I recently produced an article for Bass Guitar Magazine on understanding and managing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome for bassists, as the issue has passed and I own the copyright to the article I can now publish it online here with some additions, enjoy.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is one of the most common hand and wrist nerve problems reported among musicians (ref), so here is some general information on what it is and how it’s managed for bassists.
What is the Carpal Tunnel?
The carpal tunnel is a collection of soft tissues and bone which come together to form a tunnel shape running along the palm side of the wrist into the hand, running within the tunnel is the median nerve and tendons which bend the hand and fingers.
The Symptoms of CTS
This is very variable. Sensory feelings vary between pain, numbness & pins and needles. There may also be wasting of the muscles below the thumb on the palm side with subsequent weakness. A bassist with CTS could have one, some or all of these symptoms.
A medical textbook would suggest that these symptoms should occur along the area which the median nerve innervates which is the palm side of the thumb, 2nd, 3rd and half of the 4th finger. However this is more often not the case with some people having the whole hand affected, whilst others only two fingers (ref).
The Cause of CTS in Bassists
CTS occurs generally without any trauma, and so would come under the “overloaded” category of problems. There are many internal and external factors that can lead to CTS, hence why symptoms are so variable. Internal factors include; weight, psychosocial factors and other medical problems. Whilst bassist specific external factors may include; sudden increase in playing amount and/or force applied and sustained wrist postures. One individual factor on its own is generally harmless, it is when there is combination of them that the risk of the irritated median nerve resulting in symptoms increases (ref).
Managing CTS for Bassists
For many bassists and musicians, with some simple conservative management advice and time the issue slowly resolves over several weeks/months (there is no quick fix). Symptoms can often come whilst playing and it would be impossible to ask a bassist to stop playing until it resolves, hence experimenting with different comfortable wrist positions and regularly changing between them, which although might be common sense, should make playing a lot easier.
Many will also wear a wrist splint at night in bed to supposedly offload the pressure in the carpal tunnel during sleep. There are no such “carpal tunnel exercises” aside from just keeping the wrist moving and avoiding prolonged rest (ref).
If all of the above is ineffective and symptoms continue to persist then invasive options include a steroid injection or even surgery (ref).
The signs and symptoms described are not exclusive to CTS so there could be other issues going on as well, so if you feel like this is affecting you and it is not settling within a few weeks then seek medical advice and support.
Regularly altering wrist position as you play plus avoiding sudden increases in playing demand may help reduce the risk of CTS occurring.
Have a nice day,