. It also happens forming Dm at the 5th fret and other positions.

    If It happens during performance, I look for an opportunity to stop discreetly (we have another guitarist in the band) and stretch the fingers and hand back for a bit. Then I try to relax the hand and use an alternate form and grip to make chords and simplify the solo. (Fun to do in the middle of a performance!) Using thumb grip chords is what saves me when I start to feel cramping. I’m also practicing with less force and tension as a rule, but it’s a lot to remember, especially as I progress and try to concentrate on precision and playing cleanly. 

    It’s primarily a problem that shows up after about two sets or two hours of playing, so endurance is a factor.

    Equipment-wise, my DuPont MDC 50 seems to sound best strung with Lenzner Fisoma 11’s, and my action is pretty low to enhance lead work, but it’s still a booming tone monster. I’ve strung with 10’s and replaced the two upper strings with those from an 11’s set, and I’ve used silk and steel on occasion.

    Still, the cramping has shown up even with lighter softer strings. Thankfully, it happens less often if I stay aware of it and take the physical and nutritional steps to combat it.

    Anybody else suffer from this?

  • edited December 2023 Posts: 75

    All I have is my own anecdote but years ago in my late 20s/early30s I first noticed cramping in my left hand and (to a lesser extent) right hand -- my solution? I started to mentally focus upon always keeping my hands relaxed as possible. More important? I also noticed I had a tendency to sleep with my hands bunched up tightly so I started to make a conscious effort to keep them relaxed and fully or mostly open/fingers extended while sleeping - I really haven't had an issue since. Something else I noticed too is that after doing any kind of prolonged physical work or activities involving my hands, they would be super tight & tense when I'd get home and practice guitar -- solution? Just wait a good 20-30 minutes for them to relax lol.

    I should add the cramping issues happened well before I started playing rest stroke technique so imho, a lot of the those issues can stem from lack of body awareness and building better habits in terms of maintaining relaxed hand muscles.

  • pdgpdg ✭✭
    Posts: 469

    You guys are taxing yourselves near the limit. I don't know how old you are, but you can't get away with things that you once could, as you get older. This is like a sport, and the body can only take so much.

    Holding the guitar neck up a little higher, thumb relatively straight pointing to the ceiling, wrist straight also, and the thumb's tip joint relaxed, with your fingers curling into (perpendicular to) the fretboard, all seems to help (in my experience).

    Maybe straighten the neck just a tad (barely tighten the truss rod, to reduce neck relief almost imperceptibly) -- it makes fretting the midrange of the fretboard easier.

    Make sure your left hand doesn't fret harder when your right hand plays harder.

    GJ rhythm -- damping (lifting) on every single beat (the 1, 2, 3, and 4) for two hours is a lot of strain. There was a thread here on damping only after the 1 and 3, but leaving the chord damped (i.e., keep your fingers relaxed) while strumming the 2 and 4). That would be half the strain.

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