Neck Pain Stiffness From Long Hours of Practice? Tips Even Advanced Players Must Know
by Rodrigo Sanchez, Jul 6, 2020 . 6 min read
As guitar players, practicing is the most important tool we have to get better. I hate to break it to you, but there is no way around this one.
No app, gimmick, diet, prayer, meditation, or substance, will make up for the lack of practice, not even a direct deal with the devil (sorry Robert Johnson).
If you can’t deal with that reality, I suggest that you rapidly give up your aspirations of becoming a good musician and go back to watching Netflix. Still there? Great! As vital as it is, constant practicing can lead to a common problem: neck pain and stiffness. This issue must be addressed properly as soon as possible, as it may spread to other parts of the body and eventually impair you from playing for a long time. Preventing it is the smartest thing to do. Here are a few tips to help prevent neck pain stiffness from long hours of practice.
Build up your practice sessions
You won’t be able to run a marathon in seven days if you have never run over a mile in your life. The same principle applies to practice. Don’t try to jump to a daily six-hour practice regimen if you are used to practicing only 30 minutes a day. To grow your practice time you must do it patiently and take it slowly. Failing to build up slowly severely increases the risk of injury. Besides building up the physical stamina to practice several hours daily, you will also need to take concentration and focus into consideration when increasing your time on the instrument.
Become aware of tension points
Developing a relaxed posture is imperative to playing the guitar for a long time and avoiding neck pain stiffness. Beware of too much tension in your left hand, especially when doing complicated chords or wide stretches. Try to minimize tension by going over difficult passages of music slowly at first. The same applies to your back, neck, and arms. Be conscious of straining while you play and always aim for a relaxed playing experience. You might also want to check out the Alexander Technique, as many musicians speak highly of it.
Understand that posture is relative
Everybody’s body is different. Some have long fingers, others have short arms, some are more flexible, etc. Playing guitar is a very personal process and what works for you might not work for someone else. You will have to go through a process of discovery, trying different things and finding out what works for you. For example, Slash has played his guitar almost down to his knees for decades, while jazz great Pat Metheny positions his instrument right in front of his chest.
Use a good starting point
Try sitting down with your left foot on a guitar footstool. Place the instrument over your left leg, which will be resting on the stool. This raises the instrument and makes it less likely for you to bend over to be closer to the guitar. Your left elbow should be a few inches away from your body, always on a relaxed stance. Do not hunch over too much.
Spread out your practice sessions
Spreading your sessions is not only good for your neck and back but also your brain and hands. It is typically easier to absorb information at different points of the day as opposed to all at once. Guitar virtuoso Steve Morse once stated that he tries to avoid gaps of 12 or more hours without playing guitar. Which means he plays before going to bed as well as in the morning and afternoon.
Take breaks between sessions
Try not to play continuously for more than 45 minutes. Take 10 to 15 minutes to stand, walk around a bit, drink some water, or stretch. Just like the previous point, this helps not only to avoid placing too much stress on your body but also gives your brain the chance to process information effectively.
Do a few stretches before and after your sessions. This simple tip can make the difference between pain and joy. Again, it’s important to understand what your body is asking of you and act accordingly. You can stretch your back, neck, arms, leg, etc. Do some research and find out what stretching positions and exercises work for you. Or if you want to go the distance, practice yoga. The practice of Yoga is extremely effective when it comes to building a flexible, balanced, and strong body. It is even recommended to fight one of the most feared conditions musicians face: Carpal tunnel syndrome.
Drink enough water
I know, I know. This sounds so basic. But you’d be surprised to learn how many musicians do not hydrate properly. Needless to say, this affects your entire body, including your muscles and ligaments. Drink plenty of water daily. And I do not mean juice, gin or ginger ale. Drink water and drink it constantly.
Perhaps some of you might be put off by this suggestion. After all, you went into music and not sports for a reason. But don’t you worry: I won’t be asking you to play power forward at a pick-up game at the YMCA. But please understand that to practice and play you need a body that can take sitting or standing in the same position for hours daily. And the best way to get that body is through exercise. Besides the aforementioned Yoga above, you could do a simple 30-minute daily brisk walk. This could do wonders for your practicing sessions, helping your body, mind, and even your soul.
As soon as you accept the fact that your amount of time and quality of the practice is equal to how good (or bad) of a guitar player you can be, we have to deal with challenges that come with this such as neck pain stiffness. And there is nothing more challenging than being physically impaired to practice. We do not want to get to that point. Prevention is key, even if it means stretching in leotards while whispering “namaste” (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) A stiff neck or back is something you want to avoid. For other ailments you want to avoid, click here. Leave a comment below and happy practicing.