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Thread: New player: a lot of pain in the knuckle of my left hand

  1. #1

    Default New player: a lot of pain in the knuckle of my left hand

    Hey folks. I've been playing mandolin for less than two months now, however I've had to put it down for awhile due to having a lot of pain in my left hand. I am using the proper fingering position here on the left:

    https://i.imgur.com/I5axuln.jpg

    I also make sure that my wrist is straight and that my fingers curl over the fret board with my thumb on top to create a bit of leverage. Here is the reference I used (also worth noting that David's intro series is fantastic and I've been having a lot of fun with it):

    https://youtu.be/DvDDGN1h36s?t=578

    However, I can barely play 5 minutes without extreme pain in the knuckle under my left index finger. Here is a photo of another player who looks to have had the same pain area:

    https://i.imgur.com/05D4P0w.jpg

    So my question is, should I be laying the neck of the mandolin atop of that knuckle? Is there something else going on here? I really love playing the mandolin but I feel that there has to be something wrong on my part for me to be in such pain just playing for a few minutes. Any feedback would be appreciated!

  2. #2

    Default Re: New player: a lot of pain in the knuckle of my left hand

    My first thought, if you’re hurting at any time it’s not right, I’d take a break and let my hand rest for a week, my next thought if you already haven’t, is to change to a set of light strings that would be easier for your fingers to fret and not strain the joint. Another thing you might try, when I was having some pain in my hand I started soaking my hand in warm water before I’d start playing, it really would help to loosen the joints up.

  3. #3

    Default Re: New player: a lot of pain in the knuckle of my left hand

    Quote Originally Posted by 707erich View Post
    My first thought, if you’re hurting at any time it’s not right, I’d take a break and let my hand rest for a week, my next thought if you already haven’t, is to change to a set of light strings that would be easier for your fingers to fret and not strain the joint.
    Sounds good, it definitely looks like I need to take a week off.

    Also I do in fact have a set of Thomastik heavy gauges: https://www.thomastik-infeld.com/en/...dolin/mandolin

    They were a huge upgrade to whatever shipped with my Kentucky (it didn't list D'Addarios on their site for my model like the others so I'm assuming it came with factory Saga strings). Would you recommend the medium or light instead?

  4. #4
    Registered User Ranald's Avatar
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    Default Re: New player: a lot of pain in the knuckle of my left hand

    How old are you? Perhaps you should be asking your doctor about arthritis. Good luck.
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
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  5. #5

    Default Re: New player: a lot of pain in the knuckle of my left hand

    Letting it heal is definitely good advice. Once you come back, look at how hard you are pressing the strings. Most people press too hard.

    The way to tell how hard to press is to place your finger on the string muting it so it clicks, without a tone, as you pick on it. Continue picking back and forth, gradually increasing pressure till you just get a clear tone with no clicks or buzzes. That is how hard you should press. Anything more is detrimental. You can also reverse the process. Picking back and forth as you normally press and gradually reduce pressure till you just start to buzz. Dong this as a regular exercise for a while will train your mind and body how hard to press.

    Too much pressure is one cause of a lot of problems including joint pain.

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    Default Re: New player: a lot of pain in the knuckle of my left hand

    I will have issues with my thumb depending on where strap height holds an instrument. For me, if it’s up too high I’m ok while playing but suffer later as the inflammation begins. I can no longer play on the couch as a result. With this in mind, I’m not sure if it might help or not but you might try raising or lowering the mando.
    Next, Is your index finger, when fretting, straight up and down or does it slouch left (assuming you are a righty)? If it slouches left and is not perpendicular to the fret board that could be the stressor.

  7. #7

    Default Re: New player: a lot of pain in the knuckle of my left hand

    Quote Originally Posted by FredWilliamson View Post
    Sounds good, it definitely looks like I need to take a week off.

    Also I do in fact have a set of Thomastik heavy gauges: https://www.thomastik-infeld.com/en/...dolin/mandolin

    They were a huge upgrade to whatever shipped with my Kentucky (it didn't list D'Addarios on their site for my model like the others so I'm assuming it came with factory Saga strings). Would you recommend the medium or light instead?
    I actually have been using Thomastik mettle/medium on my mandolin for the last four years and really like there sound, they would probably be considered a light gauge set in another brand. There easy for me to fret, but I am going to try the stark/strong set as soon as Strings and Beyond has them back in stock. I believe the stark set has about 25lbs more total string tension than the mettle set. You also might check the height of your strings from the fingerboard and see if the mandolins action can be lowered without buzzing, that’ll also make it easier to fret. My mandolin is set as low as it can go for how hard I play.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: New player: a lot of pain in the knuckle of my left hand

    CarlM has great advice - make sure you are pressing as lightly as possible. That takes practice.

    Make sure the action is setup well. If it’s too high you will work too hard.
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  9. #9

    Default Re: New player: a lot of pain in the knuckle of my left hand

    Quote Originally Posted by Ranald View Post
    How old are you? Perhaps you should be asking your doctor about arthritis. Good luck.
    I just turned 38. My mother has had rheumatoid arthritis since her 20's but thankfully I have been tested and don't have it.

    Quote Originally Posted by David Bellino View Post
    Next, Is your index finger, when fretting, straight up and down or does it slouch left (assuming you are a righty)? If it slouches left and is not perpendicular to the fret board that could be the stressor.
    I would say it's a tad to the right rather than the left.

    Quote Originally Posted by 707erich View Post
    You also might check the height of your strings from the fingerboard and see if the mandolins action can be lowered without buzzing, that’ll also make it easier to fret. My mandolin is set as low as it can go for how hard I play.
    I took a look at the action and it looks to be decently low. The strings are actually easier to fret now vs. when I had the factory strings on it, despite the Thomastik being "heavy" gauges. Also I love their sound: super warm and so much less "metallic" than what I had previously.

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    Default Re: New player: a lot of pain in the knuckle of my left hand

    It sounds like you’re doing most things properly. Q: How tightly do you grip the neck or how hard do you press the strings? CarlM’s method of slowly increasing pressure to learn the right playing pressure is excellent; it is much like a technique I learned when I took classical guitar lessons long ago. A light touch is essential.

    I’m no physical therapist but I listen when they talk to me (I have way too much enforced experience with PTs). When you start to feel pain, stop playing immediately. Never “push through” the pain because that can turn a short term problem into a chronic, long term problem. Hold a cold pack (ice pack) on the pain spot 20 minutes per hour for the evening. When you are ready to play again warm your hands then do some gentle stretching before you start and review the pressure exercise.
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  12. #11
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    Default Re: New player: a lot of pain in the knuckle of my left hand

    You could try a strap. That way you don't have to rest the mandolin on your left hand. It will be totally free.
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    Default Re: New player: a lot of pain in the knuckle of my left hand

    Fret your mandolin at the 3rd fret on each set of strings and look at the space between the first fret and the bottom of the string. It should be minimal or next to nothing. If it is higher you are working too hard.
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  14. #13

    Default Re: New player: a lot of pain in the knuckle of my left hand

    As suggested by pops1, you could be battling a bad, or non-optimal setup, where the nut slots are high and you have to press much harder than necessary at those first few frets. Search for Bob Meldrum's mandolin setup guide (PDF) here to get his contact info and email to get a copy if you want to spend some time checking things out and have the tools and interest. at the least you should be able to learn what it should look like so you can evaluate whether it needs adjustment by a good tech.

    And, I concur with others that you should rest the hand a bit, and (N.B. I AM NOT A MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL) if you're [medically/physically] able, consider an NSAID (eg. ibuprofen) for a short term and don't push it until it returns to normal.

    I don't do what the video suggests, at least that's not how I started, but I have played guitar and once even took a stab at fiddle. On mandolin, I think part of the solution, besides a good setup and (for starters) low action, is to keep relaxed, learning how to place your fingertips (not pads, like a fiddle) close to the frets with just enough pressure to get a clean sound. You do want to avoid a tight wrap around the neck, but the position of the thumb and shape of your hand has to be able to change as you switch chord shapes, move from chords to single notes and vice versa, up and down the neck, etc. You can't put your hand in one shape try to keep it rigidly held that way and play the mandolin. And, when it does start to hurt, rest.
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  15. #14

    Default Re: New player: a lot of pain in the knuckle of my left hand

    Are you coming from the guitar? When I started Mandolin last year after 50 year of guitar, I found that my index knuckle (at the palm) pressed against the neck shape and caused pain after a bit. I jus had to learn to adjust my grip slightly to minimize/eliminate the pressure. Keep trying modifications of your fretting hand until you find it.
    I will say that my hand position is more like the "bad" example you posted than the "good" one!

  16. #15
    Registered User Charlie Bernstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: New player: a lot of pain in the knuckle of my left hand

    All good advice above.

    Does the same thing happen when you play other mandos? My first two mandos felt fine. When I found that my third mandolin hurt a lot, several folks here (like Keith in post 13) said the nut could be the culprit. I took it to a good luthier, and he did some filing that fixed the problem. Didn't look any different, but whatever he did fixed it.

    Other thoughts:

    Like guitars, lighter strings aren't just easier on your fingers. They're easier on the instrument's top, too.

    Your finger might take a while to get better. Don't push it. Lay off till it's better — and while you're laying off, google tendonitis. I've had it a few times, and it can take years to shake it. After you've finished taking a break, the best thing to do is stop playing as soon as your finger acts up.

    Taking anti-inflamatories (like ibuprofen) helps a lot, but overdoing them can cause your intestines might go on strike.
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