On Carpal Tunnel Surgery…

In mid-October, I received a ‘PM’ (private message) on my Facebook Artist Page from a fellow named Randall Elliott (no kidding). His message read: Hello Mr. Randall. Mr. Elliott here. If it isn’t too much trouble, I’m opinion shopping. Do you know any guitarists that have had Carpal Tunnel surgery and if there are any complications therein? I’m due for it in a few weeks on my left hand (I play right-handed) so it is kind of a big deal to me. Thanks in advance.

Having no personal experience with this, I thought I’d ask the members of my ‘page’ to respond to his query. The many varied and interesting opinions are below (along with Mr. Elliott’s comments toward the end of the page). While I have mixed feelings about the world operating through “social networking”, this is one of the ways I think it really rocks. A big “thank you” to all the participants (whose images and links I’ve removed in the interest of privacy).

Richard Kromidas had both hands done 3 years ago I was playing again in 3 weeks no problem Dr Legeyt New Britain Good luck…55 years of playing will do that to you….

Jonathan Schneider I’m a physician and have become well informed with the musculoskeletal issues with guitarists. Why re-invent the wheel? The issues that confront some of us senior citizens are different than those of younger people. As we age we lose some elasticity of our tendons and our joints become more susceptible to wear and tear that may result in arthritis. The basics that we learned in health class apply here. Rest, ice and elevation of the painful area if this is an acute problem. But the majority of issues that guitarists have are more chronic in nature. The in vogue term for this is overuse or repetitive strain injury. Carpal tunnel syndrome and tendinitis of the fretting hand are examples of this. The first step in evaluation is to have a guitar teacher look at your posture with the instrument. Very often using a strap to raise or lower the guitar neck will do wonders to correct an awkward wrist angle. But this is not an overnight fix. Stretching helps as well as does warming up. If you have small hands and want use .11 strings and bend the G string up 1 1/2 steps you are looking for trouble.

I developed arthritis in my left thumb caused ( I like to think) by trying to play some wild voiced jazz chords before my hands were ready. After making any of these changes and one still has problems it may be time to consult a doctor. If one spends hours on a computer keyboard and then plays some guitar and the pain starts it may be poor posture at the keyboard that is causing carpal tunnel syndrome that only show up when you play.Regardless of who you see as a doctor whether they be an MD or chiropractor be sure they take the time to listen to your story and understand your lifestyle. And as an aside: when my left hand was hurting and I still had the need to play, I took up lap steel guitar and dobro.

Isabel Lake I am not a musician but had this surgery performed on BOTH wrist and it did not handicap me in any way in fact I am a better pastry chef because of it’s good luck and wish A speedy recovery. I hate this smartass phone.

Piano Judio I am a piano player and had that surgery with no complications but a rather LONG recovery and physical therapy.Large bandage on hand for 2 weeks etc.. Easy operation .. you will be awake but cannot see or feel your hand.. Pretty nurses holding it… If you feel anything ask for another local shot… Takes 1/2 hour only…H

Mark Bjorke I haven’t had it but my wife had both wrists done and had no loss of functionality whatsoever.

Tim Boehlert I’ve had two friends – both guitarists – that have had had it. I don’t recall all of the specifics, but seemed like long recovery times, one still plays, not sure about the other. This is going back 10 years or more though…

Eben Atwater Yep, I had it done on my picking hand when I was making my living playing; surgery has come a long way! I was able to play decently within a couple weeks of surgery, though it did take a good 4 months for full strength to return. Be absolutely diligent about post op procedures and physical therapy regimen, you’ll be FINE!

Wes Maebe Check out the Magnetic Resonance System from O-Well. It sorted me out in a couple of weeks without surgery.

Clifford Schwartz I’ve had it but didn’t opt for surgery. Instead went to acupuncture and that did the trick to help me to be able to play again without too much pain. I then checked in to a Tai Chi school on the advice of the acupuncturist and before long, all symptoms disappeared.

Ed Stasium I optioned for cortisone injections…
Not invasive and was better in a week!

Jerry Marotta my friend joe beesmer in woodstock ny unkfunk@usadatanet.net

Sharon Seidl I once worked at Guitar Magazine and the editor at the time did an amazing article with illustrations on exercises for guitarists. He is now the director at the national guitar museum, his name is Harvey Newquist, but there is a very good article on live strong covering some of the same: http://www.livestrong.com/article/159019-wrist-exercises-for-the-guitar/

 Wrist Exercises For The Guitar. Repetitive motions required from fretting and picking the guitar can put serious strain on your wrists. This continuous strain can lead to debilitating conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome, which causes ldquonumbness, tingling, and pain in the first three fingers…

Robbie Pepper I don’t know anyone who has had carpal tunnel surgery who was better off after. The symptoms may be misleading and many times it’s a neck propblem that manifests tingling in the fingers, numbness or weakness. C5 and C6 many times are the culprits. In my case, all my strength and use of my left came back after neck surgery. I don’t recommend surgery for anyone, but in my case it was the only option.If you want to talk with me directly email me at robbie@frontier.net

Mike Crutcher Jimmy Bruno had the surgery, and it turned out fine. He’s a nice guy, very approachable. Ask him, he can give you some real support on it. My friend Jodi Stevens, who is a monster bassist, also had surgery. She’s fine, too(she also chatted with Jimmy about it).

Kevin Cooley Exhaust all reasonable non-surgical options before having any elective surgery done. If it comes down to surgery, find a surgeon that sub-specializes in that anatomical area. This advise is for everyone considering any elective surgery not just CTS release.

James Garabo Elliot- I’m a practising chiropractor-24 years- and you absolutely MUST determine whether or not your problem is originating from your cervical spine (neck) or your wrist. Often times the bones in your neck interfere with the nerves that go down to your hands and wrists and will mimic CTS. Surgery is of absolutely no help in these cases. If you have TRUE CTS, that is compression of the Median nerve by the transverse carpal ligament, then surgery will help. This condition is common in people who have repetitive motion (musicians, typists, carpenters) but beware, make sure you have a proper diagnosis first. Many who have come to me have already had the surgery and it didn’t work.

Ray Matuza I know of a few guys that have had it done (including Jimmy Bruno) and have had no problems afterwards. However, playing hard will trigger symptoms and if you practice alot it could be more repetitive stress injury which can mimmick the symptoms of CTS. I went through years of hell with this in the 70’s before anybody knew anything. All it took was a modification of technique and stretching excercises given to me by a therapist who specializes in hands. Good luck!

Karan Andrea It is possible that aggressive stretching and massage can alleviate the symptoms, but you have to find the right person – not just any massage therapist would know what to do. If it were me, I would try that before I let some doc cut on me… but that’s me.

Karen Bordonaro Two ways to go..alternative with herbs and massage and conventional with a bone and joint specialist at the NYC Bone And Joint Clinic….best in the world…

Allan Kaplan In many cases, the situation is as Robbie described – the problem is nerve restriction in the neck, not the wrists – and the surgery does no good. Good manual therapy and acupuncture can be helpful. Renowned pianist Leon Fleisher suffered from a more complex issue than carpal tunnel, and after trying EVERYTHING (including surgery), found that mainly Rolfing® did the trick http://www.cello.org/heaven/disabled/fleish.htm . I can field questions about that.

Jodi Stevens I had the surgery on both my hands last year. I was extremely nervous beforehand. I saw an excellent OT who only works with musicians, we tried therapy first but as I had axonal nerve damage I was advised to have the surgery. The surgery itself wasn’t so bad but I made sure I did exactly what my OT said afterwards, which included not playing for almost 3 months. I also saw the OT once a week for 14 weeks, this was most helpful in diminishing the scar tissue which can lead to similar carpal tunnel like symptoms down the road if not treated and softened. I am not sure if you’re in the Massachusetts area but there is a specialist, a neurosurgeon in Boston named Dr. Charness who only sees musicians. Also the clinic I went to for aftercare was the Performing Arts occupational therapy clinic in Brookline, Ma. They are excellent and really set my mind at ease. Another great resource is Dr. Randall Kertz. He wrote a book, The Bass Players Guide to Injury Prevention. It’s geared towards bassists. It’s been almost a year since surgery and my hands feel incredible, better than I even expected. Please feel free to write if I can be of any more help.

Dave Iannopollo I had cubital tunnel which is the same thing as carpal tunnel only it effects your pinky and 1/2 of your ring finger. It got so bad that I couldn’t even feel my strings with those fingers when playing. I did some research and most of the info I read said surgery was only effective about half the time and I was leery of surgery after I almost lost my arm years ago due to an incompetent physician. I think anyone who plays an instrument would be leery as well. I came across this product called Flextend which claimed a 90% success rate with carpal tunnel. It is a glove that has rubber tubes that you can hook to the fingers that are attached to another band that goes around your upper arm. They gave me the exercises I needed to do for my condition and I felt relieve in a couple of days and was completely recovered in less than 2 weeks. The exercises are designed to make the nerves longer and thinner so they pass through the little bone in your wrist more freely. All I can say is everything they claimed was true and it worked unbelievably well. Check it out at Flextend.com. No, I am not affiliated with them in any way.

John Diss I’ve been playing for 50 years. The surgeon said “get the surgery” the chiropractor said,”let me adjust you” the Neurologist said,” take these”. So I went to the Cleveland Clinic to talk to a Doctor that is also a violinist and treats Cleveland Orchestra players. He said stretching exercises. Make sure you do every other thing besides the surgery first because IT CAN’T BE UNDONE. Relax, stretch out like a marathon runner and TAKE IT EASY.

John J. Carone Elliot: You will probably find that the muscles of your left forearm are extremely tight and painful to deep probing. Goad those muscles with your thumb, make them hurt and eventually they will relax. The so-called “carpal tunnel syndrome” is more likely than a physical narrowing of the tunnel be due to a continal tugging on the tendons by those contracted muscles.. Unless the surgeon can promise at least an 80% success, you are better off with the pain.

Nicole Kallis Clegg Elliott wow! So much positive energy and love here!!! Are you cured yet? Amazing thoughts, advice, personal stories, and all for you! Whatever you decide, it seems the outcome will still remain that you have a lot of really good friends looking out for you. Xoxo and let the stretching, cracking, cutting, and playing begin!

ELLIOTT RANDALL It’s not for me, Nicole :-) I received a message this morning from a guitarist in search of “differing opinions”, so thought I’d ask my friends for their advice/experiences.
…which is that more *more* a demonstration of “how it oiughta be”. No room for selfishness on this page……

Kim Sacks Have’t read the previous comments…. but, I have a friend that is a bassist and an IT guy/engineer. He just had carpal tunnel surgery on both hands about 2.5 months ago. It took him a while to get back to work, but he’s back now and he’s playing in his local church’s band. I haven’t spoken to him about the surgery recently, but I’ll ask him to contribute his thoughts.

William C Zahn Els, Johnny Winter had this surgery about 12 years ago. He would be one to talk to as he has had to make changes due to it. He is still in Connecticut.

David Krouse I had the surgery about 10 years ago on my strumming hand. Although every case is different, I’ve had no complications or physical compromises and have remained pain-free. Good luck.

John Nancollis I don’t know about guitarists, but I believe Steve Williams, drummer from Welsh rockers Budgie, had CTS problems

David Buchanan the surgery works for a while. I suggest you lose weight (if you are overweight) and get acupuncture.. it worked for me.. the great thing about surgery for the insurance companies is they have a procedure they can pay for and then you are off the books.. acupuncture takes a while.. it does not disappear after 1 treatment but weight loss and acupuncture are a lot less invasive…as far as surgery goes what the do not tell you is you might need a additional surgery if you continue to irritate the wrist.. in other words sorry no magic bullet.. feel free to contact me if you want.

David Kahl A very physical guitarist friend of mine had both wrists done at the same time. He swears by it. Others have suggested the acupuncture route. Have seen no complications from surgery, however.

Jon Cobert I had carpal tunnel surgery on my right wrist last year (completely successful, knock wood). i’m a piano player, and understandably was very concerned when they told me i needed the surgery right away. 1) have the nerve conduction test-this shows how compressed your nerve is and is necessary. 2) don’t put it off; you can lose function in your thumb. 3) choose a good surgeon. I highly recommend dr. scott wolfe at the hospital for special surgery in ny. 4) do an open incision, not laproscopic or arthroscopic or whatever. it’s important that they see exactly what’s going on and not look through a little camera. the healing time is about 2 weeks, and maybe a day or 2 longer with the open method. 5) good luck!

Dale Ockerman I have experienced it deeply for decades. Accupuncture cured me, the surgery western style was barbaric in design, no assurance of problem taken care of. I get it right and left wrists as I’m both a rock and roll piano player, and a major third bending albert king fan guitarist. The main thing is once it stabilizes, recognize the signs of stress, and stop playing, stay warm, be calm, dont bend, use lighter strings, think music more than doing scales, etc. Self massage, consider Chi. AVOID SURGERY, IT OFTEN DOES NOT WORK, OR CAN WORSEN YOUR PROBLEM! Read on Springsteen’s drummer Max, he has had many surgeries. I was told my accuracy could change after healing from surgery because of muscle removal to remove nerve pinching pressure and thus neural channels being altered.

Nicky Joe Sonye find someone that is a specialty is “performance hand surgery” – one surgeon said that I needed it… The doctor (micro surgeon too) looked at the results from the EMG test. He said that I was no where near needing the surgery. Do your homework and get a second opinion from someone that works with musicians. My 2 cents.

Dave Alpert Please google the website for John Slosberg, acupuncturist in Portland Oregon. There is a complemntary treatment acus are using for more complex problems. Also, please investigate B-6 supplementation. Not saying either would be an alternative to surgery, but worth checking out.

Don Bailey my business partner plays bass/guitar/keys, and a few years back had the surgery on one of his hands for carpal…he says just do your homework by dealing with a real expert in the field. it’s great that now there are sports medicine doctors, who specialize in musician injuries. Best of luck.

Joe Prest I had the surgery. I went to Hartford Ct. and Dr. H. Kirk Watson did the surgery. My hand was fine and I am able to play classical, Jazz, funk and rock with no issue…well as good or bad as I always could LOL! Anyway, 2 years ago I had what is called trigger finger which happened wile I was playing a Disco tune ( God intervened) and I went to see the Dr. He was excellent 

Susan Moguel Ptashinsky I’ve had 3 trigger fingers, had surgeries on all. Met several that had carpal tunnel surgery in PT. All were successful. OAA ortho specialists in Allentown, PA are amazing. Dr Battista comes highly recommended, did wonders for me. Just be patient with your PT and do your PT and all will be fine.

Paul Fleisher READ “Prescriptions for nutritional healing by James and Phyllis Balch MD.& C.N.C. for starters. Surgery is the last option. Avoid it! What helped me was a good physical therapyist who set up my regime of stretching, weight training, and diet. It works very well for me and the reason I know this is that as soon as I stop doing these daily routines, the hand and body problems return.

Will Iam Another nonexistent disease invented by the surgical community to help make yacht payments… I’ll add carpal tunnel to ADD, ADHD, and generalized hyperactivity disorder to the list of things to be espunged once President Randall is elected this November.

Jon Cobert i stand by my comment and result. the electro-nerve conduction test was conclusive- it’s not a made up condition.

Randall Elliott WOW! This is a GAS, y’all! I asked ER his thoughts but didn’t expect him to poll all you folks (Thanks, dude! You ROCK!). All your responses are GREAT and confirm my directions quite well. In case you are interested…

I play bass and lead guitar about every other Sunday in a worship band. After some occasional numbness 4 years ago, a nerve conduction test indicated light CTS in my fretting hand. Then I came back from a 300 mile cross country dirt bike ride 3 weeks ago with three fingers quite numb and my thumb just SEARING. Between the clutch lever action and vibration in my palm both pretty much did me in.

My Chiropractor said all was well from neck to my fingers. Next, my Massage Therapist has successfully treated CTS before and twice loosened up my median nerve but without any relief …and I SUCKED on one of that Sunday’s guitar leads. *sigh*  My (excellent) Hand Surgeon told me to get another nerve conduction test this Wednesday to verify and we’ll discuss options the following Wednesday. He said a cortisone shot will make it feel better but won’t fix the numbness is still here by now (which it is).
Over 50 years of motorcycles, guitars, chainsaws, manual labor and computer keyboard has taken its toll. I’m still playing bass to stay limber which works well. I’m watching my diet, too, since inflammation plays a BIG role in this and other ailments. Your exercise and physical therapy suggestions are next on the list.

My dad didn’t get his CTS diagnosed until his thumb muscle was fully atrophied. Even after surgery, his fingers are still numb, too. I love guitar waaaayyyy to much to let that happen to me!

As your responses indicate, there is no “one-size-fits-all” cure, but it is better to to the least invasive things first to see if they work. God bless and thanks again for all your suggestions! You all ROCK!

Nicky Joe Sonye Nothing like warming up, and with age it is very important. Cleveland Clinic Preforming Arts Clinic – works with all kinds of folks that use their bodies to perform. They see patients from all styles of music. Jon is correct…the surgeon I saw will not do the procedure until all non invasive treatments. I’ve know one guitarist the surgery fixed his problem. As folks mentioned not every issue is CTS. I have an ulnar nerve problem that is a result of both shoulders being injured in 1981. I know lots about shoulder to finger injury. The surgeon told me he could do more harm working on my ulnar nerve. BTW…this Dr also reattached a guys hand that he cut off with a 10, 000 rpm saw. It took 5 operations but the guy got 95% use of his hand. Bottom line…do your home work. There are drs out there that will use surgery as last resort…I’ve been to them. Also went to a guy that wanted to do the most aggressive surgery that can be done to shoulders. Look for that 2nd – 3rd opinion what ever it takes to get comfortable with the treatment. Unless you’ ve broke a bone (like me once… my femur) which really needed surgery! Do your home work! Still, don’t wait too long either.

Nicholas Luis Sevilla Zamoyski


Carpal tunnel syndrome can be treated with rest, bracing, steroid injections or surgery. For those requiring surgery, Stichless Endoscopic Carpal Tunnel Release (SECTR) is performed to relieve pressure on the median nerve, alleviating numbness and tingling in the thumb, index, middle and ring finger…

Randall Elliott Any motorcyclists & bicyclists with CTS should note: loose your stock grips that transfer vibration to your palms. Better bicycle stores sell big cushy grips with the palm area cut away to reduce CTS. I’m told they fit some motorcycles, too. Sure beats not riding!

Kim Sacks I find a “throttle rocker” helps relieve numbness in my fingers and wrist during long motorcycle rides.

Bruce Malamut Yes, there can be bigtime complications depending on the cause of the patient’s carpal tunnel syndrome. Elliott, please ask this guy if he suffers from spinal problems – also, inquire as to the the results of his most recent EMG. Tell him about mutual friend, the guitarist Bob Welch’s surgeries to “cure” numerous related spinal diseases which were in turn the cause of his extreme carpal. Knowing full well the risk he was taking on that final experimental in-patient surgery, which friends like me begged him not to have. Not to put too fine a point on it. I refused that same in-patient surgery thanks to better medical counsel than Bobby had.


To the music

On Bandcamp


With the artist

On Twitter On YouTube On Facebook On LinkedIn

Sign Up

For the mailing list