A guest appearance by our friend Gavin Whitner from MusicOomph.
The love of playing guitar can be overwhelming for many musicians, so much so that their personal studio space becomes a gym, complete with the ethos: “no pain, no gain.” However, this doesn’t have to be the case, and playing relentlessly through problems like back pain can cause serious long-term injuries.
There’s no reason why you should hurt yourself when doing the things you love, especially if there are ways to avoid it. In this article I will present a few simple tricks that allow you to avoid back pain while you’re playing your guitar; ensuring you’re happy and remaining healthy and physically able for many musical years to come.
Your sitting-down posture
The most common way to cause back pain while playing the guitar is simply the way you’re sitting. Unfortunately, thanks to years of sitting in office chairs and slumping into our sofas, many of us have bad posture by default; and this is only amplified when playing the guitar.
Ideally, you’re going to want to sit upright with your chest slightly pushing outwards. Don’t push out too far, as you can also overarch your lower back, which can be just as painful over time. Try to extend your spine as straight and as long as possible, something that will get easier the more you attempt it.
Invest in a proper stool
While we’re on the subject of sitting down, one of the best ways to improve your posture is to invest in a guitar stool that has been professionally designed for musicians. By choosing the right guitar stool, you can easily improve your posture. Moreover, you’ll minimize the risk of health complications, while maintaining the quality of the sound you’re producing.
Play your guitar closer to your body
If you’re hunching your back while you’re playing, chances are you’re holding your instrument too far away from your body. As you might imagine, this is easily corrected by bringing your instrument closer to your body.
It’s important that you’re not bringing your body closer to your instrument, since this is only going to make your hunch worse, and ultimately increase the chances that you’ll develop back pain. Another trick here is to lift one leg up to balance your guitar on, which is much easier if you use a stool.
Destress your shoulders
In day to day life, we tend to hold all our tension and stress in our shoulders. When you get angry or stressed out, notice how your shoulders raise. Even now, try lowering your shoulders to see how much they actually drop, and you’ll be surprised with how much calmer you feel.
When you’re playing your guitar, whether it’s the posture you’re sitting in, or you’re having a bad practice day, notice how your shoulders rise. This is an obvious contributor to upper back pain and becoming aware of it means you can take steps to minimize the chances of it becoming a problem.
Also nice to read: What is a guitar chord diagram and how to read one?
Adjusting your standing posture
You won’t always play your guitar while you’re sitting down, so make sure you’re paying attention to how you’re standing while you play – especially if you play with a strap. However, when trying to make improvements to your posture, the same rules apply as sitting.
This means not straightening your back, but lengthening it, pulling your spine out of your hips, rather than hunching over. Again, you’ll want to make sure you’re holding your guitar closer to your body, rather than bringing your body closer to your guitar, which is another way you can cause hunching, ultimately resulting in back pain.
Play smart with awareness
Playing the guitar can take up a large amount of our concentration, which means it’s easy for our postures to suffer simply because we’re not paying attention to them. It may take a while to form healthy habits, but it will come in time.
Personally, I like to stick a note, or a Post-It note in front of me while I play, that simply reads: “Posture.” This is a great way to remind yourself throughout your practice to rearrange your posture, ensuring you’re sitting or standing correctly, minimizing the risk of you ever developing back pain.
About the author: Gavin Whitner is a guitar player, songwriter, and composer. He blogs at MusicOomph about musical instruments and music in general.