Guitar & Osteoarthritis?

Hi all, I noticed some stiffness and discomfort in the pinky of my fret hand (especially when tapping or doing hammer-ons or pull-offs) around wintertime; I had only recently been able to play a lot after a long job search, so I figured it was disuse and kept going. Things didn’t get much better and recently have evolved to the point where even fretting period is painful. My doctor ordered an x-ray which showed osteoarthritis in several places in the hand (especially the tip of the pinky, surprise surprise).

I made an appointment with a hand specialist, whom I expect to maybe refer me to occupational therapy, but I’m wondering if anybody else has had experience with this?

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Sounds tough! Best of luck to you and hope the medical professionals are going to be able to help you!

Hoping I don’t have/get it - but I’ve had pinky stiffness when it’s cold. I sit with a space heater when practicing if it’s cold - also I’ve found that dropping to .08 gauge strings has been awesome for reducing tension. If nothing else it might take strain off of it.

I think what Tommo meant is that you should see a medical professional. Probably someone who either does musician medicine or sports medicine. Seeking medical advice online is not really a good idea.

That’s pretty much covered in the “I made an appointment with a hand specialist” of the original post, I’m looking to hear from other guitarists who have gone through this and what that experience was like, but it seems pretty scarce. I wonder if that’s how Mark St. John felt?

I’m hoping to not have to reduce from .010s, but there are worse things than having to go down a gauge, if that will help.

I’ve had to go down to 9.5s on my 25 1/2 scale guitar, as I’ve reached my late 40’s and I just don’t have the hand strength I used to. I still run 10’s on my 24 3/4 guitar, but I’d rather have 11’s on it. Alas I just can’t use big strings anymore, as I’d rather not have fatigue or pain.

I don’t think I can go lower in gauge, as I start to notice the lack of sustain and low end.

UPDATE: The osteoarthritis was a red herring, the actual issue was trigger finger in my pinky. The doctor gave me a cortisone shot which (so far) reduced the worst of the pain/discomfort, and gave me a referral to a hand specialist for occupational therapy that she hoped I wouldn’t need, but seems inevitable. Playing is so far, so good as long as I’m not doing a lot of legato or X notes in Y time with that finger. As annoying as this is, it’s very correctable as long as I’m smart, patient, and follow the regimen.

I think I will drop down to .009s: I watched that Rick Beato video about string gauge, which was pretty eye-opening, and I don’t want to make things more difficult unnecessarily.


Narrator Voice: “It was not osteoarthritis”

One year later update: Funny that Dr. Aviva Wolff showed up in the Reverse Dart Thrower video, I had a consultation with her about a month after this last post. Her take was that it was a nerve issue, caused by my terrible posture, emanating from the shoulders. She gave me some exercises to correct that, which only succeeded at overly tightening my upper back muscles. However…

…after a few months of fruitless physio, my hand surgeon ordered a nerve conduction study, which sure enough, pointed to an impinged nerve in my elbow, necessitating surgery. Despite the exercises not working (they were too much too soon given the state of my back, something Dr. Wolff would have almost certainly realized had it been an in-person consultation), honestly very impressive that she clocked the actual problem via video consultation alone. I might circle back to her in a few months to a year if the pain doesn’t get the expected fix from the surgery to see if there’s anything that could be done, but I wanted to chime in and say, if you have some kind of injury/defect that pops up and standard medical professionals can’t get to the bottom of it, I’d strongly urge folks to seek Dr. Wolff out: while she’s not cheap, she’s extremely reasonably priced given her credentials, and definitely knows what she’s talking about.