Preventing Repetitive Stress Injuries (RSI)

Guitarists and bass players need to be careful about developing repetitive stress injuries such as Cubital Tunnel Syndrome (ulnar nerve) or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (median nerve).  I've had a problem with the former condition and have learned there are stretching exercises that can help prevent these conditions in the future.

Here is my physical therapist Ajay Sheth demonstrating some stretches that can help prevent such nerve injuries.  He suggests doing these exercises four or five times a day.  If you're practicing long and hard though, you might consider doing them every hour.  These are gentle stretches.  You shouldn't bounce or do them aggressively.  Stretch until you can really feel it and then hold for 15 or 20 seconds.  I do all exercises on both arms.

The rule on all of these is pain is bad.  If any of these aggravate a condition that you may already have, stop immediately and  consult a physician.  Of course, these are really meant to prevent a problem in the first place.  If you're already injured, like I am, then I strongly suggest you get some physical therapy.  My treatments include electrical muscle stimulation, heat packs, ice packs, ultrasound therapy and massage.  It has worked well.

Photo of StretchDescription
Self explantory. 
Self explantory. 
On this one use your other hand to pull your arm around.  Don't bounce the arm.  Just stretch and hold for 20 seconds.
Note that Ajay is bending the palm of his hand back.
Pull back your pinky and ring finger with the other hand to stretch the ulnar nerve.  Ajay really liked this particular stretch, suggested by Dr. William F. Brady in the Berklee article on RSI (see below). 
Self explantory. 
Using hand weights, you can strengthen your shoulders to help prevent nerve damage at the neck.  Always keep your thumbs pointing up.  Start with your arms in front then slowly expand . . .
. . . until you're in this position.  Then go back and repeat a few times.
Here I am demonstrating the first exercise the physical therapists showed me when my Cubital Tunnel problem was severe.  Believe it or not, this one is great for stretching the ulnar nerve.   I'm not kidding!  Just picture the nerve running to the pinky all the way back to the neck.  This position stretches it to the max.

And tell me I don't look way cool!

By the way, Ajay told me this is the best way to crack your knuckles -- the way pianists do it.  Cracking your fingers by pressing them into a fist is harmful.  This way is beneficial.

Other things you can do to prevent repetitive stress injuries:

And here are some suggestions sent to me via e-mail by a doctor of Chiropractic:

Take the pressure off your shoulder

The strap across your shoulder could also contribute to injuries.  Some guitarists play sitting down without a strap, resting the guitar on their knee with their foot on a pedestal.  You might also consider a strap that distributes the weight evenly across both shoulders.  Here are a couple of links.  I just ordered one of these straps myself:

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