Sore left thumb when playing ukulele due to arthritis - is there any way around this?

Xian

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If I put too much pressure on any of my joints, they get super sore and often dislocate. Doctor's say it's probably arthritis.
Most chords are okay to play, it only starts to hurt when I'm playing Bb, Dmaj7 or chords similar to those. I try to grip a little looser but it only makes the chord I'm strumming sound crap.
I was hoping anyone could give me some techniques to making it hurt even a little less, or anything at all. Thanks :)
 

Croaky Keith

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May be better to transpose what you want to play, so that you don't have to use the chords that cause you the pain. :)
 

Booli

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May be better to transpose what you want to play, so that you don't have to use the chords that cause you the pain. :)


aye, this ^

or maybe use an open tuning or slack-key tuning like GCEG (detune your A string down to G) and learn the chords that way, it will change the fingerings, maybe become easier, and takes all of 2 seconds to retune later if not...
 

Mivo

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What size ukulele are you using? Perhaps a smaller one and/or lower tension strings may help.
 

actadh

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Welcome to the forums!

I have osteoarthritis in my hands, and especially bad in my left forefinger. Very true what Mivo said. I have a Brueko soprano that came strung with Worth Browns and the uke hurts my hands to play for an extended time (but sounds fantastic, so I don't want to change the strings). My Outdoor Ukulele tenor came with Rye Rabbit strings and is the easiest to play - I can be on it for hours and my hands do not hurt. So, try different strings and different ukuleles if you can.

Stretching and warming up is important - Ukulele Mike has several good warm up videos on You Tube.

Try cheating :) If you can't fret a chord without pain, do a close cousin to it. But, keep coming back to it and see if your fingers have strengthened. It took me three years to be able to play some basic chords pain free, but I kept checking to see when my fingers had gained strength/mobility. Look at the chords immediately before and after the chord that gives you difficuty and see if an alternate fingering is an option that you can transition from or into without pain.

Try campanella fingerstyle for a while and then come back to chords. It may be less pressure on your thumb to press one string with one finger rather than four strings with four fingers.

How are you positioning your thumb? Try the pad at the joint and alternate with the tip of the of the thumb. Instead of sliding your thumb up and down the neck, release and re-grip as ofter as possible. Play with a bandaid or one of those rubber page turner thingies on the thumb - maybe that will help you find the right amount of pressure to use.
http://www.officedepot.com/a/products/964486/Swingline-Rubber-Fingertips-12-1116-Diameter/

I take prescription Nabumetone for my arthritis. It makes my joints swell, but it does improve flexibility and helps with the pain.
 
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tenor madness

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Another thing you might try is a technique Craig Chee shows where the uke is more cradled between your thumb and index finger so the thumb is not used so much. This works best for first position chords, though it doesn't work for Bb it still can give your thumb a bit of a break for other chords. You also could take a look at the action at the nut if it is high it will require greater pressure to fret the strings especially for first position chords.
 

igorthebarbarian

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Hello and welcome - one thing to also mention if you're a brand new player is to make sure the action is low on the strings. If it's too high, that can be very painful in general. A high-action uke is a deterrent to playing.
 

PhilUSAFRet

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I have "bone on bone" on my lower thumb joints. At some point, I'm looking at a thumb joint replacement. Some improvements in surgical techniques for this makes it less of a hassle than it used to be when they first started doing them. Allegedly, you can use the new joint immediately. Assuming that's the problem, pain in other parts of the thumb are likely originated there.
 

mvinsel

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You didn't mention that this was better or worse when you play different ukes, so I expect you just have one, and this advice might not be useful to you.
I had left thumb pain with one uke especially, and it turned out that it was because that uke had a neck profile more like like a D than the others I was playing. The extra wood near the edges was pressing more into the base of the thumb there.
I'm not suggesting you take a rasp to it, but it might be a factor and helped for me on that one.

-Vinnie in Juneau
 

Lori

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I will cheat on the hard chords when necessary. Sometimes just playing 3 of the strings is enough, usually strings 1-3. A strap might help. You can get light tension strings, and that might help as well. I find it hard to hold a chord for a long period of time, so playing songs with few chord changes is actually worse on my hands than something that changes more frequently. I find fingerpicking easier than strumming. You might want to go that direction, playing melody and harmony instead of just chords.
–Lori
 

leighbarker

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I have osteoarthritis in the joint at the base of my thumb. Sounds like mine is not as bad as yours, but I have had very good results with Aspercreme, or generic equivalents. Look for active ingredient Tromaline Salicylate. Your mileage may vary, but worth a try.
 

bacchettadavid

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If possible, try lighter strings. I use Worth clear lights whenever I need to refine my technique to become more relaxed, as they require very little pressure to use.

Also, try the following exercise:
1) hold the uke in your lap instead of against your chest;
2) angle the uke so that the sound hole is pointed "up" a bit instead of straight "out" towards the horizon. Not much of an angle is required;
3) cross your your right hand over the strings to hold the uke by the upper bout;
3) drop your left hand and allow it to dangle freely from your shoulder;
4) feel the weight of your left arm. Roll your shoulder around a bit and allow the rest of the arm to loosely dangle;
5) raise your left hand and place your left thumb on the back of the neck;
6) form your fingers into a "Bb" shape at the fifth fret (7-6-5-5), then rest them on the strings. Do not press down on the strings;
7) while holding the uke with the right hand, relax your left shoulder, allowing the weight of your left elbow to pull on your shoulder;
8) try to strum the chord. If extra pressure is required, apply light pressure with the left hand. Ensure the shoulder remains relaxed.

It might seem complicated, but run through those steps a few times, and you'll begin to get the feel for it. The basic idea is to use your own weight as much as possible and make up for the difference through left hand support, thus avoiding unnecessary strain on the left thumb and fingers. Even those of us gifted with healthier joints still suffer from fatigue, so it benefits us all to eliminate unnecessary tension.

A happy hand is a nimble hand. I wish you the best of luck in reducing your pain.
 
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Teek

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Practice light touch and be aware of tension in your hands and body. I also tune down a half or full step on my tenors to reduce string tension. My right hand especially is a mess. I have lost hand strength and can barely make a loose fist with that hand. Sometimes it's a food I've eaten exacerbating it, and sometimes I just have to use my hands a lot and will pay for it later.
 

PereBourik

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One more thing I've found helpful for my arthritic thumb joint is to do a couple of light wraps of surgical tape around my hand. It forms a sling that seems to support the thumb pretty well. I've discarded the packaging so I can't give you the right name. It's light brown, stretchy, and slightly adhesive so it sticks to itself.
 

beowoulfe

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My fretting thumb hurts also. I read somewhere a couple of months ago that someone with similar symptoms drank 4 oz of tart cherry juice daily and got some relief. So...why not, I'm thinking?

I think there is improvement. I can play longer than before I began this regimen, but it may be subjective. It is not 100% so it is hard to judge. It is an inexpensive placebo at worst so I won't stop anytime soon.
 

kypfer

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I've got arthritis (to a minimal degree, thankfully) in many areas of my body, including the base of my left thumb. Some days it's worse than others. As with beowoulfe I "read somewhere" that turmeric is a traditional remedy in some cultures. Since adding a pinch of turmeric to the water when I cook rice or pasta, which is several days a week, the symptoms seem to have subsided (slightly), that is to say I can play for longer before it starts to hurt (I also seem to be able to walk greater distances before my foot starts to play up) etc. etc.

No guarantees or even recommendations, but look it up and see if it might suit you. Either way, it makes the rice and pasta a nice bright yellow colour :)
 

Django

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Do you play with the neck cradled in the web between your thumb and index finger or with the pad of your thumb on the back of the neck? I wonder if a strap would help.
 
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amckean

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I have the same problem with my left thumb. I find that the smaller ukes are by far the easiest and least painful to play. Narrower necks on my sopranos, shorter reach on the sopranos (Enya Nova U Mini and Kala Joe Brown), two concerts (Lava U and Magic Fluke Flea) are still pretty easy but the tenor (Magic Fluke) is a pain. Also, I tend to have my thumb straight up under the headstock with the neck resting in the web between my thumb and index finger. Maybe the strings are lighter on the sopranos, too. Try an Enya Nova U Mini Soprano. I find it the easiest to tune and play. It has a very narrow neck and the Enya strings seem very light. Geared tuners, so it's easy on my thumb when tuning. I play it the most because it's generally laying on a chair or the sofa. The Kala is always in its hard case so it's not as accessible. For $69 you might find the Enya is easier to play. If not, Both Enya and Amazon has a good return policy :)
 
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necessaryrooster

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My fretting thumb hurts also. I read somewhere a couple of months ago that someone with similar symptoms drank 4 oz of tart cherry juice daily and got some relief. So...why not, I'm thinking?

I think there is improvement. I can play longer than before I began this regimen, but it may be subjective. It is not 100% so it is hard to judge. It is an inexpensive placebo at worst so I won't stop anytime soon.

Tart cherry is supposed to be an anti-inflammatory, so it makes sense that it would help somewhat. Turmeric, like kypfer mentioned, is as well, although I thought you had to consume it with black pepper for it to be the most effective.

They sell both of these in pill form as well. Bonus, tart cherry is supposed to help with getting restful sleep.
 

Wiggy

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I have been battling this myself. I was blaming it on using a "monkey grip" or squeezing with my thumb too hard. My wrist would go numb. Like you, loosening the grip only made chording impossible. I found some relief by using lighter tension strings but started losing a lot of clear tone in doing so due to their being marginally floppy.

The following comments assume that the "action" (string to fret gap) at the 12th fret is already between 2.5 to 3mm. If it is significantly over 3mm, then there may be other problems such as neck bow or saddle height. I'm not going to talk about those.

Ultimately, it came down to action at the 1st fret. I learned from a Baz video and other commenters on UU how to adjust nut slots by holding each string at the 3rd fret, and then filing its slot for the smallest gap possible between the string and the 1st fret. The thickness of a sheet of paper is a safe starting point. This is is a low as you should go. Going further (less than a .004" gap) is risking repair or replacement of the nut.

This made a huge difference by reducing the amount of pressure required of my thumb.
 
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