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Thursday, 24 October, 2002, 02:20 GMT 03:20 UK
Rock guitar is a pain
Guitar playing
The fingers are at risk

Rock stars, never known for healthy living, have a potential new health hazard to cope with - repetitive strain injury.

As the early deaths of such rock luminaries as Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix prove, being a successful musician can be bad for your health.

But researchers have found that the latest problem to afflict rock guitarists is rather more mundane.

Rick Parfitt, guitarist with veteran rockers Status Quo, was forced to take a break from playing last year after being diagnosed with RSI.

But research by the University of Surrey has found that he is far from being the only musician at risk, and that the problem is far more widespread than previously thought.

The areas most at risk are the neck/shoulder and wrist/hand regions.

Researcher Kathy Lewis, a chartered physiotherapist, said there are lots of reason why electric guitarists are likely to develop problems with RSI - known technically as a work-related upper limb disorder.

Young and inexperienced players are particularly at risk because they tend to exert greater force on their instruments.

Low straps

It seems part of the problem is that rock guitarists, in contrast to their classical counterparts, tend to hold their instruments low on the body with a long strap.

The right way to hold a guitar
They also tend to have a bad posture, standing with their weight forward, which puts strain on the lumbar region of the spine.

The risk of injury is reduced by moving around in time to the music.

But the most likely source of problems is the rapid and repetitive finger movement across the fret board.

Ms Lewis said: "The pressure that you exert through with your fret board hand is extremely high and you fatigue very, very quickly. Most players push too hard."

The style of playing is also a factor. People who tend to bend the strings, or to use higher gauges of string are more likely to have a problem.

Ms Lewis said one way to minimise the risk was to play a greater variety of music, featuring a wide range of chords, and therefore different finger positions.

But even those determined to stick to three-chord boogie, can take steps to protect themselves.

"Increase your playing times gradually rather than practising all of a sudden for eight hours a day.

"Start off slowly and build it up gradually. Take regular breaks. Think about your posture and your positioning when you're playing.

"And perhaps if you're practising, use lower gauge strings so you're not having to put such a high force down."

See also:

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