I felt recently I was making progress properly for the first time, spending up to two hours a day practising the guitar. But for the second time in the space of a year I have had a thumb injury that takes six weeks to heal up, so I know my technique is wrong somewhere. I am trying to change my posture, the way I grip the neck, taking regular breaks, stopping myself gripping too hard and tensing up.
My question is: should the pad of my thumb be on the back of the neck and should it always move with the hand or act as a pivot? I think sometimes when I pivot with the thumb for big stretches I squeeze and tense up, and the tip of my thumb might not have the pad spread evenly. The part of my thumb that is sore is the second joint which has a dull ache. It’s really knocked my confidence and I am sure my thumb position for chords and string bending is correct. I enclosed a picture. Paul Shaw Jason Sidwell replies: Paul, while we’re not equipped to offer advice from a medical perspective, the photo you’ve sent of you playing a wide stretch looks fine. The thumb is positioned well and there doesn’t look too much of a strain on it despite the wider stretch; most guitarists playing this would look similar. If you are having playing pains it may be that your thumb hasn’t healed well enough yet (two injuries in one year is heavy going!) to accommodate such stretches. You don’t say whether you were able to play like this before the injuries, but your letter suggests they were incurred while playing, which does point towards technique problems. An isolated photo like this can only provide so much information as regards problem solving; we’d need to see you actually play different things to detect where (if any) problems lie. Large stretches are one thing but barre chords can also be straining - if you play them a lot, this can have an impact on your thumb. One suggestion we’d offer is that you may be using too much pressure when fretting; a common problem with many which often explains why someone sounds out of tune despite the guitar being in tune (your fingers should almost never touch the fretboard’s wood). To see if this applies to you, fret a note and then release the tension until you get a buzzing sound (on the cusp of the note not sustaining). If this exertion is less than your usual amount when fretting, you will need to re-programme your playing. We’d also recommend looking into your action (string-tofretboard distance) and string gauge choice. While this is a very personal area, you may like to try a lighter gauge (change from .010 to 0.009 gauge perhaps) so there’s less strain when fretting and string bending. So, with what you’ve told us, it would seem you’ve a few areas to consider along with a possible visit to your doctor to become more savvy to your problems.
Paul Shaw’s thumb position looks fine to us