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Thread: Thumb muscle pain - Should I take a break or push through it?

  1. #1
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    Default Thumb muscle pain - Should I take a break or push through it?

    Hey guys, I signed up here specifically to ask this question. I've been playing the ukulele for about 2 months now. I used to play the guitar quite a bit but haven't touched it in a few years.

    Unlike the guitar I find that with the smaller neck of the ukulele and the way the chords are arranged that I make heavy use of my left thumb. Outside of playing video games I don't really use that thumb for much so I'm guessing the muscle isn't well developed. I've noticed a lot of pain in the muscle in the thumb.

    I know you guys aren't doctors so I'm not asking for medical advice, but I'm curious if this is something any of you went through when you were learning the ukulele. I've been trying to take breaks from playing but the pain doesn't subside very quickly. I waited several days without playing and the pain did subside a bit but when I tried playing for an hour yesterday it started hurting again.

    I'm not sure if it's a good idea to just forge ahead and ignore the pain and as time goes by it will go away or if I should just stop playing until the pain is completely gone. Has anyone else had this experience and what did you do and how did it turn out?

    I recall when I was learning the guitar that I got intense pain in my fingertips but I was able to push through it and eventually it stopped causing pain, but this feels like it might be a bit different considering it's a moving muscle.

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ryan Weaver View Post
    Hey guys, I signed up here specifically to ask this question. I've been playing the ukulele for about 2 months now. I used to play the guitar quite a bit but haven't touched it in a few years.

    Unlike the guitar I find that with the smaller neck of the ukulele and the way the chords are arranged that I make heavy use of my left thumb. Outside of playing video games I don't really use that thumb for much so I'm guessing the muscle isn't well developed. I've noticed a lot of pain in the muscle in the thumb.

    I know you guys aren't doctors so I'm not asking for medical advice, but I'm curious if this is something any of you went through when you were learning the ukulele. I've been trying to take breaks from playing but the pain doesn't subside very quickly. I waited several days without playing and the pain did subside a bit but when I tried playing for an hour yesterday it started hurting again.

    I'm not sure if it's a good idea to just forge ahead and ignore the pain and as time goes by it will go away or if I should just stop playing until the pain is completely gone. Has anyone else had this experience and what did you do and how did it turn out?

    I recall when I was learning the guitar that I got intense pain in my fingertips but I was able to push through it and eventually it stopped causing pain, but this feels like it might be a bit different considering it's a moving muscle.
    OK. I don't know what is happening with your thumb. My best advice is to see a doctor or a physio if you are concerned.

    BUT, in my first few months of playing, I experienced severe cramping and pain in my thumb, especially when playing barre chords. You said you practiced for an hour, but I barely made it through 5 or 10 minutes. All I did was to take a break when the pain got bad, but kept playing a little bit every day and it eventually went away. I honestly can't say that what you are experiencing is the same, though, so listen to what your body is telling you and get professional help if you feel you need it.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by robinboyd View Post
    OK. I don't know what is happening with your thumb. My best advice is to see a doctor or a physio if you are concerned.

    BUT, in my first few months of playing, I experienced severe cramping and pain in my thumb, especially when playing barre chords. You said you practiced for an hour, but I barely made it through 5 or 10 minutes. All I did was to take a break when the pain got bad, but kept playing a little bit every day and it eventually went away. I honestly can't say that what you are experiencing is the same, though, so listen to what your body is telling you and get professional help if you feel you need it.
    Exactly what robinboyd said! My solution to my sore fretting thumb problems may only aggravate your symptoms. Get it professionally diagnosed then deal with it accordingly.

    Good luck
    There are those who will wax lyrical about the ability to play a double shuffle with a split fan and a tight G-string ...
    it just makes me walk funny!

  4. #4
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    Well, if you want to continue playing, don't ignore the pain, your body is telling you something is not right.

    If you're a beginner, then an hour is way too long, you aren't giving your hands a chance to get used to holding the uke.
    The next common problem, is using a vice grip, don't.
    Likely, fitting a strap will help you.

    So, how long to practice - about 10~15 mins two or three times a day is enough.

    I'd take a break for a week to allow your hand to recuperate, then try with the above practice regime.
    Trying to do justice to various musical instruments.

  5. #5
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    You are not supposed to fret with the left thumb.

    In traditional ukulele style thumb maybe only mutes the G string, a seldom used technique though.
    The ukulele basically rests between the thumb and index finger "skin" and the thumb is doing nothing at all. except being ready for barre chords when it goes somewhat behind the neck, but only for a short times in usual keys. Most times the thumb should be not put into any stress at all.

    You are maybe trying the from classical guitar borrowed technique of thumb always behind the neck, or at other extreme fretting with it?

  6. #6
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    Hi Ryan, welcome to UU.

    1) If it worries you, seek professional attention.

    2) I'm not a fan of playing through pain. The long-term consequences aren't worth it.

    3) Consider your technique. Are you gripping the neck too tightly? Do you press too hard on chords you have trouble forming? Are you using your fretting hand to hold up the uke? As a beginner I did all these and more. My thumb would ache at the base. Learning to relax and use a lighter technique really helped.

    4) Consider your uke's setup. Poorly adjusted action can make playing much more difficult, especially if it is too high. Is it too high at the nut? The bridge? Are the frets level? Is the neck true? It should play like butter. There are online sellers who set up every uke they sell as part of their after-sale quality control. Having a uke set up after purchase can cost some money. Depending on the original cost of your uke it may not be worth the investment. Start over with a better instrument. There are some online videos describing ukulele setup if you are a do-it-yourselfer.
    Dig Infinity!

  7. #7
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    Ryan, Welcome to UU.
    Your thumb should not be hurting like that. Take frequent breaks when you play. Use ice for pain, 15 to 20 minutes.
    Yes, be sure that not only are you not squeezing the neck too firmly, but that the thumb position is correct.
    Action can be set up for anywhere from 10 to 40 bucks, depending on where you take your uke. Personally, I'd rather fix than replace an ukulele, if possible.
    There are some pretty helpful tutorials on hand position and set up on You Tube.
    "Those who bring sunshine and laughter to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves".

    Music washes from the soul, the dust of everyday living.

  8. #8
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    Thanks for the replies everyone. In response to Jarmo_S I had no idea the ukulele was not supposed to be fretted with the left thumb. I've been using it extensively for that purpose. The D and D7 chords I barre with the left thumb, the E I do as well and I use the thumb for the A minor and on the G string for the B minor. That seems to be the sole cause of the pain. Yesterday I tried practicing without use of the thumb at all and I can pull off all 21 primary chords without the use of it except the E which I generally play by using the thumb to barre the 4th fret's G, C and E strings and using my index finger for the second frets A. I had read somewhere that playing barre chords with the thumb was acceptable so I thought that was the way to go. I'll try to condition myself to not do that from now on.
    Last edited by Ryan Weaver; 05-09-2018 at 03:34 PM.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ryan Weaver View Post
    Thanks for the replies everyone. In response to Jarmo_S I had no idea the ukulele was not supposed to be fretted with the left thumb. I've been using it extensively for that purpose. The D and D7 chords I barre with the left thumb, the E I do as well and I use the thumb for the A minor and on the G string for the B minor. That seems to be the sole cause of the pain. Yesterday I tried practicing without use of the thumb at all and I can pull off all 21 primary chords without the use of it except the E which I generally play by using the thumb to barre the 4th fret's G, C and E strings and using my index finger for the second frets A. I had read somewhere that playing barre chords with the thumb was acceptable so I thought that was the way to go. I'll try to condition myself to not do that from now on.
    That's great news that you've discovered the probable cause of the thumb pain Ryan, unlike the guitar, there is little need to use the thumb for fretting on the ukulele, and I'm sure that you will the able to adapt quite easily Good luck!
    All the best,
    Campbell


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  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ryan Weaver View Post
    I had read somewhere that playing barre chords with the thumb was acceptable so I thought that was the way to go. I'll try to condition myself to not do that from now on.
    I hope you didn't get that from my post. I didn't realise you were fretting with your thumb. My pain was from squeezing with the thumb while barring with my index finger. I've never fretted with my thumb at all. Fretting the E chord with the thumb is an interesting concept, but it would never work for be because my thumb is too fat.

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