Thumb pain and guitar playing have always (since the birth of the instrument) gone hand in hand. At least that’s what you’re likely to hear from experienced guitarists. We’ll take a guess and say you’re still new to this wonderful instrument. Also, we’ll assume there’s a good chance you’ve felt a strange sensation in your thumb while trying it out.

As you can see, we’re pretty serious when it comes to guitar-related assumptions. Let’s try another one! You’re probably wondering what’s there to be done if your thumb hurts when you’re playing guitar. In the text below, we’ll try to explain why this happens and how should you react. Stick around!

Try not to rush, and be calm! There’s no need to practice under pain, and breaks are well-known to help us remember more. Also, isolate the section that’s causing you thumb pain, and slow it down to practice it separately. Lastly, stretch your thumb before practice and position it between the middle and the top of the neck.

Now, that was just a quick preview. Feel free to read the whole thing!

Table of Contents

Why does this happen?

Here we’ll check out what causes the aforementioned pain in your thumb. Also, we’ll see if this is something you should worry about.

Growing pains

First things first, we’d like to point out that experiencing some form of pain is inevitable when learning a new instrument. Guitar’s no exception! As you might already know, guitar playing ain’t exactly the most natural thing we can do with our hands. Quite the contrary! You’ll use your hand muscles in a way you’ve never used them before.

It’ll take some time before you get used to it. When starting to play, you’ll notice your fingertips are sore all of the time. It’s something all guitarists have to go through. After a while, you’ll develop calluses and say goodbye to the pain. The next issue you’ll stumble upon is probably the soreness in your thumb.

Why does my thumb hurt when playing guitar?

Now you know pain is an essential part of learning. Now, that was pretty deep… Anyway, let’s try to avoid transforming this article into a new-age, pop-psych chapbook. Let’s talk business!

The reason why your thumb hurts while you play can be found in the way you’re holding the instrument. Don’t worry, we’re not saying you’re holding the guitar wrongly or something. As we said, even the right way of holding a guitar is pretty unnatural. The thing is: your thumb hurts because you’re pushing it way back just so you could support your hand position on the neck. By gripping the neck firmly, you’re putting a lot of pressure on the thumb.

Even classical guitarists (who don’t use a lot of barre chords) experience thumb pain. They rest the thumb on the back of the guitar neck, but still – this doesn’t eliminate the issue.

Thumb pain while picking

Thumb pain isn’t strictly associated only with fretting. Some folks experience it in the hand they use for picking. It can happen if you squeeze the pick too strongly. Here’s a solution: you might want to play using fingers instead of a pick. Here’s another one: try to loosen the grip on the pick.

Okay, so now that we’ve got that one covered, it’s time to answer the main question for today: what’s there to be done about thumb pain? Also, is it preventable?

A guitar player stressing over thumb pain.

What should you do if your thumb hurts while playing the guitar?

Thumb pain certainly ain’t no side-effect you can ignore. To be honest, you can’t ignore it since it can really ruin your daily practice. Still, there are a couple of things you can do to ease this discomforting issue. The tips you’ll find below will also concern folks that are dealing with pain in the wrist while playing guitar. Stay tuned!

Take your time

We can imagine beginner guitar players being anxious to start practicing. There’s a chance you’ve heard stories about guitar legends (like John Frusciante, for instance) practicing for more than 10 hours a day. While that might be true, it’s best you take it slow at first. In other words: just be patient!

You should always have in mind that guitar playing isn’t a race or something. You’ll be closer to the truth if you call the whole process a journey. A lot of it revolves around working the muscles in your hand just so you can physically do some of the things you need to do while playing guitar. The discomfort and pain you’ll feel while learning how to play mostly come from building muscles and achieving greater flexibility.

So, how much should you practice?

You’ll want to take a lot of baby steps. Being patient and cautious isn’t really synonymous with playing the guitar, but still, those should be the traits you’ll want to nurture. Enough with the theory, let’s get a bit more practical! When starting out, practice in five-minute intervals. Between the two of those, take a break for a few minutes.

Once some time has passed, you can turn those five minutes into ten, ten into twenty… Okay, you get where this is going. All in all: just be patient and diligent, and things will come your way! Also, if you’re a beginner thinking that buying an expensive guitar will make it stay in tune better, think again!

Proper thumb positioning

Alright, we’ve mentioned this for a brief moment in the beginning. Many folks don’t position their hand properly on the guitar’s neck. Let’s further elaborate on that!

Basically, your thumb is an anchor point. Just where you put it will dictate how fast can you change chords. Also, it will have an effect on the duration of you playing the instrument without taking breaks. So, what’s the best thumb position?

Most guitarists will agree that the best thumb position when playing guitar is near the center of the neck. To be precise, the pad of your thumb should be placed somewhere between the center and the top of the neck. Placing your thumb in this manner will give you the most efficient combination of comfort, support, and strength.

Try to relax

It’s only natural one feels tense when learning something new (and downright difficult). By being relaxed, you’ll help yourself greatly!

One can assume that this is especially important for beginner guitar players. Our minds function best if they’re not working under stress or any other kind of pressure. Your body will feel the change, too! As we said, holding the neck (or the pick) too tightly might be the source of your thumb (or wrist) pain. Relax your hand and you’ll notice an improvement soon enough.

Isolate the segment that’s causing you pain

First of all, let’s ask you a question. Is there a song segment, or a chord, that’s giving you thumb pain? Are you able to pinpoint that section? If so, isolate it and practice it apart from the rest. For instance, if there’s a section or a melody that’s a bit tricky to handle, just isolate that part and slow it down.

Also, if it’s a barre chord that’s causing you problems, work on partial barre chords instead. To sum it up: whatever’s triggering the thumb pain issue, isolate it and work on it step by step, slowly.

Is pushing through the pain alright?

Well, it’s kind of hard to tell. Although, many guitar players would agree that taking breaks when one’s had enough is crucial. Of course, there’s something telling you to push through the pain and it can be pretty hard to resist the temptation. As soon as the pain becomes mildly unbearable, take a 15-minute break, or try again in a few hours. As we already mentioned, practice in intervals.

Additionally, many research studies have shown breaks are very important for remembering what you’ve learned. Here’s a pro tip: when working on something pretty darn difficult (a melody, for instance), try playing it really, really slow just before bedtime. The only important thing is that you play the right notes. Try playing the melody again the day after. You’ll notice that you’re able to play that part better than the previous day.

Stretch your thumb before you practice

Here’s a quick tip just before we do a summary of the text and say goodbye. Pull your left-hand thumb using your right-hand fingers all the way down to the wrist. As far as you can go without feeling pain. Hold it like that for a couple of seconds and do the same thing to your right-hand thumb.

What should you do if your thumb hurts while playing the guitar? – a summary

Okay, so let’s do a quick review of what we’ve learned today. To phrase it differently, what’s there to be done if your thumb hurts while playing the guitar?

  • Take your time! Nothing happens overnight!
  • Position your thumb properly! It should lie somewhere between the middle and the top of the guitar neck.
  • Try to relax! Our minds remember better if we’re calm.
  • Isolate the section that’s causing you pain! Practice the difficult part by slowing it down.
  • It’s best you don’t push through the pain! Take frequent breaks.
  • Stretch your thumbs before practice! Pull them close to your wrists for a couple of seconds.

That’s about it, dear music lovers! For more guitar-related tips, make sure you visit this page.