Hi all,
again, this is another post that is not really a luthier question, but
I always get such good advice here, so I thought I'd ask...
I have been getting alot of discomfort at the base of my left thumb
(my fretting hand) when playing my guitar(s). Mainly this happens
when playing my acoustic guitar. With this guitar (Martin Custom D),
it has a wider and thicker neck than the electric, plus tighter tension
on the strings, and lower/thinner frets, so, for me with my relatively short fingers,
it is harder to play.
Anyway, after playing, the whole area at the base of my left thumb
gets real sore. In the past, it would eventually go away, now it lingers for
a long time, but has gotten me worried it could be the beginnings of arthritis
(I am 45 years old). Anyway, has anyone else out there experienced this?
If I just switched to my electric (Fender Squier Telecaster), which for me takes
much less effort to play (bigger frets, narrower/thinner neck, less string tension),
would this be a good solution?
Any thoughts? Thank you!

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I am fifty one. I have pain was well. I have osteoarthritis. Go to a doctor and get and x-ray. Maybe go to two or three doctors as I did. I play a lot. Great advise came form a high end sports medicine man. Mine pain comes and goes. I have to limit my acoustic time, and have gone to lighter strings on both electric and acoustic. I have tried all sorts of therapy, pills, diet, etc. I don't like pills and therapy takes time and money. I found what works best for me and my specific condition is exercise and hot water directly on my joints. I continue to play, but I stretch / warm up more often, take an occasional Advil, and I always do the dishes :)  At first, this was a big reality head bummer, but it is not the end the world. The pain comes a goes. I have learned to live with it. The challenge brought new horizons and a gratitude for what I already have. Plus, I am learning slide in case things go really South when I get older. I still play all the time.

Go to the doctor(s). Get a good diagnosis so that you do not injure yourself. The plethora of internet info, and random advise like mine, can serve to just freak one out without reason.

Best of luck.- Tom

Arthur, I'm 60 and like Tom, I have major hand pain issues.  It's not unusual after 47 years of playing & 35 years of guitar tech'ing.

Tom has given you the best advice available.  The only thing I'd like to re-emphasize is the warm-up exercises. I've found that they make a world of difference in short & long term playing sessions.

May your pain subside quickly my friend & best of luck (-:


Thanks to all for the advice. What kind of warm-up exercises do you do? 

If I just stuck to electric guitar, would that be easier for me (less pain)?

I mean, it hurts right now a little, just typing this message..

I tried playing the Martin again after 1 week of not touching it. My hand started hurting after 10 minutes of playing. It was not that bad though. I would hate to give-up my guitar for this, but I am torn. I cannot decide

to live with this, switch to electric, which is much easier on my hand, or trade the Martin for a thin-neck

guitar, like Taylor, Seagull, Ovation, etc. Problem is, nobody wants to give me a fair trade, or fair price for a sale. Just for fun, I tried to sell it on craigslist, and nobody wants to pay anywhere near what it's worth.

I also tried to trade it in to some local guitar stores, and they too tried to low-ball me, and offered much

less than it is worth. *ugh*

"the whole area at the base of my left thumb gets real sore."

A common place for injury for males is the small bone located at the base of the thumb, the Scaphoid. It can be injured or broken from trauma to the thumb, such as jamming it or having the thumb be bent back more than it is supposed to. This can easily be mistaken for a sprain and in a few weeks the pain may diminish or disappear, only to reappear if it is aggravated from heavy work or a repeated process, like playing guitar.

I broke my left wrist years ago in a motorcycle mishap and wrote the pain off as a sprain. After some time it seemed to be fine but then a good year and a half later I started working in a warehouse doing heavy lifting and the pain came back. I went to the bone doctor and he informed me my Scaphoid had been broken and the halves never healed back together, it's called a non-union. He subsequently did a bone graft to attempt a fix but it did not take. Things went downhill from there and the pain was more easily set off as time went by. Playing an instrument was out of the question by then. Nearly 20 years living with this, I went back to an Orthopedic surgeon, the pain was severe and unmanageable. The now deformed Scaphoid was removed and a prosthetic one installed. I have lost some ability to rotate and bend my wrists full range of motion but the pain, when it happens is manageable with over the counter anti-inflammatory, (Ibuprofen). I have been playing guitar and mandolin again and doing well.

When I got the implant surgery, the procedure was somewhat experimental. These days it is no longer done, instead they fuse the wrist bones and you loose all range of motion. I have 3 other male friends that broke this bone. Two of  them where able to get it fixed and the other had the same prosthetic procedure I did.

Moral of this story is to have it looked at by a professional. I did not and have to live with this condition the rest of my days.

Thank you for this info.

In my case, it is not injury/broken bone, I think it is overuse or maybe the beginnings of arthritis.

My Martin has a thicker and wider neck than my old acoustic, and playing it has been challenging,

although the sound is amazing. When I play my electric, I do not get nearly as much discomfort.

Did anyone switch guitars because of this? It sounds like people did not, and are just dealing with it

the best they can. I was thinking about going electric, to ease the discomfort... Or maybe sell the Martin, and get an acoustic with a thinner/narrower neck..


Definitely get an x-ray and have a doctor look at it. The answer may be there.

I changed my main electric guitar from Fender to Gibson for the shorter scale. Generally the same thing with Martin vs Gibson. I still play the long scale instruments and alternate. I avoid jumping on stuff like blues rhythm shuffles or heavy alternate picking cold. Ease into things. At gigs I take time to play a little at sound check and stretch hands, wrists, arms, legs, everything. Regular full body exercise is great too! Again, a doctor or therapist can best guide you specifically on what is good for your condition. Play on. Tom

sounds like you may need a neck reset/action adj. and or a thumb fumb has also been affected by a scooter accident and is startin' to PMO!!The thumb that holds the pick with opposing force has developed a mind of it's own when it comes to timing but is showing signs of improvement .i just hit 65.Should I even worry about bothering to improve?Here is a basic image of it..


Arthur, if you care to do some reading, there is quite a bit on several of the big acoustic guitar Forums on how folks deal with getting older, and hands/back/arms/neck issues. Many of the folks end up swapping out guitars for smaller ones, (00s) or swap axes for considerably smaller necks, or for shorter scale. There  is also a camp with arthritis that has gone in opposite direction and only play the giant 'V'  neck guitars of the 20s/30s. The reason for that camp is that the neck size forces different posture neck angle, and the bass side of the 'V' makes an excellent grab point for the crook of the thumb. I have arthritis in both my hands. My left cramps up if I am doing anything less that 4 or 5 hours a week playing. It has badly affected all aspects of my playing.  In the last few months though, I have found a great combination of vitamins and  painkillers that is at least letting me sleep through the night.

 You REALLY need to go get whatever it is that is wrong with your hand diagnosed though. Go and do that, then reopen this thread and let us all help with whatever the Dr says OK?

Many years ago when I was doing construction work and gigging a lot, I developed such serious swelling and pain in my hands, left wrist and forearm, I was afraid I would have to quit or drastically change how much I was playing.


I talked to a few "regular" docs and ortho-type specialists with no real progress.  Then I got the bright idea to talk to a sports medicine person.  I located a therapist (much less expensive than a doc -- this was back in the days when you paid out of your own pocket) and the first thing she wanted to do was watch me play.  No doc had ever questioned that.  She showed me the importance of keeping my wrist in a neutral position, gave me exercises and an ibuprofen regimen and in a few months I was back to my old self.


Short story is, at least from my perspective, a good sports-med person, especially and hands on one, is a great direction to look for help with any pain that relates to some sort of constant physical stress on repetetive motion.


What has helped me is the following:  warm your hand(s) before playing, ice after and daily a regimen of an NSAID (asprin, ibuprofen or naproxin sodium) for a month or two.  If you're going to take NSAIDs be careful if you drink alcohol.  They can be hard on your stomach.  Do not use Tylenol (acetomenphen).  It is not anti-inflamatory and will only help (maybe) with the pain.  


I recently completed a 16 month construction project while I continued with gigs and repair work.  The above helped keep me going.  I had some issues, but nothing like 30 years ago and I dealt with them quickly so they never became severe.


I'm 56 and have osteoarthritis all over the place and neither guitar repair nor playing guitar help with this condition in my forelimbs, but persevere I must.  They help with some other conditions I have...

Well, the doc took some X-Rays, and luckily, the bones look fine,

so no arthritis, just a bad case of tendonitis. No guitar for 10 days, Ibuprofen tabs

for 7 to 10 days, need to rest the left hand, etc. The doc said it should completely heal,

but there is no guarantee that it will not return. Playing my acoustic caused this.

I have a nice Martin, but the neck is thicker and wider than I am used to, so my

guess is, playing this for months caused my tendonitis. My last acoustic had a

thinner and narrower neck, and never caused any problems, nor does my electric.

My guess is, after I heal-up, playing the Martin will cause flair-ups, so I am looking

to sell it, and get an acoustic with a thinner and narrower neck. I have my eyes on

a Seagull Slim. Ovations also have thin/narrow necks, but I never really liked the bowl

backs on Ovations, so that would not be my first choice. In hindsight, I probably should

have kept my old acoustic, even though I got the Martin for a steal. Old acoustic=no pain,

new one=pain. So, we will see. I do not know of any others acoustics that have thin/narrow necks

besides Seagull Slim, Ovation, and also Fender makes a Sonoran with a Strat-type neck, but I saw

a YouTube video demo of that guitar, and it sounded thin/trebly, so I may pass on that. The Seagull

looks like the best option at this time.

I get occasional bouts of tendonitis and when I do, I tune my flat top guitar down a step or I switch to an archtop for awhile.

The lower tension is gentler  on my hand and the lower register is easier on my voice as well, and if I want to jam with others, I either capo or tune up for the duration.Good Luck


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