As a bass player, manipulating thick and unruly strings takes a physical toll. While being a bassist isn’t the same as being an N.F.L. running back, that’s not to say it’s risk-free. Many bass players injure their wrists through repetitive and tiring arm movements.
Does your wrist hurt after playing bass? Improper technique, inadequate rest, or a lengthy performance may be to blame. The only way to pin down the reason for pain is to analyze potential causes and find the one that sounds familiar.
We’ve looked at some common bass player complaints and revealed some common issues. So, let’s get to the bottom of your wrist pain!
Reasons Your Wrist Hurts After Playing Bass
Wrist pain from playing bass often takes the form of tendinitis (inflamed tendons in your wrist). Unfortunately, irritating your wrist in this way is easy to do when you’re playing bass.
First, you need to rule out (or reveal) that your technique is the culprit. Looking at common mistakes bass players make that contribute to sore and sprained wrists can help. Remember, you’re not alone. Most guitarists and bassists deal with this.
Keeping Your Wrist Stiff
Playing bass guitar recruits your arm, wrist, and fingers. Neglecting to move your wrist can create painful tightness. Always loosen up before playing and keep your wrists straight, not stiff. Most of the time, relaxing is the answer.
You don’t want your wrist to swing all over the place. Relaxing means giving yourself some slack so that your wrist is a pivot for minor motions.
Using a Bass Guitar with a Thin Neck
If you have longer fingers, a thin-necked bass can cause pain. For example, you may need to fold your wrist sharply to fret the strings. Pinching your wrist stresses its muscles, causing soreness where your arm meets your ulna.
If the neck is the problem, trading in your bass for one with a thicker neck is the only solution. Before you do that, though, it’s best to rule out other causes.
Holding Your Bass too Low
Grab your bass or pretend you’re holding one. Notice that you must bend your wrists further to reach the fretboard as you move your arm down. As you move your arm up, however, your wrist straightens out.
Holding your bass higher allows you to keep your arm and wrist nearly parallel with the neck. When your wrist is straight, the muscles are relaxed rather than contracted. Thus, you’ll be putting much less pressure on those fragile ligaments.
Ulnar Wrist Pain
Ulnar wrist pain in the fretting hand is the most common bass-related injury. You’ll feel this beneath your palm, where your wrist bends forward. So, what have you done?
You’ve probably made one of the mistakes above. Bending your wrist too much and too often stresses your joints and muscles. You’ll need to correct your technique or get a bass that fits you better.
Also, you might feel ulnar wrist pain in the same way you feel pain in your legs after doing squats. You may practice impeccable bass-playing techniques, but muscle pain may still result from playing hard.
Wrist Pain in Strumming Hand
While it’s less common, some people report wrist pain from the hand they use to pick the strings (usually the right one). Once again, poor technique and overworking play notable roles. Also, consider replacing your bass strings.
Sometimes, wrist pain in your strumming hand signifies you need to dial things back. Playing too quickly or too long can tire your wrists even if you have impeccable technique.
In some cases, it might just be D.O.M.S (delayed onset muscle soreness), a normal side effect of pushing your muscles harder than usual. If this happens, all you need to do is give your wrist some time to rest and eat a good diet.
However, there are painful picking mistakes bassists make. Pinching your wrist or keeping it stiff are, again, common culprits. Additionally, repeatedly slapping your thumb too hard on the top string abuses your tendons and ligaments if you aren’t careful.
Letting Your Wrist Heal
You need to let your wrist heal before you pick up your bass, as tempting as it may be. Continuing to play, especially without resolving the underlying issue, can only cause more pain. There’s no need to unnecessarily spend money on a doctor when you could use that money on a new amp.
To get back to bass as soon as possible, give your wrist the T.L.C. it needs. Apply an icepack, avoid heavy lifting, and take an anti-inflammatory like Ibuprofen if needed. Minor pain should disappear within a couple of days.
However, suppose your pain doesn’t resolve itself in a couple of days. In that case, you must get a professional to examine your wrist and prescribe treatment. Blogs are not good sources of medical advice!
Once the pain is gone, be extra attentive to your wrists. Make sure you warm up before playing and keep your wrists straight and relaxed. Keep a vigilant eye on your technique and address any issues you note before playing anything else.
Bass Strumming Technique
Suppose you’ve evaluated your technique and noted some issues, like stiff wrists or overextension. In that case, it’s time to revert to (bass)ics. Even advanced players should take the time to learn how to fret the strings, strum, and hold the neck as if they just started playing.
Often, form-related issues don’t cause any pain until you become more advanced. You can get away with sloppy technique at 60bpm. It’ll come back to bite you once you’re flying through tabs at 220bpm.
Good bass playing technique is simple. Keep your wrists straight but relaxed. Hold the neck higher if needed to reduce pinching. Keep your strokes steady and organized when strumming, picking, or slapping the strings. Take a rest break at least every 15 minutes, even if you don’t think you need it.
To further improve your technique and prevent wrist tendinitis, always start with a warmup.
Bass Player Warmup
There is a reason bands warm up — bass players are no exception. First, perform 3 to 5 minutes of light-moderate cardio. While this might seem excessive, improving blood flow to your entire body will work its way down to your fingertips. Then, you may sling your bass over your shoulders for some practice.
Secondly, you’ll want to do what bass players usually think of when “warming up.” Play through scales, increasing the tempo as you go. Practice strong, steady fretting until you feel loose and confident.
Lastly, you want to ensure that your technique is passable (or better). Check yourself to confirm that your wrists aren’t stiff. Ensure that you’re not pinching your wrist to reach notes.
Ask yourself, “Does it hurt?”
If the answer is “ouch,” stop.
Should Bassists Stretch?
Stretching is crucial for many instrumentalists. However, many people make the mistake of stretching before they play. In actuality, it’s best to stretch after you play. Devote the beginning of your sessions to warmups instead.
Check with your wrist flexors after racking your bass following a sweaty band session or rehearsal. Extend one palm until your elbows are locked, and use your other hand to pull your fingertips toward you. Repeat with the other hand, doing both sides at least three times.
Don’t neglect stretching! A devastating consequence of ignoring your wrist’s welfare is putting the bass down permanently.
Developing Finger Strength as a Bassist
Strengthening your fingers takes the load off of your wrist. Without being insulting, bassists often overlook the issue of having wimpy fingers. Fortunately, easy exercises allow you to develop finger strength and make fretting those monstrously thick bass strings easier.
Be warned: finger strengthening tools like the Grip Master (which I’m guilty of owning) can contribute to inflamed wrists. To get the opposite effect and reduce your risk of tendinitis, use a tennis ball or something spherical. Squeezing the ball or spherical item is one rep.
When you get stronger, increase the tension by doing more reps, shortening your rest period, or both. The goal isn’t to develop Hulk hands; it’s to allow your fingers enough strength to spare your wrists. Of course, if it hurts (excluding typical muscle soreness), stop!
Most guitarists and bassists run into wrist pain at some point in their careers. Remedying the pain as soon as possible is key to preventing future injuries, so you can keep playing for as long as possible. Bassists face wrist pain for many reasons, including improper technique, playing too long or too hard, or using the wrong instrument.
Whenever pain becomes debilitating, it’s time to (reluctantly) put your bass down and see a doctor. Tendinitis is a common problem that can have severe consequences if left untreated. So going on a bass-playing hiatus is a sad but necessary occasion in many cases.
Strengthen your fingers, warm up before playing, and stretch when done. As a bassist, your wrist muscles are your best friends. Take good care of them.