9 Tips for Avoiding Overuse Injuries on Guitar—and Getting More Out of Your Practice Sessions

Creating a productive and healthy practice routine can be very helpful in avoiding or reducing overuse-related issues.
hand stretch with guitar illustration
Stretching regularly can help prevent injury. Illustration: Bill Evans

As too many guitarists have learned the hard way, overuse injuries can at best be a nuisance and at worst lead to long-term issues that may require surgery, expensive therapy, extended periods without playing, or even having to stop playing altogether.

Everyone’s practice situation is a bit different, and many factors influence whether we experience overuse issues. Those injuries often seem to sneak up on us, and can arise whether we have highly structured and intensive or very free-form practice habits. The good news is that implementing some key principles to create a productive and healthy practice routine can be very helpful in avoiding or reducing overuse-related issues.

In this article we’ll cover several tips for productive and sustainable practice, with a focus on habits that can help us avoid and/or recover from overuse injuries. As a bonus, these tips can lead to more effective musical growth and more fulfilling expression through our beloved instrument.

1. Beware of “No Pain, No Gain”

Pain is actually a sign that something is wrong, so listen to it. Real, sustainable strength comes from consistency in your practice over time. You will gain strength gradually, by repeating things in a natural way. Many things in daily life that we take for granted, like brushing our teeth or walking up a flight of stairs, require strength. Playing guitar is much the same way. If you do it regularly, you will develop the right muscles, and you won’t even necessarily notice it. Practicing rigorously, to the point of muscle fatigue and soreness, is often the first sign that you’re on the road to an injury—especially if this is your daily experience of playing. And remember that consistency, not total the amount of practice, is key. In other words, don’t binge; more is not necessarily better.


2. Pace Yourself

Use a timer to schedule in breaks. Knowing the right amount of time to practice is quite personal and will depend on many factors, such as how much total time you have in a day and week to practice. But in general, less is more. Take both shorter and longer breaks before you’re tired. For example, set your timer every 15 minutes and pause for a minute or two and maybe even stand up for a moment. Then, take extended breaks of 10 or 15 minutes every 45 minutes. 

I don’t recommend more than three 45- to 60-minute stretches in one session. So if you’re aspiring to practice many hours a day, blocks longer than three hours (with those smaller breaks included!) should have an hour or two in between for the muscles and mind to refresh. For serious players, taking at least one full day off per week is highly recommended as well. Your body will thank you, and this will give time to absorb what you’ve worked on all week. You’ll often come back from a day off and see noticeable improvements. 

3. Analyze Your Position

Can you sit or stand comfortably in your playing/practice position without the guitar? If so, for how long? Adding the guitar is only going to make things more complex, so make sure you establish a comfortable position and see how long you can maintain it before you include your instrument. If you practice three hours in a position that gets uncomfortable after 30 minutes, that is a sign you either need to tweak your position and/or take those breaks before the discomfort sets in. 


4. Follow the “11-Day Rule

Over the years I have noticed that when learning something brand new, like a chord voicing or picking pattern, there may be no noticeable improvement at first, which can be quite frustrating. But I have frequently observed that on the 11th day of practicing this new thing, something shifts and suddenly there is a sense of continuity from the previous day, a naturalness that was not there before. From this repeated experience, I’ve learned to tune out any expectations of seeing progress for those first ten days. This guideline can help you stay calm and not force things that could potentially lead to injury. Give new techniques and pieces time to sink in, and enjoy the process. 

5. Cultivate a Positive Mindset

Many musicians practice with varying degrees of fear and impatience, but this can slow down your improvement and contribute to the development of injuries. Medical research shows that learning is enhanced when you are in a positive mood. When happy, the brain releases neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which help it encode new memories. So, if you can counteract any negative feelings by smiling and feeling grateful for music and the chance to play guitar, or any other things that make you happy, this will speed up the process and enhance your development as a player. And it’s a very worthwhile element to include in your journey of learning and growing on the guitar. 

6. Breathe

Optimally fluid and comfortable playing can only happen if you are experiencing relaxed, effortless breathing. To achieve that, try the following: Before practicing take a few deep breaths, then play something simple like a two-chord strumming sequence. Pay attention to see if you stop or restrict your breathing. If so, repeat until you can play the passage without tightening. Peel back the layers of playing as far as needed to see what you can do while breathing, and start adding things little by little. Practice a more involved scale or picking pattern this way and see what hap-pens. The process may initially slow you way down, but in the long run it will save you huge amounts of time while benefiting your playing health. 

7. Scan for Tension

Curled toes? Hunched shoulders? Clenched fretting hand? These issues connect directly to the previous tip, as these points of bodily tension often thrive because we are not breathing. Practicing in front of a mirror and/or watching video recordings of yourself may help you notice tension that you otherwise might not be aware of when focused mainly on what’s going on with your fingers. 

8. Massage and Stretch

Chronic low-level tension and discomfort is the precursor to injury, so be proactive and get a professional massage or even use simple self-massaging techniques to get the knots out. (There are plenty of good videos on YouTube about simple stretches and self-massaging techniques.) This is something you can do away from the guitar, and working it into your daily routine is a great long-term habit that can do a lot to stave off injuries. 

9. Maintain a Balanced Lifestyle 

Sitting for hours day after day, year after year, with a guitar in hand can take a toll on many parts of the body. The more you care for your body in general, with foundational habits like good sleep; regular exercise; staying hydrated; and staying away from excessive consumption of caffeine, alcohol, sugar, and tobacco will all help to avoid injury and are actually likely to increase your rate of improvement on guitar. After all, our playing health is not separate from our overall health. 

Avoiding overuse injury is a big topic, and getting into the nuances can take time. Remember that injuries sneak up over time, so these are good habits that will not only increase the likelihood of healthy playing but will serve for the long haul, so that you can have a lifetime of joyful and optimal playing!

Acoustic Guitar magazine cover for issue 344

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2024 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.

Juanito Pascual
Juanito Pascual

Juanito Pascual is an internationally recognized modern flamenco and jazz guitarist, composer, and educator based in the United States.


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  1. Tried to subscribe using PayPal but the e-mail address shown was incorrect. Will try to change that but do you suggest another way to subscribe? Maybe I’ll try using a credit card. Thank you.

  2. Agree with a lot of this.Been playing for 57 Years.30 years of that time was pro off and on.Mainly rock/metal.I am a lead guitarist/shredder and never had any hand issues.One must treat their hands with respect and take any new tasks with warm ups.