Any time you spend an extended period on a task that stresses your hands, you risk developing tendinitis or other overuse injuries. I put my left hand through hours of said stress every day, so I take measures to keep it healthy.

I see three different scenarios for action:

  1. daily preventative measures
  2. kicking it quickly after onset
  3. recovering from a full-blown injury

Of course, the logical place to start is the middle, so this first post on the topic is about how to avoid a serious injury when you feel it brewing. (I have my own routine of preventative exercises, and I've had the unfortunate experience of recovering from a bad case of tendinitis, so I can write about the other scenarios later.)

The first step is to learn what the onset of an overuse injury feels like. If you've been through it before, you'll recognize that dull, throbbing pain that doesn't interfere with your playing much and can almost go unnoticed. If you've never felt it, no need to go looking for it. Just keep your eyes peeled when you suddenly play four hours of finger-stretching scales out of the blue.

When you notice it, stop playing immediately (unless you're at a gig). Playing through it will make it worse. This is absolutely essential. Accept that the loss of practice time is inevitable once you've felt the onset. The sooner you stop, the less practice time you'll lose. I've been out for as little as a few hours when I catch it early. If you play through it, you risk losing days or weeks.

Anti-inflammatory painkillers work wonders. I pop a couple right after I stop playing. They ease the pain and tendon inflammation in my hand. The goal is to banish the injury completely and immediately in one shot, so you shouldn't develop a dependency. If you have to take them on consecutive days, stop playing and pull yourself together. Deadbeat.

I keep a queue of music reading materials for these occasions. I got all kinds of stuff to read about music theory and history online or in books, and none of it involves playing, so I stick to that for a few hours. Writing chord or scale charts is a good use of time if your writing hand isn't injured.

I double all my prevention techniques for the rest of the day. If I feel healthy again before bedtime, I'll get back to playing easy stuff. Sometimes I ice my hand if it's bad enough, and that's a real bitch. It's excruciating, but helpful.