A Guitarist’s Battle with RSI

In Guitar health: It’s all in the wrist, professional guitarist Dale Turner discusses his problems with Repetitive Stress Injury (RSI). Dale first succumbed to RSI back in November 1997.

He was playing in an acoustic guitar quartet, recording an instructional CD based on licks by rock guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani, and teaching private students. On Thanksgiving morning, “it was real obvious that I had carpal tunnel.” His right wrist was in pain, his fingers had a tingling sensation (caused by inflammation of the “tunnel” in the wrist through which the nerves travel), and his hand was weak.

Of course, this was a terrible situation for a serious musician. Fortunately, Dale is back to playing although he’s had to make adjustments to his technique and style in order to compensate. Some of these include the use of alternate chord voicings, slides instead of bends, etc.

The entire article is an excellent read and I was particularly glad to see Dale make the distinction between the discomfort of learning to play the guitar and actual pain caused by RSI. As a frequent guitar forum participant, I often come across questions from beginning guitar players about the difference. Unfortunately, they are often given the awful advice to “just play through it” – advice that can lead to actual injury and long term discouragement. I’m glad to see sensible advice although it’s unfortunate that many RSI sufferers will only come to it after the fact.

For ideas for dealing with Repetitive Strain Injury see Eight (8) Ways to Avoid RSI.

2 Responses to “A Guitarist’s Battle with RSI”

  1. Jeff Healey R.I.P.

    Now, since this is a news topic, and related. What do you all think of Jeff Healeys way of playing? Guitar flat on his lap like a laptop steel? Considering ergonomics and RSI only?

    Never mind that chording and such things can be limited, but his arms must be like the piano. I think he BENT strings way more than anyone could with the proper playing style. With less effort. However, it reminds me even more, of the topic I made way back that the guitar must be kept still. I can think of it moving around a lot more in Jeff Healey playing position.

    But I’ve never heard of RSI from any pedal steel players, anyway.
    Ergonomics seems to be not a problem with them, because the instrument is removed from body, on a stand, and turned vertical.


  2. @Mats – Sad news indeed. I’ve always been impressed by Jeff Healey’s string bending and vibrato.

    As far as your question, I can’t say I know any pedal steel players However, I can see some advantages to his playing style. From an ergonomics perspective it is in many ways a far more neutral position for the body. The torso isn’t twisted in any way, the lower back isn’t impacted by raising a leg on a footstool, the shoulders are relaxed and the arms hang naturally.

    It also would seem to make the guitar itself a far smaller part of the ergonomic equation.