I am not a doctor or physical therapist. It may be wise to consult your doctor or physical therapist before doing any stretching exercises. The stretches in this video have worked for me, but we all have different bodies and not all exercises are appropriate or advisable for everyone. This is especially true if you have any pre-existing conditions.
Go slow. In the beginning, keep sessions short. Pay close attention to the sensations in your body and stop if you feel pain.
Having a sore back has been an ongoing problem for me for many years and can be a significant obstacle to playing guitar. Guess I should have listened as a child to my mom when she told me not to slouch in my chair. 🙂
I have done quite a bit of research and paid big bucks to help relieve the pain and heal my back. I’d like to share with you some of the things I've learned about pain-free guitar playing in hopes that you will benefit from my experience.
Can You Practice Guitar Without Looking?
Good posture while playing guitar tops the list in ways to prevent any back soreness. One of the biggest issues for me was leaning over my guitar to watch what I was doing for long periods of time. I know better now, but to some degree the damage has been done.
My advice for you would be to avoid looking over the guitar as much as possible to watch your hands on the fretboard. It's fine to look once in a while but try not to make it a habit. You really don't need to stare at your hands or the fretboard while you're playing, and the less you do it the easier it gets.
No Slouching Allowed
The second aspect of good posture and pain-free guitar playing is to avoid what is commonly called slouching. This is the thing our parents politely remind us about.
What I've learned is that by putting constant stress on my back muscles over time causes chronic pain. The straighter I keep my spine while practicing and performing the less stress I put on my back muscles. This applies to sitting or standing.
Don’t slouch. Slouching will eventually cause pain in your neck and back. Even worse it may pull your spine out of alignment and pinch the nerves. Try to keep a relaxed upright posture.
Breaks Are Good
Take frequent breaks where you set down the guitar, stand up, shake out your legs and arms, and stretch your neck and back.
I recommend practicing for 30 or 40 minutes and then taking a 10-minute stretch break. I follow my own recommendations now. This has helped me a lot. It's a great way to get my stretching in while at the same time breaking the tension that builds while practicing.
Here are some of the stretches that I do:
The Hanging Guitarist
I've attached a pull-up bar in the doorway in my house. These are fairly common and inexpensive. I usually hang from the bar for about a minute at a time. I can feel my vertebrae decompressing and more than once I found this was enough to alleviate pain in my back and get's me closer to my goal of pain-free guitar playing.
I went through a few until I found the one I like best: Sunny Health & Fitness Door Way Chin Up
Child's Pose: Not Just For Kids
This is one of my favorite yoga postures and does wonders for stretching my lower back. Here's a website showing how to do the Child's Pose. You don't have to be a Yogi to benefit from this one.
By the way… Can you guess which is my #1 favorite yoga pose? I give you a hint: it looks a lot like sleeping 🙂
This is actually another yoga pose that I do daily during my stretch breaks. It's really quite simple but has an amazingly beneficial effect on my back. When I'm feeling particularly sore I kinda have to ease into this, but I always feel better when I'm done. I usually do 60 seconds on each side and then change.
Here are a demonstration and instructions on how to do the Belly Twist.
Pain-Free Guitar Playing Up Side Down
Want pain-free guitar playing? I've also found an incline bench is a real help. I use it first thing in the morning for two minutes and sometimes later in the day if my back is still sore. I don't know if it works for everybody and if you back have some serious problems such as a herniated disc you might want to check with your doctor first.
Massage For The Practicing Guitarist
Along with watching my posture and yoga exercises, I found regular massage really helps me maintain a relaxed and pain-free back. There are many different kinds of massage. I tend to alternate between a Swedish and Shiatsu combination with an occasional Thai massage.
Thai massage is more strenuous. If you never tried it is a little like having someone do yoga to you. I highly recommend it with the caveat that you asked the masseuse to go easy on you at first.
I always ask the masseuse to massage my hand and fingers as well. This not only feels good but helps prevent problems like carpal tunnel.
What Is An Egoscue?
Pete Egoscue developed a system for relieving pain that involves a series of exercises and posture correction techniques. I originally heard about his system from Tony Robbins and decided to try it myself. I paid a rather hefty price to attend 10 weeks of therapy at one of his clinics in San Francisco.
I still continue to do a series of exercises I learned and I find them to be very helpful. If you're looking for help with chronic pain you may want to start by reading his book. If you feel inspired you can attend one of his 25 clinics around the United States. It is expensive but it's difficult to put a price on a pain-free life.
A Little Attention Now Is An Investment
I hope you found some of these suggestions helpful. In closing, I'd like to encourage you to take advantage of my experience and don't wait until you find yourself in pain. A little attention to your body now while practicing the guitar will pay off many times over in the future.
What is your experience with back pain while playing or practicing guitar? Please share in the comments section below.
Hi, being a back suffer, this will help. I have also found that having a stool that allows you to put your feet flat on the floor helps. Thank for the tips. Anne
Thanks for sharing Anne.
Thank you for sharing these important advice on avoiding back aches. As one who suffers from constant back aches, I can attest to the importance of following these practices to help avoid straining your back. I still have to be aware and not slouch and look over the guitar like you said. I tilt the guitar toward me a little to compensate. Thanks again.
You’re welcome Ray. I still have to pay attention to this and catch myself slumping from time to time. The stretching has really helped me.
I’m a sufferer of back pain and neck pain because of practicing guitar continuously. Sometimes it goes very worse. Thing I got to know is that I need a break after 30min to relax. Possibly as you said, the neck pain can be avoided by just seeing my fingers rather trying to see completely what I do with my fingers in fret. Thanks a lot for your tip. That’s really helpful.
You’re welcome Jims. Thanks for sharing your experience.
I’m trying to learn to play, and enjoy practicing but I don’t practice as often as I should because I know my back will ache after. We’ve tried the stool thing. I know I end up practicing for longer than I should at a time. I will try some of these as well as shorter practice sessions. Thanks for the tips!
You’re welcome Amanda.
Thank you for sharing advice about back pain. I never realized 10 years ago I never used to feel pain no matter how long I practiced. Well now I’m a bit older and have found new motivation to start playing again but my back hurts after 30-45 minutes and the cause is the slouching and looking at my fingers. I realize when I keep my back straight it feels good but it’s also harder to look at my fingers lol. I feel the more I remember to keep straight the more I can keep it a habit.
A physical therapist can give you an exercise that will strengthen the back muscles! My problem is I have developed carpal tunnel in both wrists. I have stopped playing for a while until there is some healing. I use anti inflammatory aids and CBD lotion. Hope this is clear by fall!
Sorry to hear about your carpal tunnel. I’ve had two professional guitar player friends have to take a break because of this. Fortunately, after time they were able to get back to playing. -Tomas
Hi Joe, I’m glad you found my lessons helpful. You can subscribe to my YouTube channel directly from this link: https://www.youtube.com/user/tomas6750?sub_confirmation=1
I have right shoulder/neck issues — playing a 4″-deep acoustic guitar with strumming and flatpick. How do you manage the right arm and shoulder and posture — maybe svoid rolling the shoulder forward– to be able to play ergonomically?
Good question Paul. I’ve added this to the questions for the RGS Live this Thursday 12/3/2018. That way we can give it the attention it deserves. I’ll record the show so you can watch it at your convenience… but if you can make it that would be great also. You could clarify and ask additional questions in the chat.
I experience mid back pain while sitting and playing guitar that also radiates around to my sides. I know I have poor posture and especially while playing this has really hindered my playing abilities, thanks for this thread will start working on my posture.
Hi James. I’ve tried many things and I can honestly say my back feels better than it did when I was 10 years younger. Still, have some pain, but I keep working it. I’m always looking for better exercises and advice. I just ordered something called BetterBack. I’ll try it out before recommending it… but it looks promising. – Tomas
Just tremendous information here. Pete Egoscue has stuff online that was very helpful, as I have always had chronic back pain. And the topic of posture as we play guitar is vastly important to be able to continue playing. THANK YOU for the exercises and suggestions in this lesson!
I’m glad this helped you Patty. -Tomas
Interesting to see Peter Egoscue’s name and treatment in your recommendations. I bought his book years ago and took a short lesson from a qualified Egoscue instructor years ago. I follow a pattern of stretches from his program regularly and I heartily endorse your recommendation.
Thanks for your time and tips and well just everything!