Arthritis derails my ukulele playing

Edspyhill05

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I think my ukulele playing days are over. My left thumb arthritis (CMC joint) derailed all my ukulele playing and practice since early January 2024. I treated the arthritis for about 2 years but it got progressively worse until it just got too painful to play. I'm lost without my ukulele.

There is a new surgery option that puts in a metal rod and ball prosthesis into the thumb carpal bone. Not sure of the efficacy of this operation or the cost.

At 77 I guess it is time to face reality. Or switch to slide playing? :cool:
 
Wow such sad news. I hope you don't mind my wonderings below:

Perhaps you could hold the neck differently? Or some kind of cuff to hold the neck with your fingers still able to Fret?

Perhaps conversations with more than one occupational therapist.

There's a mya moe video of someone playing single handed.

we'll keep you in our thoughts. Here's hoping for healing.
 
Quickly approaching 75, I've had to make changes to how I form my hands and hold/place my ukes. Do you wrap your thumb around the neck, or place it behind for leverage against your fingers, or just cradle it? Do you use a strap? Is there a size uke are you most comfortable playing?

FWIW my worst pains have come from the angle of the fretting hand while it approaches the neck. Twisting it around like a gooseneck was the worst, so I had to find ways to minimize those motions.

<edit> Me; thumb behind, strap always, concert preferred, chord voicing for easiest to form shape.
 
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I have arthritis issues in my left hand and wrist that compromise my ability to play certain common chords pain-free. Fortunately, finger-style is still fairly manageable. Recently I’ve been experimenting with two other options. The first is laying the uke flat on a pillow on my lap and playing it like a mountain dulcimer. The second is playing the uke left handed (i.e. headstock to the right, fretting with the right hand). They both feel awkward at the moment, but when the time comes that my only other choice is to give up the uke altogether, I plan to pursue both methods with more determination. Or learn a different instrument. :)
 
So sorry to hear that. I'm a few years behind you but my stiff hands remind me I'm no kid anymore. I picked up a lap steel uke (on my 2nd one). Only thing it has in common with regular ukes is the body shape and the case I carry it in. This one is a baritone body, my 1st was a concert. Tons of fun but it's more picking than strumming! Chuck Moore gave me some pointers when I 1st started out. He's a great lap steel guitar player!
 
definitely start playing the harmonica too! I find I'm learning gradually in group play and its getting more enjoyable as I get it more intuitive. And good for lungs in later life...
 
I have the same issue with arthritis in my thumb joints. It caused me to give up guitars years ago, but doesn’t seem to affect me much playing the ukulele and tenor guitar. I’m 72, and I’m sure my playing stringed instruments is going to come to an end sooner or later. I am an accomplished harmonica player (it’s my first instrument, and what I mainly play in our band), so I won’t have to quit playing music 🎶
 
I'm a spry 68 but I've had arthritis in my left hand for several years. It got so bad I had to stop playing for a while. But while on hiatus I ran across an article on an anti-depressant drug called Paroxetine (one brand name is Paxil) and its positive affects on Osteoarthritis. I've attached the article. They were also hoping more research could be done.

I was desperate, so I brought it up with my doctor and gave him the research info. He read the information and thought it might be worth a try, so he started me on 10 mg of paroxetine. It took several of weeks to notice, but it's worked pretty darn well for my osteoarthritis. I've been taking it for about a year and I can usually play for several hours before my hand starts getting a little stiff, but that's it so far.

I'm not a doctor and results may vary, but it's given me a great deal of relief. Luckily I have a doctor who was willing to try some out-of-the-box thinking to help a patient. (He's also the one who thought something was "slightly off with my prostate and it turned out to be cancer. The prostate is gone and I've been cancer-free for 30 months!)
 

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I realize as I type this that you didn't ask for advice, but screw it, I am going to give the advice anyway and if it helps then I'll be glad I was pushy.

I strung one of my sopranos with an extra low-tension string set—because in this case it's vintage, kind of junky to begin with, and of questionable bridge strength. And as it happens, it is much easier to play when my hands are giving my trouble (I have critical illness neuromyopathy). It is quiet because the strings don't have as much tension, but the strings are super easy to fret, so the lower volume is a trade off worth making. So you might try the lowest possible tension you can get (I'd email someone who sells strings for a living and ask their advice) to see if it helps. Low tension or low action—but obviously not too much of both or you'll buzz—that's all I can think of.

Otherwise, all I can say is that you have my sympathy and I will be hoping for the best for you.
 
Some possible options:

Cold laser therapy.

Acupuncture. This gives details of a study, (but not the results - if I find that I'll add it in), including the points used with illustrations showing the points. You could try using pressure, Tei-Shin, magnets or a laser on those points, which IMO wouldn't be as effective as needles, but might give you some idea if it might help you at all.

In case anyone is wondering what a Tei-Shin is:

Magnets that I find helpful:

I know some/all of the above might have some/all of you rolling your eyes at me, and it certainly can't help everyone, but I thought I'd toss it out there, just in case it's of use to anyone.
 
Other than open tuning or slide playing, how about testing an instrument with a very fat neck? How does it feel to hold a classical guitar neck? Maybe you can custom order something that puts less stress on the thumb joint if the neck is so fat that it can rest against the ball of your hand.
 
I think my ukulele playing days are over. My left thumb arthritis (CMC joint) derailed all my ukulele playing and practice since early January 2024. I treated the arthritis for about 2 years but it got progressively worse until it just got too painful to play. I'm lost without my ukulele.

There is a new surgery option that puts in a metal rod and ball prosthesis into the thumb carpal bone. Not sure of the efficacy of this operation or the cost.

At 77 I guess it is time to face reality. Or switch to slide playing? :cool:
10 years or so ago, I suffered from the same condition (basal joint arthritis) to the point where I could no longer play guitar, which led me to the ukulele, and eventually the Uke as well. I opted for surgery wherein the surgeon removed the middle of the three spherical bones and replaced it with a piece of my own tendon from my forearm. It was literally like getting a new hand. I had the surgery on July 5th and was playing guitar again by mid September. More than a decade later it still works just fine.

Scooter
 
My good friend and bandmate has been going through this. She is becoming a very capable harmonica player, too. Best wishes!
 
Many years ago I recall there was a button device that attached to a ukulele neck and allowed a person to play chords by pressing the buttons rather than fretting the strings.

I did a search an found this...
https://ukulelego.com/gear/ukulele-chord-changer-review/

Here is a video...


You may not be able to hold it normally and press the buttons, but you may be able to play with the ukulele on your lap.

I have a few 3 string ukuleles (C-E-A) that I picked up for a time when I'm feeling lazy or when time catches up with me. You may be able to take one of your ukuleles and modify it for 3 strings spaced wider, place it on your lap so you can fret the notes without using your thumb.

Good luck with whatever direction you decide.

John
 
I'm a spry 68 but I've had arthritis in my left hand for several years. It got so bad I had to stop playing for a while. But while on hiatus I ran across an article on an anti-depressant drug called Paroxetine (one brand name is Paxil) and its positive affects on Osteoarthritis. I've attached the article. They were also hoping more research could be done.

I was desperate, so I brought it up with my doctor and gave him the research info. He read the information and thought it might be worth a try, so he started me on 10 mg of paroxetine. It took several of weeks to notice, but it's worked pretty darn well for my osteoarthritis. I've been taking it for about a year and I can usually play for several hours before my hand starts getting a little stiff, but that's it so far.

I'm not a doctor and results may vary, but it's given me a great deal of relief. Luckily I have a doctor who was willing to try some out-of-the-box thinking to help a patient. (He's also the one who thought something was "slightly off with my prostate and it turned out to be cancer. The prostate is gone and I've been cancer-free for 30 months!)

A year ago, I had torn rotator cuffs and mentioned the issues with my hands while I was there to my ortho doctor. Was referred to the newest hire in the practice whose specialty is hands, and got the impression from him of "Its only osteoarthritis, live with it." So, this might be a good time for a second conversation.
 
I realize as I type this that you didn't ask for advice, but screw it, I am going to give the advice anyway and if it helps then I'll be glad I was pushy.

I strung one of my sopranos with an extra low-tension string set—because in this case it's vintage, kind of junky to begin with, and of questionable bridge strength. And as it happens, it is much easier to play when my hands are giving my trouble (I have critical illness neuromyopathy). It is quiet because the strings don't have as much tension, but the strings are super easy to fret, so the lower volume is a trade off worth making. So you might try the lowest possible tension you can get (I'd email someone who sells strings for a living and ask their advice) to see if it helps. Low tension or low action—but obviously not too much of both or you'll buzz—that's all I can think of.

Otherwise, all I can say is that you have my sympathy and I will be hoping for the best for you.
I have been moving away from the fluorocarbon strings. I put Aquila U10 (New Nylgut) strings on my Cordoba 23T after trying so many strings. The tension is lower snd the slightly fatter strings auses me to press less. It sounds perfect, and is easier to play. In fact, I like how it sounds playing Campanella, and strumming. It is solid Ovangkal top and laminated Ovangkal back & sides, for reference.
 
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I think my ukulele playing days are over. My left thumb arthritis (CMC joint) derailed all my ukulele playing and practice since early January 2024. I treated the arthritis for about 2 years but it got progressively worse until it just got too painful to play. I'm lost without my ukulele.

There is a new surgery option that puts in a metal rod and ball prosthesis into the thumb carpal bone. Not sure of the efficacy of this operation or the cost.

At 77 I guess it is time to face reality. Or switch to slide playing? :cool:
Looking into the Biopro CMC implant.

 
I have been moving away from the fluorocarbon strings. I put Aquila U10 (New Nylgut) strings on my Cordoba 23T after trying so many strings. The tension is lower snd the slightly fatter strings auses me to press less. It sounds perfect, and is easier to play. In fact, I like how it sounds playing Campanella, and strumming. It is solid Ovangkal top and laminated Ovangkal back & sides, for reference.
You could accomplish the same thing by staying with fluorocarbon, but moving to thicker strings, right? Anyway, I'm glad that works for you.
 
I am 41 so way younger than you and also have arthritis what has helped me is to play from the top which is way better for my wrist which makes the most troubles I know it’s uncommon but it works for me the best
also, I found playing with a strap is so helpful. My baritone ukulele didn’t have a strap button so I couldn’t use one and it was so uncomfortable for me but with the strap I almost have no pain
 
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