7 Common Hand Injuries for Musicians

hand injuries

Did you know that estimates say around 76% of musicians will suffer some type of injury throughout their life that impacts their playing ability?

Playing an instrument is a hobby for some, an outlet for others, and even potentially a career for people. It has countless benefits, but as you can see from the above figure, it can also bring unwanted hand pain.

Do you play an instrument? Have you ever experienced pain beyond the mini aches that come from exerting your hands to play?

Suffering for your art is a real thing, so continue reading to learn seven of the most common hand injuries that plague musicians so that you know what to expect, the signs to look for, and what you can do if you find yourself dealing with musician hand pain.

Why the Risk?

Before we start going over the seven most common hand injuries that musicians experience, let’s cover why as a musician you are more at risk for these types of injuries than other people might be.

This will help you to understand how important it is to keep an eye out for the injuries and symptoms associated with them that will be mentioned below.

Playing Requires Repetitive Motions

No matter which instrument that you play, it will require repetitive movements. These movements can put strain on muscles and ligaments and cause them to wear down, tear, or be inflamed.

Playing Requires Holding Weight

Again, any instrument is going to have a weight to it, and carrying it can strain your hands.

This is why good posture is so important.

Playing Is a Physical Activity

Just like playing a sport, playing an instrument is a physical activity. Taking part in any physical activity can lead to injury, and it’s no different for musicians.

1. Tendonitis

Tendonitis is common for many people but especially prevalent for musicians.

The tendons in the wrist and fingers become inflamed and irritated from repetitive movements and overuse. This inflammation causes swelling, pain, and overall discomfort.

What Are the Symptoms?

  • Pain when you move your wrist or fingers
  • Warmth
  • Swelling in the area of pain
  • Redness on skin
  • Weakness
  • Difficulty grasping / using hand

Recovery

The recovery time can be somewhat lengthy, but thankfully there are treatment options that can help alleviate some of your symptoms and get you back to playing your instrument without any pesky pains.

It can take up to three months for the tendons to fully recover, and a hand splint and special exercises might be necessary during this period of time.

2. Trigger Finger

Trigger finger is much like the name sounds: your finger sometimes gets stuck in a bent position, resembling what it would look like when pulling a trigger.

Also, your finger might bend and/or straighten with a “snap,” also mimicking pulling a trigger and releasing it.

It’s caused by inflammation narrowing the space surrounding the tendon in specific fingers. Why does this inflammation occur? Repetitive gripping causes inflammation, which leads to other issues.

Musicians are often impacted because of holding the instrument in place for long periods of time.

What Are the Symptoms?

  • Finger locked in position
  • Being unable to straighten your finger
  • Tenderness in the palm
  • A bump at the base of the impacted finger
  • Finger stiffness
  • A popping noise when you move your finger
  • A clicking sensation when you move your finger

To help alleviate the symptoms of trigger fingers, there are many different exercises that you can perform.

Recovery

If you go with a non-surgical option, recovery involves wearing a splint and potentially taking an oral or injected medication to help with the pain.

If you opt for surgery, depending on the technique, recovery can take about three weeks, though therapy might be needed after.

3. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common hand injury stemming from pressure being put on the median nerve.

This issue can actually result from the anatomy of your wrist, but as a musician, it can be worsened by repetitive hand motions.

Stopping playing your instrument might not be a viable option for you, but there are other areas of your life that you can make slight adjustments to that might help lessen the repetitive motions that you take part in each day.

One viable option is something as simple as switching the computer mouse that you use if you’re on the computer often.

What Are the Symptoms?

  • Weakness in hands
  • Tingling in hands
  • Numbness in hands

If you have severe symptoms that interfere with your day-to-day life or make it hard to sleep at night, it’s likely a good idea to visit a doctor that can assess the situation and see what the next steps might be.

No matter the severity of your carpal tunnel syndrome, here are some exercises to help.

Recovery

If surgical intervention is necessary to gain relief, depending on the method, recovery time varies. However, with the no-stitch release method, recovery time is only about three weeks!

4. De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis

This painful condition impacts both the hand and the wrist. Repetitive movements cause the tendons to swell and thicken, which can impair their movement and make movement painful.

The exact cause isn’t known, but the condition can make simple movements such as making a fist or grasping objects painful.

What Are the Symptoms?

  • Pain at the base of the thumb
  • Swelling near your thumb
  • Difficulty grasping objects
  • Pain when pinching things
  • Pain when moving your thumb

As you can see from this list of symptoms, it’s likely that you will experience pain often throughout the day, but particularly when you’re playing your instrument.

Recovery

Thankfully, recovery from this problem is typically quick, allowing you to get back to your regular routine within 2-3 weeks!

The sooner that you catch this issue and get treatment, the quicker the healing time will be.

5. Arthritis

Arthritis is a common ailment that results from aging, but anyone can develop this issue. It stems from cartilage wearing away from the ends of bones that come together to form the joint found at the base of your thumb.

One of the biggest risk factors is partaking in activities that require you to put high stress on your thumb. Unfortunately, playing certain instruments can undoubtedly do this, so it’s a condition that you might want to keep an eye out for.

What Are the Symptoms?

  • Swelling at the base of the thumb
  • Stiffness in thumb
  • Tenderness at the base of the thumb
  • Enlarged joints
  • Decreased range of motion

Recovery

If you end up getting surgery, the recovery time can be pretty long in this case. Expect to take about three months of time off before you fully recover and can resume regular activities.

6. Ganglion Cyst

Ganglion cysts are common but are most prevalent among young athletes.

A cyst is a fluid-filled sac, and in this case, it’s on or near your wrist.

While some might not cause any pain at all and can be left alone, others become aggravated when your hand is used repeatedly or is coming in contact with hard surfaces often, both of which can be the case for musicians.

What Are the Symptoms?

  • A bump near the wrist
  • The bump can shrink or grow in size
  • Potential pain when moving your wrist

Overall, if you notice a bump near your wrist but aren’t experiencing any pain, it’s not something to worry about. However, if the bump is accompanied by pain with movement, it’s a good idea to reach out to your doctor and get things investigated.

Recovery

If treatment is needed for this problem, surgery can be provided to shrink or remove the cyst. Depending on the method, recovery can take anywhere from two to eight weeks.

7. Torn Wrist Ligament

While a torn wrist ligament might not seem like a common cause for musician hand pain, it is possible.

Whether sustained from a fall or stretching your hand out too far, this can be a common injury.

There are three different types ranging from a stretch to a partial tear to a complete tear. If the ligament is fully torn, medical care is completely necessary, and surgery might be necessary as well.

What Are the Symptoms?

  • Pain
  • Bruising
  • Swelling
  • A pop or tear feeling in the wrist

A physical examination, x-ray, MRI, or something else might be needed to assess this injury fully, so it’s important to get in touch with your doctor in order to proceed.

Recovery

Depending on the severity and type of tear, the recovery times for this type of injury are drastically different.

If you have a full tear and surgery is required, it can take 4-6 months to recover.

What You Can Do

Playing an instrument is likely a non-negotiable activity for you, so discontinuing your playing for an extended period of time is the last thing that you want to deal with.

So, what can you do? While many of these injuries will occur naturally from the strain that’s put on your hands and wrists while playing various instruments, there are still some actions that you can take to help prevent injury and prevent minor injuries from worsening.

Perform a Warm-up and Cool Down

Instead of fiving right into your playing, try performing a warmup and cool down similarly to how you would if you were going to work out.

This helps “warm-up” your muscles and get them prepared for repetitive movements.

Take Frequent Breaks

Although taking breaks might not always be an option, when it is one, you should take advantage of the opportunity.

Taking a break allows your body time to relax and recover instead of dealing with constant stress being put on your hands. During this break time, assess how your hands and wrists are feeling.

If you notice any discomfort or pain, it might be time to stop for the day.

Play in a Warm Area

Playing an instrument in a cold environment actually increases the stress that’s put on the tissues in your hands and everywhere else in your body.

Practicing in a warm area can help prevent this from happening.

Minimize Other Repetitive Movements

Many of the injuries mentioned in the above list are caused by repetitive motions wearing down specific areas of the hand and wrist.

If at all possible, try to avoid taking part in other activities that put a strain on these areas in the same way that playing your instrument does.

Some activities that might do this are:

  • Playing video games
  • Typing
  • Playing certain sports

If you can find the balance between your instrument and other activities, you will certainly reap the benefits.

Modify Your Instrument

Instruments can be heavy, and holding them in one position can take a toll on your body.

Aside from taking regular breaks, modifying your instrument to take some of the weight away can be useful. One example of this is adding a strap if you’re playing the guitar.

Small changes that lessen the weight and pressure put on your hands can really add up over time.

Use Correct Posture

Incorrect posture is another contributing factor to putting strain on your muscles, even your hands.

If you struggle with keeping good posture, consider practicing in front of a mirror to see where you can make adjustments.

Having good posture will prevent you from having all sorts of injuries beyond even the ones mentioned here.

See a Physician

If playing an instrument is a big part of your life, seeing a physician regularly before pain sets in or major injuries occur is a great preventative measure to take.

The doctor can keep an eye on minor aches and pains that you might experience and provide you with helpful advice on how to prevent further damage.

Plus, if a major injury ever does occur, having a doctor that’s familiar with your case and that you’re comfortable with will go a long way.

Musician Hand Injuries to Look Out For

Because of the process of playing an instrument, hand injuries are common for musicians.

This article walked you through seven common hand injuries ranging from injuries that can be taken care of with minimal effort and time to injuries that might need surgical intervention.

Whatever the case, contacting a doctor when issues arise and attempting to take proactive preventive measures are important.

If you play an instrument regularly and want to reach out to a doctor now to prevent future issues, or you believe you might already have some sort of injury, please don’t hesitate to get in contact with us today!

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