Carpal Tunnel Commentary


New member here!

I was hoping to spark a discussion about the effects of carpal tunnel syndrome beyond the obvious pain-related limitations. While being tested on my fretting hand for what would be ultimately diagnosed as “moderate to severe” CTS, I noted the testing technique involved sending electrical impulses through the arm and measuring the “delay” or “lag” in the responding muscle. It appeared that longer lags within an established threshold were being used to create the diagnosis.

So, I presume we are mostly aware of pain and numbness associated with the condition and how that can impede playing. But I was wondering if there is an inherent loss in dexterity when we are theoretically adjusting for a possibly variable lag in the responsiveness of critical motor actions associated with guitar. By “variable” I mean that there are certain times when CTS can be aggravated and the lag would theoretically be greater. So are we working with a nervous system that is inherently transmitting differently to the hand at any given time?

In other words, could getting the surgery done actually improve overall dexterity? Not looking for a miracle, here. Just wondering if the surgery might be justified on a basis beyond pain and numbness management, which are already quite under control.

Thanks for your input!


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Hey Scott,

I wouldn’t feel comfortable saying whether or not surgery beyond the reduction of physical pain would be helpful to guitar playing; in terms of reducing lag time that seems like a question that would be handled best by either a doctor/neuroscience major combo. It’s a really technical question and without jumping into a Pubmed study you’d likely be hard-pressed to find an answer, either here or elsewhere online.

All I know is if I were you I would do absolutely everything I could to avoid surgery. Beyond the obvious financial costs there is always the potential of complication from surgery. But then again I’m not a doctor so this is all just conjecture.

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Thanks for the feedback. I guess you are right in that this is probably way too technical to hypothesize on. Perhaps someone who had the surgery could subjectively weigh in on their before/after performance. Otherwise I guess I’m in the dark. Surgery is free up here in Canada so that’s not an issue and Dr’s are reassuring in the procedure being used regularly on musicians and other surgeons. But I agree it still feels like a roll of the dice.


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Good points! To Scott: I’d just like to reiterate that a surgeon would be much better qualified to answer your question than the people of random professions you’ll find on a forum such as this. I certainly wouldn’t feel comfortable to tell anyone to get surgery. Personally I look at surgery as a last resort type of thing - something to do when there is no other viable way out of an intolerable situation. I’m a big believer in physical therapy.

Look into ‘trigger point’ solutions for Carpal Tunnel before you go for surgery, it might not replace the need for surgery but has to be worth trying first.

Is carpal tunnel more common in the picking hand or the fretboard hand? I had a bass player who had it to the point that his pick would fall right out of his hand. I don’t remember what he did, but the problem went away and he didn’t have even a little bit of Carpal Tunnel syndrome anymore. I seem to remember he may have had surgery but can’t remember for sure. BTW, he wasn’t a guy who practiced tons of hours. On average he probably played an hour a day, 5 days a week. Besides, much of his playing didn’t even involve a pick - it was “slap and pop style” like Larry Graham. So I believe he was genetically predisposed to getting it.

the problem with surgery is…its surgery. One slip and u wont be playing anymore at all

In like '98 I had played for about 10 years. Never any problems from it at all. I used 9’s and super low action lol. (I didnt know any better)

Then I got a job building airplane tires and 7 months later I had to have surgery in both hands for carpal tunnel. Mainly it made it impossible to sleep without my hands and arms going totally numb.

It had nothing to do with guitar playing and that was 20 years ago and no symptoms since (I obviously got away from that job)

I did do the electrical testing and the doctor was shaking his head lol. I dont recall it having too terrible of an effect on my playing. Im assuming that I was so tired during those 7 months that I rarely played anyway. I was playing a lot of golf back then and that job essentially ended my golf playing because i was simply too destroyed after work to play golf…even though the company had a nice golf course adjacent to the plant lol.

I had the right hand done first, reasoning that it was somewhat less important to my style than the left hand lol…so if the doc screwed it up it wouldnt be as bad. the surgery for both hands went well

The only effect I had when coming back was a few times when I hit something like a Bm bar chord where I had to bend the wrist etc, id get a nice little shock up the forearm lol. I probably tried to come back too soon. That shock thing only lasted a short while. I assume I had scar tissue and swelling left after surgery that had to be worked out some thru therapy etc

AFAIK it hasnt affected my playing one way or the other.

The main thing it has ever affected since the surgery was when i was lifting heavy and id do bench press. There will be some residual scar tissue right in the middle of the base of the hand and the bar sat right there and it could kind of suck when the weights got heavy

the “surgery to decrease response time” is an interesting idea but id be dam5ed if id do it lol. Ive always lived by the understanding that surgery should be a last option. Id try other options first like vit B6 or sleeping in lace up wrist splits or whatever else is out there.

Thanks for the firsthand experience, Jonjon! You guys are really making the case for not doing the surgery! :open_mouth:

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I had CT bad for about a year…
no surgery needed.
just did the rubber band exercises with my right hand.
CT is an imbalance in the forearm muscles.
so you need to strengthen the muscles on top of your forearms by extended your fingers out!

tonnes of stuff on youtube etc.


My brother is a professor of general surgery, and he says, “go to a barber, get a haircut.” In other words, to to a hand surgeon, get surgery (particularly if it might help your situation). At the very least get multiple opinions from both surgeons and other types of physicians, and then very carefully choose the doctor in case you decide to get surgery. I wish I knew more, but I don’t…

I would guess this, however: If you can root-cause what is causing your CT, can you stop doing it and see if you get better? Also, have you tried physical therapy for a while?

Historically speaking, you might also get a surgery too :laughing: