A Major Problem Playing the Banjo?

If you read my blog often, you may have noticed I’ve put no new content out in over a month now. I know I’ve been very aware of this fact myself. I guess I’ve been more than a little preoccupied with something rather important here of late.

So what’s up?

I guess I’ll go ahead and talk about it here.

In early February, I started to notice a tingling in my right forearm, mostly when I would play the banjo, but also to some extent when I played the mandolin, guitar, or would do a lot of typing at the computer at work. I guess I don’t type as much on the PC at home. It didn’t seem like carpal tunnel syndrome, as this was not in the wrist – it was in the forearm, on the underside.

As time went on, it changed to a burning sensation, followed by actual pain at the same spot. That’s about the time I noticed the most-likely cause: the banjo arm rest, and how I bear down on it.

I’ve always allowed my forearm to rest quite heavily on the armrest when playing the banjo. I can see how after 30-some-odd years, it has now started to affect the nerves and tendons in my arm. In order to be sure, I need to go see the doctor.

So I’m rather concerned, you see. Is this a temporary thing, where I can just learn to lighten up my touch on the armrest and it will clear up? Or is it some permanent damage that isn’t going to get any better?

At the moment, I’m playing a couple of times a week. After about 15 or 20 minutes, it starts in and I stop practicing. Even if I’m very light on the armrest, it still seems to happen. I also get it when I’m teaching – when I really don’t do much banjo/mandolin playing at all, but rather I’m simply holding it in position a lot while listening/teaching.

So pray for me. Pray that I’ll go see the doctor. (I know, I know…) Also pray that it isn’t something permanent.

And I will be grateful.

For that matter I will be grateful, in general, for prayer and for banjos.

Regardless of the outcome.

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About Phill Gibson

I'm from Huntsville, Alabama where I work as a Systems Engineer and part-time banjo and mandolin instructor. I've been playing various instruments since my teen years. I started mandolin at about age 17 and banjo at 20. I love just about all kinds of music. In terms of banjo styles, I play Scruggs and melodic and am working on becoming more advanced with single string. I'm also working on 4-finger banjo, which is way off the beaten path. I would like to see more jazz techniques integrated into bluegrass situations; counterpoint, especially. So long-term, that's what I'm doing. I'm also very keen on astronomy, ATM (amateur telescope making), birding, christian homeschooling, martial arts, organic gardening and about 30 other distracting hobbies to a (mercifully) lesser extent.
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One Response to A Major Problem Playing the Banjo?

  1. Séamas says:

    You’re in my prayers, Phill, now that I have seen this.

    How did things turn out?

    I have Fibromyalgia, as well as various other kinds of chronic pain, and I play guitar and fiddle (and have just ordered a banjo, as I’ve always wanted to learn to play one).

    I get pain and stiffness in my hands that gets worse after playing. My electric guitar, especially, is heavy and puts a strain on many parts of my frail body. It took me forever to find the right combination of shoulder rest, chin rest and playing position before I could really start practicing on my fiddle. At one point, it sat in its case for two years, and I feared I would never be able to learn.

    Recently, I have been getting a pinching pain in my left wrist. I’m hoping it’s not carpal tunnel. We’ll see.

    I have neck pain, back pain, joint pain… pain pretty much everywhere, and most of it is affected by my playing, and often interferes.

    Then there is the severe fatigue, and weakness, which makes things difficult, too. Makes it hard to even be motivated to play, or do my art, or go fishing, or anything else. Even a little bit of activity wears me out, and if I go just a little too far I can end up in bed for days after. I have to walk with a cane for support (and to prevent me from falling and breaking my bones, which have osteoporosis), and I can’t walk very far. I have a disabled parking permit.

    All this, and I am only 43 years old! What will I be like at 60, or 80 (if by some miracle I lived that long)?

    I pray all the time that I will not end up with something that completely prevents me from playing my instruments. I am on morphine, which helps, but doesn’t take away the pain completely nor prevent playing from causing me more pain.

    But I keep plugging away at it as much as I can, and I will for as long as I can. Unfortunately, I wasted most of my life living in horrible sin and drug addiction, rather than knowing and loving God and developing my God given talents. God, in His mercy, rescued me from the darkness and bondage I was in (beginning 10 years ago by curing me of my drug addiction, and culminating in my complete conversion 5 years ago), and I have been trying to play catch up ever since. This time, I hope to develop my talents in His honor, and use them in His service.

    But let His will be done. The most important thing is Him and my relationship with Him, and all these worldly things are secondary at best. We all have to bear our crosses, Jesus Himself told us that. And the Apostle Paul said that we are children of God and co-heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified with Him.

    So, we must bear our sufferings patiently, for love of Him who suffered for us, knowing that all things come to us from His hand (or He allows it to happen), and that it is for our good, or He will bring a greater good out of it. Our knowledge is limited, but He knows all, and He knows what is best for us.

    God Bless, Phill. I’ll pray that you go see the doctor, that it isn’t something permanent… and that if it is, you’ll have the grace to accept it as His will and to bear it patiently for the love of Him, and that it will help you grow closer to Jesus who suffered for love of us.

    Go see that doctor (or several of them, if need be), if you haven’t already. Perhaps something can be done to keep you playing.

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