Preventing Disaster: Carpal Tunnel, Tendonitis And Hearing Loss

BINGBONGWhen you’re young, these aren’t the kinds of things you think about. No matter how hard you play, your body bounces right back to normal. But if you are serious about making a career in music, then these are important things to work to prevent. Many musicians have had their careers cut short – or life just made more miserable – by being plagued by two of the most common ailments for a long-time musician: Tendonitis and Hearing Loss. In this article we are going to look at these two common ailments, how to prevent them and lessen the impacts of the symptoms.

Hearing Loss:
DRUMSPete Townshend has lost a significant amount of hearing due to standing in front of huge amps (not to mention the pyrotechnics from Keith Moon and his exploding bass drum). Other musicians who suffered hearing loss and/or Tinnitus (persistent ringing in the ears) include Phil Collins, Jeff Beck, Ozzy Osbourne, Neil Young, Noel Gallagher and even Paul Gilbert who has to wear headphones due to significant hearing loss. Basically most musicians who have spent over a decade of wild abandon cranking it louder are now living with those early choices. But there are things you can do to prevent this from happening and continue to enjoy playing music. We talked with Benjamin Forstag of the American Tinnitus Association for a more in-depth explanation.
What is the leading cause of Tinnitus/Hearing Loss? 
While many things can trigger tinnitus symptoms, the overwhelming number of cases develop as a result of noise-induced hearing loss. (Noise-induced hearing loss itself can be caused either by acute acoustic trauma or long-term overexposure to loud sounds). As hearing loss progresses, the brain receives progressively less external auditory stimulation. In response, the brain re-maps how it internally processes sound stimuli. In cases of tinnitus the brain begins to produce it’s own perception of sound to fill in the missing gaps in external stimuli.
Once it develops, can it be cured? If so, what is the most common treatment?
Before addressing your question, it is important to note that tinnitus can be both an acute (temporary) and chronic (ongoing) condition. People who go to loud concerts may have experienced bouts of acute tinnitus: your ears ring the next day as a result of the noise but it gets better over time. Chronic tinnitus is a more permanent condition that doesn’t diminish over time; the perception of tinnitus may ebb and flow, but it never fully goes away.
Unfortunately, there are no scientifically-validated cures for chronic tinnitus.  While there is some very promising research on the horizon, there is no current product, device or treatment that permanently eliminates the perception of tinnitus. However, there are some some very good management tools that can help patients help people live full, normal, happy and productive lives even with the perception of tinnitus. These include cognitive behavioral therapies, sound therapies, sound masking and hearing aids.
ATA is continuing the search for better treatment options and a definitive cure for tinnitus by funding advanced tinnitus research projects and raising awareness of tinnitus around the country.
What are the best methods to prevent it? 
The best way to prevent tinnitus is through the use of hearing protection and the avoidance of excessive noise exposure.  Again, since a majority of tinnitus cases are the result of hearing loss, anything that protects the auditory system from trauma will reduce your risk.

Notice the wrist is bent, but not locked.
Notice the wrist is bent, but not locked.

Almost everyone knows someone who has experienced some form of  Carpal Tunnel or Tendonitis which is a tearing or abrasion of the tendons due to overuse or too much pressure. Day after day you pick up your guitar, stretch your hands across those frets and play your heart out for hours. After years of this and especially as the body ages, you might start becoming susceptible to these tears. If you experience any pain when you are playing, such as a stiffness and or soreness in your arm, it’s time to take a break. The same is true if you are experiencing numbness (which might be Carpal Tunnel). There are things you can do to prevent tendonitis and to treatments to help it.

Guitar playing can be a very physical activity.

First off, it’s important to warm up and this article is a great place to start. Every athlete in the world warms up before competing in a major event but many guitarists just go straight to it, not realizing the fact that playing guitar can actually be a pretty physical activity with constant hand movement and being on stage for hours with a piece of wood strapped to your back.
The key to prevention is to avoid overdoing it. If you are experiencing pain or tenderness, it’s time to stop until it feels completely back to normal (even if that means weeks or months). If you suffer any sort of injury, don’t try to play through it – you’ll likely end up regretting it.

“Well, the test results came back.. It’s a boy! Oh wait, sorry wrong file, looks like the beginning of Tendonitis.”

If you’re having any problems with hearing loss or believe you are suffering symptoms Tendonitis, see a doctor. Neither of these things have to be the end of the world and for most musicians they have learned to cope with it and get better, but with just a small amount of effort you can make sure none of the above is ever a problem for you.

Do you do any hand exercises or special routines before you play?

Join the Conversation


  1. I never go to a concert or play live with unfamiliar equipment (or musicians) without earplugs. Your ears don’t repair themselves, so take care of them. Great article!

  2. I was recently told by an orthopedic surgeon who was treating my mother with a cortisone shot for a “trigger” finger ailment, that carpal tunnel is primary a muscular/skeletal/genetic developmental disorder. Certain people are predisposed for it, it is not “caused” by certain activities, although those activities can aggravate the underlying disorder and bring it to the fore. In other words, if you’re are going to get it, you are going to get it.

  3. I had to stop and read this article because I have both conditions to a degree. The tinnitis is only apparent when there is no external ambient sound. The hand problem is in my fretting hand and is controlled by stretches before and after playing.I generally play 3 to 4 hours a day. Thanks for the article!

  4. My singer and I both need to be investing in hearing protection, we hope that better protection comes soon that doesn’t mute the mid and high frequencies so much from our ears, otherwise we can’t hear anything other than the bass and kick drum with our plugs in…

    1. The “better” ear protection is already here but comes at a cost. I’ve been using custom molded ear plugs for years, the more you are willing to spend the flatter you can get the frequency attenuation across the range. I’m pretty pleased with mine everything sounds just as it would but at a ear pleasing sound level. If you are ever unsure about your hearing or worried about hearing loss go seek advice from audiologist. I have tinnitus already and have learn’t my lesson the hard way, I even wear them when I go out to clubs and loud pubs now.

  5. Understand the sound levels of the noises in your environment.Learn about proper ear protection.Put physical distance between you and loud noise when it is present.Take breaks when you are exposed to noise.When listening to music through headphones or earbuds, keep the volume low-to-medium.
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