View Full Version : Can switching to larger ukulele cause hand problems?

03-26-2011, 08:56 AM
I recently went from a Concert to a Tenor size & have been playing a lot more. I have also been using the computer a lot. I am developing a severe pain in my left palm at the base of the thumb. I thought it might be that I'm squeezing the neck too much, but as I'm aware that that can cause problems, I usually I try not to. I'm playing more difficult music, so maybe. My action is set quite low, so it can't be that.

I have ordered a new Tenor. With the pain cropping up, I'm worried that part of the problem could be the larger size and wonder if I should change the order to a Concert.

I really like the Tenor sound, so hopefully, the pain is caused by the computer!!!

03-26-2011, 08:58 AM
I change between soprano through Baritone regularly, even daily, and have no such pains. Probably playing 2 hours a day and on the computer way too much as well. If I were to guess, I would say the added weight of the tenor is causing you to grip the neck a little harder...but who knows.

03-26-2011, 09:14 AM
Yes, if you're used to a particular size, then having to stretch your hands more for chord shapes can cause hand pain. It was way too uncomfortable for me to play baritone and tenor, even after months of trying, so I sold those ukes. I think it can get better with time, but don't overdo it if your hand is hurting. :) You might be able to find some hand stretching exercises for musicians on YouTube or Google.

03-26-2011, 09:42 AM
actually, NOT changing can do more damage. The change might hurt a little bit like mentioned above as your tendons and things stretch to the new weight, shape and size. But, playing one instrument all the time, your muscles and tendons get "memory" and it's hard to break that, and sometimes can be uncomfortable, or painful for awhile. And can also lead to carpal issues. Switching allot, and more is better for your hands in the long run. When I played guitar, I would try and switch up every so often, because different neck profiles even between the same type and size instruments helps in the long run. I play one of the ukes the most, but switch them around every so often too to help my arthritis issues.

03-26-2011, 10:46 AM
I'll get mild tennis elbow in my fretting arm and some strange sensations in my pinkie and ring finger, no weakness though. This happens most often when I learn new guitar pieces that require maintaining a 4 - 5 fret span and/or incorporate a lot of movement while holding a barre. If you feel discomfort, stop and rest for 5 - 10 min and do some GENTLE stretches. Stretching too extremely can exacerbate problems. Additionally, check your position and your general level of tension in all areas of your body. Tension in your head, jaw, neck, shoulders, back, and legs can interfere with form and lead to discomfort.

Overall, my hands are pretty strong from 30+ years of playing guitar and bass guitar. I try to envision myself as a player 1 year in and I guess I underestimate the potential for difficulty, even with a ukulele, which still requires a decent amount of very controlled strength. I'd say that changing scale lengths is likely a good thing for anyone as a player.

03-26-2011, 11:08 AM
I don't think there's really enough of a size difference between concert and tenor to cause an issue. As mentioned, many of us switch between guitar and uke with no problem.

You said you're playing more difficult music, and sometimes that can cause you to tense up and squeeze too hard to compensate for more difficult/unfamiliar chords/stretches.

mm stan
03-26-2011, 11:51 AM
Probally the wider frets and streching and the higher tension on the strings you need to exert more pressure on then strings......you can try and get a thinner set of strings with lower tension and see if it works for you...good luck and hope the thumb gets better..MM stan

03-26-2011, 12:41 PM
I doubt the change in scale would cause such an effect, since the distance between scales in not that large. The thumb is not really involved in the stretch as the fingers are. Have you been using Deach's "kung fu grip" of late?

Uncle Leroy
03-26-2011, 12:44 PM
Musicians are a lot like athletes in that we ask our muscles to do pretty odd things sometimes. I think Tudorp is right to a degree, muscle memory is a hard habit to break. I would also urge you to make sure that you find some simple hand stretching exercises that work for you. I attended a workshop with a famous Japanese uke player and he actually talked about these. If you work on the computer more than a few minutes at a time it is important that your workspace is setup ergonomically correct as well.

03-26-2011, 01:07 PM
No it should not cause that. But your hand will need to adjust to a new size, and you must watch how hard you grip the neck. The human body is very good at adjusting, give it time, rest your hand, get good nights sleeps. When you sleep well, your body repairs and recovers much better. It also helps with learning, so it's double-plus-good. Never under-estimate the power of good sleep.

03-26-2011, 01:13 PM
If you work on the computer more than a few minutes at a time it is important that your workspace is setup ergonomically correct as well.
I agree with that. Also, a tendency a lot of people have is to "pound" the keyboard and try to type too fast. Never use any more pressure than is needed to depress the keys. And there's no need to try to be a speed demon unless you're taking a typing test. Give yourself frequent breaks, even if it's just stretching your arms/fingers for a few seconds.

03-26-2011, 04:18 PM
Agree, the computer is the more likely culprit. I switch between concert, baritone and bass guitar without issue.

03-26-2011, 07:07 PM
Well in my case I'll have to say... yes a longer stretch can cause that pain. Probably no for standard open chords.

I couple of years ago my twin boys started playing golf and I got back into it after 25 years. Well after who knows how many swings I developed a pain at the base on my thumb that has not gone away... I also developed pain in my back but that is another story.

I play a long scale tenor and at times it will bother me if I am playing a lot of barre chords, and it really starts to hurt after I attempt some of those 5 or more fret stretches that Jakes does. I won't even attempt some of his over the top 2nd to 9th fret stretches.

For me it is the pressure I put on the my thumb as I try to make the stretches and fret the strings. I don't have the same amount of pain when I play the same stretches on a shorter concert scale... and the string tension is also less on the concert.

It nay not be the sole cause of the pain, but if it is already there it seems to aggravate it.


03-27-2011, 03:26 AM
I have played guitar (6 and 12 string), bass (fretted and fretless) mandola, Irish biuzouki, and mandolin years; and more recently ukulele. In gigs I routinely switch from bass to mandolin or guitar and back from song to song. I have only had 2 problems in doing this over the years. I have recently given up mandolin because in a longer gig my hand would cramp up on mandolin. I think it has a lot to do with the chord shapes on mandolin. I also had a Martin D-35 that resulted in cramps in hand after pkaying for a while. There was no obvious difference in the shapeb of the neck ir size between ghat D-35 and other guitars. Frankly it is the only Martin of 7 I have owned that I liked, but it had to go becausebof this problem.

I think the key as stated exercise, which I did not do effectively with the mandolin. I feel differerent size necks and instruments in general help. I have experienced no issues with tenor ukuleles and it is not rare to go from a fretless bass with 34" scale length to a tenor ukulele on adjacent songs. I have completely substituted ukulele fir all the songs I used to play on mandolin or mandola. Incidentally sold my last mandolin yesterday.

03-27-2011, 04:09 AM
Aloha, I am always interested in all the differing responses. I suggest paying attention to your body. If you have or get an injury it could disrupt your playing for awhile. I have carpel tunnel and I am told don't mess around with your nerves, stop playing before the symptoms arise. My main players are soprano and I am just figuring out that the thumb pain I am experiencing may be caused by playing the concert size. Rats, I just ordered another concert. Just pay attention and don't let it go as far as an out and out injury.

03-27-2011, 06:08 AM
If you are at the computer a lot, the fatigue of all that use can make injuries more likely for everything else you do. I discovered I was getting hand pain from grabbing the edge of the desk to pull my rolling office chair closer to the screen (maybe 50- 100 times a day) . For a long time, both hands would be sore after a 10 hour day at the computer, and they would start to really hurt on the drive home. I don't do much with my left hand while working the computer, so I had to analyze what I could be doing to cause the pain in both hands. Maybe you have a habit that you are not aware of that is putting unnecessary pressure on your left hand. Try and catch yourself whenever you use that hand to lean on or pull yourself around.
Barre chords are more difficult and the stretches longer on a tenor scale. With practice you should be able to build up the new muscles (but do it slowly).

03-27-2011, 08:05 PM
Thanks for all of the great feedback. After reading your responses, I decided to stay with the Tenor. I'm getting a Kanile'a and can't wait.

A lot of people have suggested stretching. Does anyone have any good ideas for stretching exercises?

03-28-2011, 06:29 AM
Play 2227, it comes up a lot for me anyway.


03-28-2011, 06:33 AM
If you have halfway decent health insurance, I'd have it checked out by an orthopedic physician specializing in hands. Could head off more serious problems in the future. May need meds, PT, brace, etc. for a time to heal. Better be safe than sorry.

03-28-2011, 07:02 AM
I don't really notice the scale length change when switching between concerts and tenors unless there's a big (7+ fret) stretch involved. However, tenors have noticeably higher string tension compared to concerts. That higher tension may take some time to get used to. I think it took me a while to get used to that higher tension when I first tried tenors.

03-28-2011, 09:28 AM
Thanks for all of the great feedback. After reading your responses, I decided to stay with the Tenor. I'm getting a Kanile'a and can't wait.

A lot of people have suggested stretching. Does anyone have any good ideas for stretching exercises?

Here are a few links.


Also Carpal tunnel and Guyon's syndrome. . . ulnar neuropathy. . . there's a lot that can go wrong.

The most important thing to remember is, if you experience pain while playing STOP. Relax, gently stretch and try to identify what you're feeling. Also, as one poster almost directly above wrote, if you have decent health insurance, get yourself checked. It would be best to see someone who's experienced in treating musicians' injuries.