What’s causing the tension in my playing?

Hi guys,

I’m currently having to take some time away from guitar after having developed Carpal tunnel syndrome in my fretting hand. Having thought about it, I think this has been caused by long term bad habits in my left hand technique. So when I get back to playing I’d like to fix it!

The problem is mostly the pain, but musically, I’m struggling to get down the consistency Id like with my runs to flow through improvisation better; hopefully stopping me from getting discouraged when new ideas fall apart.

From a picking hand perspective I don’t have as many issues with tension, but I have done a lot of experimentation with DWPS approaches and two way slanting. However, with longer three note per string runs (specifically ones that wind back and forth) I hit a brick wall which I’ve tried to address by using more DWPS - although I’m really not sure the picking is the problem.

The problem is intermittent, so during a practice session, there are often points where the technique feels smooth as butter and I’m able to go as fast or faster than the video below. But depending on which way the wind is blowing I’m only reliably able to get up to around 10-12 notes per second (100-110 bpm sixteenth note triplets). Then even in the same session it’ll fall apart and I get frustrated.

I’ve posted a take I did about 6 or 7 months ago of a cover of Fatal Tragedy by Dream Theater. It’s not perfect due to some timing issues and there’s a mistakes on there I think I’m no longer making where my bending is coming from the fingers rather than the wrist.

I’ve seen on the forum recently that some people have issues where they over extend the first knuckle joint of the fretting hand. I have a feeling I’m doing something like that, but I’m hoping one of you experts can put me right.

Peace out

Hey @dreadful_name. This backward extension of your fretting hand would be the first place I’d try and make changes. Others might find success with hands in this position, but from my classical background this hurts to even look at. Without holding a guitar, if I put my hand in that position and mimic fretting I can feel enormous tension.

I know high up on the fretboard you may have to do some gymnastics around the cutaway, but just around mid like this I’ll work on a more formal hand position. Wrist and forearm more in line, maybe a littler bit of forward flex on the wrist.

Another thing I can’t tell from the video, but self analyze how hard you are pressing down on the frets. Even at speed you can press surprisingly light and still get clean tone. I actively work and pressing just barely hard enough to stop buzz.

Too hard of a hammer on or hard fretting in general can cause the finger equivalent of shin splints.
Just some initial thought but the more experienced should weight in.

Screenshot 2023-03-15 at 8.03.25 PM

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Dude your left hand is tilted back almost 90 degrees, that’s your problem. Some people tilt back a bit to get the reach, I do that with no problem but everyone’s different; muscle problems will eventually fix themselves but tendon problems aren’t so forgiving. This is primarily a picking forum, you’ll probably get better feedback on another forum. Having said that search “efficient digital cycles” here on the forum for a very in-depth exploration of left hand posture.

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I don’t have time to respond to this right now, but I’ll write a response later. Maybe this evening or tomorrow.

EDIT: Well, none of my students showed up, so it turns out that I do have some time.

As has been mentioned by @brightbeauty and @Moje, you often have your wrist in extreme extension, meaning that your wrist extensors are under constant contraction. You also spend much of your time with significant flexion at the DIP and PIP (small and middle) joints of your fingers, while holding extension at the MCP (big) joints.

This is only possible through co-contraction of opposing muscle groups. The extension at MCP requires the activation of extensor digitorum communis (EDC), while the flexion at the DIP and PIP joints requires the activation of flexor digitorum profundus and superficialis (FDP and FDS). Relative to the other muscles involved in finger movement, these muscles are large and strong, and have very little capacity for movement of individual fingers. All of the smaller muscles (extensor indicis and extensor digiti minimi, lumbricals and interossei muscles) are forced to pull against these stronger muscles from a poorly aligned position where all of the natural “slack” in your connective tissues has been removed.

This position is very similar to the “claw” form in typing, which is absolutely infamous.


About a decade ago, I developed very severe tendinitis/tendinosis in both wrists from typing in this posture for several hours each day. It was an absolutely miserable experience, and it was necessary to retrain my posture and my typing form to correct the problems. I couldn’t hold a cup of coffee in my left hand without pain for more than a year and I could barely play guitar at all. It’s very possible that I wouldn’t be able to play guitar at all anymore if the problem had continued.


Thanks @Tom_Gilroy and a thankyou to @Moje and @brightbeauty as well.

I hadn’t noticed the backwards bent wrist as an issue before and it likely comes from an injury I had as a kid that makes pushing my wrist forward quite uncomfortable.

To dive into the flexion and extension in my finger joints, are there any good resources that point to what I’m aiming for versus what I’m doing now? I’m guessing that by straightening the wrist this will naturally even our the MCP joint meaning there’s less of a need to flex the DIP and PIP joints, but look at my hand now I want to make sure I’m dialling the angles in right.

There’s a ton of variation, the main thing is to avoid extreme positions for any joint. If you watch Paul Gilbert he tilts in the same direction you do which allows more reach without stretching/splaying fingers. I do the same with no issues, it’s a matter of degree.

For every joint there’s a range of motion and you don’t have to be exactly in the middle of that range, but you definitely don’t want to spend much time at the extreme since that locks your tendons and puts strain on them.

Here’s an easy way to get the feel: if you let your hand hang toward the floor, arm straight, you’ll see the fingers have a curve to them. Maintain that curve, and freely wiggle the fingers. Now pull the hand all the way into flexion and do the same, feel the tension? Then do the same but with extension, you’ll feel tension there too.

Don’t worry at all about taking on a new technique, you already have the speed so it’s just a matter of getting used to a different mechanical approach. When I came across CtC I completely overhauled my right hand technique, it didn’t take long and progress after that really improved.

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If one’s thumb comes up over the E2 (thickest) string, will this encourage that kind of wrist bend? Would it be better (I’m not sure) to keep one’s thumb along the back of the neck?

Alternatively, if you lowered the neck towards the floor it looks like you could keep the a thumb over the top and have a straighter wrist.

It seems that the classical people (what I copy) keep their thumb on the back and the neck pretty high, and the rock people keep their thumb around the top and the neck pretty low.

(But I don’t know what I’m talking about, so be careful.)