Index finger injury - Can't play guitar

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Slash'N'burnSlash'N'burn Frets: 108
edited August 2020 in Technique

My left hand index finger suddenly started getting painful and sore, to the point where I struggle to move it and can't properly use that hand.

I don't know exactly what has caused it, as it didn't get trapped, hit or overextended. A couple of days beforehand I was using some heavy extension ladders outside my house, and they are quite a stretch to get them to full extension, releasing and setting the locking catches overhead is quite awkward - but I didn't feel any pain or discomfort at the time, it only  started a couple of days after.

Initially the pain seemed to be right from the knuckle to the tip of my finger, and very tender to touch along on the right side of the finger, but oddly not around the other sides. I couldn't bend it. Fastening a seatbelt or opening a packet was impossible without avoiding use of the index finger. There was no visible swelling or redness though.

Followed NHS advice of rest & ibuprofen etc, but soon stopped the ibuprofen as I was concerned I would forget and do more damage if the pain was numbed (I'm left handed, but play right handed)

3 weeks have passed and it has slowly improved a little, pain has eased and I can bend/flex it a bit but not fully curl it into a fist.

I tried to very gently play guitar (or mimic the movements)  I can feel a twinge if I fret a note with my index finger - but the worst is that it will not go anywhere near the curled position for an open C chord or partial barre across strings 1-2 or 1-3 , I don't want to make things worse.

I'm 40 and have been playing for 20 years, but probably only average an 1 hour playing time a week if i'm lucky, so hopefully the guitar is not the cause. Never had any hand problems until now.

Sorry for the long thread!

Has anyone had a similar experience?

Did it get better on its own with time? how long did it take?

Any benefit from seeing a Doctor/Physio etc?

Is it likely to be an issue with a tendon, or one of the joints the tendon slides through?  I've tried to look up medical advice for this injury online but not found anything similar, all seems to be things like trigger finger (locking) or injuries from a break or serious sprain.

Thanks in advance.

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Comments

  • Arthritis? Mine came out of nowhere. Maybe worth seeing a physio.  Some recommend a regular daily dose of Ibuprofen unless you have a condition which reacts badly to it (asthma etc).  
    Give me valves or give me death.
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  • RolandRoland Frets: 4984

    Any benefit from seeing a Doctor/Physio etc?

    Yes. Your GP is the place to start.
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  • Could be a good opportunity to brush up on your slide guitar.. 
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  • MusicwolfMusicwolf Frets: 1771
    edited February 2020

    Any benefit from seeing a Doctor/Physio etc?

    I very much doubt it.  After all, this is a guitar related problem and is best addressed by consulting other guitarist on a web forum.  I wouldn't be bothering with these, so called, Doctors who think that they are qualified to make a diagnosis and prescribe treatment just because they've completed some kind of extended first aid course.

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  • Did you whack your elbow, or sleep on it? Could be cubital tunnel? Definitely worth seeing a doc or a proper physio.
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  • Musicwolf said:

    Any benefit from seeing a Doctor/Physio etc?

    I very much doubt it.  After all, this is a guitar related problem and is best addressed by consulting other guitarist on a web forum.  I wouldn't be bothering with these, so called, Doctors who think that they are qualified to make a diagnosis and prescribe treatment just because they've completed some kind of extended first aid course.

    What I meant was, will an NHS GP be able to do anything for me at this stage, given funding crisis etc, priority of patients with far worse problems.

    Not doubting the skills of Doctors & Physios, just wanted to know other people's experiences with these injuries, and their experiences going to their Doctor.

    I didn't see the point going to my GP in the first week, but yes I will go and see my GP and at least start the ball rolling.

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  • Did you whack your elbow, or sleep on it? Could be cubital tunnel? Definitely worth seeing a doc or a proper physio.
    I've just had a quick read about Cubital tunnel. Not whacked elbow, I do sleep with a bent elbow but on my right side. Thanks, I will get it checked out.

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  • poopotpoopot Frets: 5775
    Hurty finger is no excuse not to play!!!!

    https://youtu.be/biK2Ga1brAA
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  • JAYJOJAYJO Frets: 1434
    I hurt my forefinger punching someone like a big girls blouse. I hit them with the front part of my finger just after the nail. Didnt feel it at the time and there was no sign of any damage but it hurt like hell for weeks. Luckily it was my strumming hand.
     I will send the head in next time as my hands are worth far more to me theses days...
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  • Talk to a doctor before whatever's going on gets worse.  Guitar's not the priority here imo.
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  • Arthritis? Mine came out of nowhere. Maybe worth seeing a physio.  Some recommend a regular daily dose of Ibuprofen unless you have a condition which reacts badly to it (asthma etc).  

    Can I ask how old you were when it started? 

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  • Musicwolf said:

    Any benefit from seeing a Doctor/Physio etc?

    I verry much doubt it.  After all, this is a guitar related problem and is best addressed by consulting other guitarist on a web forum.  I wouldn't be bothering with these, so called, Doctors who think that they are qualified to make a diagnosis and prescribe treatment just because they've completed some kind of extended first aid course.

    I went to a GP with arthritis in my fretting hand forefinger.  She told me it was a deformity that happens so some people with age but it would settle down and wouldn't affect my ability to play guitar.  To put it mildly, this was bollocks. I got far more realistic advice from guitarists on forums.

    OK, this was perhaps an unusual degree of incompetence, but I've seen other doctors since and none has been able to suggest anything that actually helps, as opposed to being able to give me a name for it. It’s not their fault if there's nothing can be done, but it’s a reminder that going to the doctor won't necessarily help.

    So of course, go to your doctor but don't think you're necessarily going to get solutions and don't rule out other sources of information: affected guitarists will often have thought much longer and harder about this issue than most doctors.

    I've been relatively lucky:  I've had this issue for many years now, and although it causes problems with playing they are relatively minor (half barres are difficult, sliding a half barre is completely out of the questions,  bending note with my forefinger is more or less a no-no, vibrato with the damanged finger has to be kept to a minimum, and even fretting an open C chord is difficult because it's hard for me to get enough curl on my index finger). My fear was that it would deteriorate and/or spread to other fingers but, touch wood, so far the only other finger affected is the right hand forefinger and it only needs to be able to hold a plectrum.

    So arthritis obviously isn’t good news but it’s not necessarily as bad as you first imagine.

    “Our great democracies still tend to think that a stupid man is more likely to be honest than a clever man, and our politicians take advantage of this prejudice by pretending to be even more stupid than nature made them.”
    ― Bertrand Russell


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  • jpfampsjpfamps Frets: 2473
    Could be a good opportunity to brush up on your slide guitar.. 
    Or take up lap steel!
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  • ColsCols Frets: 2427
    Given the circumstances, most likely some form of tendonitis.  Make an appointment to see your GP.

    In the meantime, start taking the ibuprofen again and avoid using the finger as much as possible (not easy with an index finger, I know).  As well as being a painkiller, ibuprofen reduces inflammation.

    Your GP might not actually be able to do much more in terms of initial treatment (other than maybe splinting it to prevent further movement to allow it to rest), but they can refer you on to a specialist or physiotherapist for further investigation and treatment.
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  • When I was 20 I crushed my hand in a motorcycle accident and had to have my bones rebuilt in my fret hand, including plates put into my index finger. My knuckle in my hand is now about 2cm further back than the rest as they had to rebuilt it from an eggshell fracture. My left index finger is now about 2cms short than it used to be and only bends as far as the knuckle on my thumb. 

    I spent ages agonising trying to play open chords with it, in the end I just started fretting the chords with my other 3 fingers for a C, G, etc. Feels weird at first, but didn't take too long to get used to it. Also using some diminished chords

    Has the benefit of freaking other guitarists out as well... 'WTF is wrong with your had', haha. 

    Vid shows what I mean, excuse the poor audio, it was a long time ago. 


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  • BezzerBezzer Frets: 390
    @Slash'N'burn you have my sympathy!  I had the same last year across my whole left hand, and my pinky and ring fingers were basically non-functional for a bit.

    Definitely see a Doc.  On one hand if it's something serious/permanent they'll be able to tell you.  Equally if it's NOTHING serious or permanent they can also tell you.

    Mine was basically a "sports injury" and I was told to rest for 8 to 10 weeks.  I had an important gig in the time period so had a problem, he was able to confirm though that although it wouldn't help I wouldn't make it worse I would just hurt like hell afterwards ... he was very, very right.

    But yeah, get checked.  One way or another it's best to know!
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  • Bezzer said:
    @Slash'N'burn you have my sympathy!  I had the same last year across my whole left hand, and my pinky and ring fingers were basically non-functional for a bit.

    Definitely see a Doc.  On one hand if it's something serious/permanent they'll be able to tell you.  Equally if it's NOTHING serious or permanent they can also tell you.

    Mine was basically a "sports injury" and I was told to rest for 8 to 10 weeks.  I had an important gig in the time period so had a problem, he was able to confirm though that although it wouldn't help I wouldn't make it worse I would just hurt like hell afterwards ... he was very, very right.

    But yeah, get checked.  One way or another it's best to know.

    Thanks. Do you think yours was caused by playing guitar, or other activity? Did you get completely back to normal?

    I've had a long wait for a Doctor's appointment, I'm booked in for Monday.

    A week has passed (4 weeks now) and my index finger has gradually improved a little bit each day. Less pain, able to curl it more, now sometimes noticing a slight 'click' in the last joint when I bend it. Not able to use it for opening things or carrying even something light though. Restricting guitar playing to only using my 2nd/3rd/4th fingers (basically doing light triads, with picking patterns for a few minutes here and there.)

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  • BezzerBezzer Frets: 390
    Yeah, I think it was a combination of things but playing was a major factor in it. I overstretched I think, at a basic level.

    i have recovered completely now, but it did take a lot of rest.

    Good luck with the Doc on Monday. Hopefully they can set your mind at ease a bit. 
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  • HoofHoof Frets: 428
    Had a very similar pain in the exact same spot a while ago. It started during a quite intense period of practicing (after only playing at rehearsals/gigs for a while). Mine went on for about 3 months and was gradually getting worse until one day I just pulled the tip of my finger on a certain way, there was a very odd (but not painful) pop and the pain disappeared in an instant.
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  • Bezzer said:
    Yeah, I think it was a combination of things but playing was a major factor in it. I overstretched I think, at a basic level.

    i have recovered completely now, but it did take a lot of rest.

    Good luck with the Doc on Monday. Hopefully they can set your mind at ease a bit. 

    My Doc said similar to yours, it was an injury and that it would get better itself in time. She said that the gradual improvements were a good sign. As there wasn't any swelling she couldn't say what type of injury it was, advised to keep it moving and use it but well within limits of pain, and go back in 4 weeks if not improving.

    The last couple of weeks it has improved gradually again, I was able to play my Les Paul the other day without any pain (7 weeks after it first started) I was careful to warm up though and didn't go crazy, but was able to do partial barres, unison bends, vibrato etc.  which cheered me up immensely :)  

    Only advice I can give to others now is to really look after your hands!  When not playing guitar, don't abuse them with bad technique for things you do at work/taking junk to the tip/DIY etc. - don't overload or overstretch your fingers.


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  • BezzerBezzer Frets: 390
    @Slash'N'burn thats really good news! Glad they were able to rule out anything sinister too, always sets the mind at rest.  Look after yourself fella, speedy recovery!
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  • The pain returned slightly about a week later, in the end joint of my finger. There is a dull ache most of the time. Think I may have jumped in a bit too soon, partial barres with thumb over the top does put the index finger in a awkward stretch/bend - so I probably should of avoided it completely. Still able to play but not putting any strain on that finger. Just keeping this thread updated in the hope that it is useful info for someone in the same boat later on.

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  • H150H150 Frets: 0
    Hiya! First time poster, came here looking for some help on exactly this issue.

    The pain returned slightly about a week later, in the end joint of my finger. There is a dull ache most of the time. Think I may have jumped in a bit too soon, partial barres with thumb over the top does put the index finger in a awkward stretch/bend - so I probably should of avoided it completely. Still able to play but not putting any strain on that finger. Just keeping this thread updated in the hope that it is useful info for someone in the same boat later on.


    I woke up end of March and my middle finger on my fretting hand hurt like hell. I had been doing nothing out of the ordinary, playing guitar yes but nothing crazy, no stretchy legato etc. and no manual labour in my life. Anyway it swelled up like a sausage. This is after 20 years of playing with no injuries or pain whatsoever. It is slowly getting better (after 12 weeks) but it is not totally right. It's mainly pain free and I can make a fist but the last few millimetres of clench feel very tight.

    Almost simultaneously though, my index finger which holds my plectrum is now hurting too. I now have to use my thumb and middle to hold the pick. Two fingers hurting after 20 years of no pain? My thumbs ache a bit too. I'm scared this is arthritis (I'm 38) although I thought arthritis was a slow degradation of joints, not three fingers simultaneously going pear shaped.

    I will go to the doctor's about it but want to give Covid priority so wont go for a while. I usually play 11s and play hard a la SRV so I'm dropping down to 10s for a while and see if that helps. I'm very depressed about it but will keep you updated too. :-(
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  • RolandRoland Frets: 4984
    H150 said:

    I will go to the doctor's about it but want to give Covid priority so wont go for a while. :-(
    Don’t wait. GPs aren’t overloaded with Covid 19 patients. If this is something progressive which could be stopped or slowed then you need to get on to it.
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  • H150 said:
    Hiya! First time poster, came here looking for some help on exactly this issue.

    I woke up end of March and my middle finger on my fretting hand hurt like hell. I had been doing nothing out of the ordinary, playing guitar yes but nothing crazy, no stretchy legato etc. and no manual labour in my life. Anyway it swelled up like a sausage. This is after 20 years of playing with no injuries or pain whatsoever. It is slowly getting better (after 12 weeks) but it is not totally right. It's mainly pain free and I can make a fist but the last few millimetres of clench feel very tight.

    Almost simultaneously though, my index finger which holds my plectrum is now hurting too. I now have to use my thumb and middle to hold the pick. Two fingers hurting after 20 years of no pain? My thumbs ache a bit too. I'm scared this is arthritis (I'm 38) although I thought arthritis was a slow degradation of joints, not three fingers simultaneously going pear shaped.

    I will go to the doctor's about it but want to give Covid priority so wont go for a while. I usually play 11s and play hard a la SRV so I'm dropping down to 10s for a while and see if that helps. I'm very depressed about it but will keep you updated too. :-(
      That's not good mate. When the swelling was bad, could you feel which part was swollen worse, .e.g. a certain joint or tendon etc?  was bending really restricted? How many hours a day/week do you play?

    The last few months I've been able to play electric guitar fine as long as I warmed up first, it was just the end joint of my finger that seemed prone to twinges, or achy if bumped/pulled so I avoided using that finger for any heavy lifting/diy etc. and just assumed it was going to take a long time to fully recover, so didn't go back to my GP.

    Unfortunately my fretting hand index finger has flared up badly again in the last 2 weeks. About a month ago I noticed a bit of pain the lower joint (back of knuckle) after playing barre chords on my acoustic. it eased off but seemed to linger/feel tender so avoided the acoustic. A week later I was moving some books with my left hand and felt a sharp pain in that lower finger joint. Oh fuck I thought. A couple of days later I played my LP for a couple of hours without a problem.

    A couple of days after playing my finger started to feel swollen and painful at the lower joint on the palm side, and I couldn't curl it into my palm, it would only bend about half way. This was worse than the original injury back in January! The swelling got worse each day and I could feel the tendon in the palm just below the joint was enlarged compared to the other hand. I totally rested it and got some ice on it and went to see my GP the next day - he examined it and thought it was tendon related, and said as it had been a problem since January and never fully recovered there must be something amiss, I was sent for an X-ray 4 days later. The X-ray came back normal apparently, so now I've been referred to Orthopaedics - it could be a long wait for that especially with the current situation. Hope that if they do a scan, it will be while I've still got the swelling/restricted bending, so that it might show what's going on! Right now the swelling has gone done a little bit and I can bend the finger a bit more.

      Like you I've had some twinges on the other hand (right) too , the index finger and some stiffness/fatigue of the whole hand at times, it has come and gone so I don't know if its just coincidence, or overuse while I've rested my left hand, it's feels ok at the moment.

    As others have said, go to your GP as soon you can, I got an appointment quickly and only saw one other person there, as they do online/phone appointments now for those who don't need/want to go in person.

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  • ToneControlToneControl Frets: 8969
    AFAIK ultrasound treatment can help speed recovery for some of the possible injuries you have got

    there are a couple of real physios on this forum who will probably tell you to go and see a physio in person

    Near me you can get an online GP consultation, which can result in a phone call or even face to face
    However, the NHS physios aren't allowed to work yet near me

    I got a private consultation with a physio, costs about £50. I would recommend that rather than waiting. I once went through all the GP route for 2 months with my foot, with them insisting on blood tests for gout, even though I told them the injury was instantaneous went a twanged a tendon. Eventually the physio told me my recovery would have been much faster if I'd come to them within the first 14 days after the injury
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  • AFAIK ultrasound treatment can help speed recovery for some of the possible injuries you have got

    there are a couple of real physios on this forum who will probably tell you to go and see a physio in person

    Near me you can get an online GP consultation, which can result in a phone call or even face to face
    However, the NHS physios aren't allowed to work yet near me

    I got a private consultation with a physio, costs about £50. I would recommend that rather than waiting. I once went through all the GP route for 2 months with my foot, with them insisting on blood tests for gout, even though I told them the injury was instantaneous went a twanged a tendon. Eventually the physio told me my recovery would have been much faster if I'd come to them within the first 14 days after the injury

    I've been having a look for physios near me.
    How many sessions did you need for your foot in the end? 
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  • Slash'N'burnSlash'N'burn Frets: 108
    edited September 2020
    I saw a private physio a couple of weeks ago. They did a thorough check over of all the joints and movement in my finger comparing it with my good hand, found no worrying conditions developing but couldn’t tell exactly what the problem was, as the swelling in the tendon/joint could be felt but no obvious lump there, and advised me to ask my GP for an ultrasound scan on their recommendation, as it would clearly show what/where the problem is. They said that at this stage a steroid injection wouldn’t be right as the joint doesn’t ‘lock’ like trigger finger. They demonstrated some movements/stretches of each joint using the other hand to do the moving, to do at home myself. They were a bit stumped really and without a ultrasound scan couldn’t do anything more unless it got worse, but did say they thought the cause was more likely to be repetitive movements from playing guitar rather than heavy DIY work.

    So have requested Ultrasound scan with GP, who says he will look into it, and that Covid has caused extra delays with my referral to orthopaedic team.

    Getting frustrating now as it doesn’t seem to be getting any better after 8 weeks, back in January when it first started at least I was back to playing electric guitar after 8 weeks, this time around it seems a worse injury.

    So if you have any issues with your hands I really recommend seeing a GP and a physio right from the outset, don’t leave it months like I did.
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  • I experience pain in the fingers on my left hand from time to time.  When the pain develops I put 8s on my guitar and it certainly makes playing a lot easier.  
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  • Slash'N'burnSlash'N'burn Frets: 108
    edited October 2020
    Well last week I had an appointment with a consultant Orthopaedic surgeon (NHS) who wasn’t really sure what the problem might be, other than maybe an inflamed tendon or one of the pulleys it passes through, and requested an Ultrasound scan by a doctor who could also do a steroid injection at the same time if necessary. In parallel I had received an appointment for an Ultrasound scan on my hand, but not with a doctor. We decided it would be worth going for the basic scan anyway, while waiting for the scan by a doctor that has a much longer waiting time.
     Frustratingly the ultrasound scan didn’t reveal any issues at the base of my finger where the pain and swelling is (despite that I can feel a raised/swollen tendon sheath in my palm) but the guy noted one of the screenshots ‘Lump’ further down between my index finger and thumb, saying there was something there but didn’t know what it is, might just be muscle(?!?!) hopefully the consultant will have more of an idea. No idea how long I have to wait for the next scan with a doctor, but heard there has been a backlog since March and could be anything between 10 and 20 weeks wait
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