Shelby Stronger is an artist and writer who is learning how to play guitar. She writes about it on her blog Grrl + Guitar.
Her post recent post, Leading with the Heel, is some of the best writing I’ve seen about the importance of mindful practice, which is all the more amazing since she is just starting her guitar study. Her thoughts about how her hand and wrist compensate for her lack of finger flexibility when switching between chords are very insightful and are a good example to follow no matter what your level of experience.
Guitarists–especially accomplished ones–are notorious for ignoring the signals their bodies are try to transmit to them. Practicing without taking a break or trying to play too fast without warming up are on the road to tendinitis and other painful injuries that may require serious medical interventions including surgery. Yes, it really does happen to real people, and not being able to play until your body heals sucks.
In 1984, I started feeling a strong pain, and it scared the hell out of me. I recorded a whole album like that and toured like that in 1985. Then I met with Richie Blackmore, who told me to take potassium. Bananas. Drink Gatorade. Basically it’s your engine running out of oil, and the parts are scraping together. That and try to warm up before you play. Which, by the way, is still something I still don’t do.
Yngwie Malmsteen, quoted from http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/community/chat/2001-03-22-yngwie.htm.
Also, most musicians I know do not have the benefit of proper medical insurance (or likely any at all), and while they have the gift of music, they don’t often have the gift of money. In short: you DO NOT want to be paying off a big hospital bill for hand surgery. Even if the hospital is kind enough to write off the expense of your surgery (which does happen to real people, too–I know of several), this will not eliminate the cost of follow-up visits with a doctor or physical therapist.
Listen to your body. Do not play through the pain. Be mindful.