hand health

All beginners in magic should address their questions here.

Postby Guest » 02/19/03 11:07 AM

hi, my question here is this. i started magic and card manipulation year ago and started experiencing hand troubles! something like tennis elbow? carpel tunnel syndrom maybe? i never came across this subject in any books on cards or any forum. i was practicing with cards for about 3 hours a day but now i can't do it because of numbnes and pain that i know is related to my practicing not any other activity.
first my right hand started to go so i started resting it and practicing more with left(techniques involving left hand) and now i started having roblems with left hand as well.
i dont think its poor technique or hand position, i am working with card college and i found it to be a great book. so there... any thoughts on this? please... :confused:

Postby Pete McCabe » 02/19/03 12:03 PM


Carpal Tunnel is a very complex issue and there is an incredible amount of misinformation and unverified claims going around. So all I can do is tell you about my own issues with it.

I'm a writer and I spend at least 10 hours a day at the keyboard. Carpal Tunnel issues were huge for me until I did two things:

1) Adopted a split keyboard (from datadesk technologies); and
2) Began wearing handeze wrist supports. Just a simple neoprene sleeve; I don't know how exactly it works but for me it does.

Even though your problems seem to relate only to magic, I would encourage you to examine everything you do with your hands. If you spend long hours at the keyboard that may be contributing even if the symptoms only show up during magic.

I would also recommend that you break up your practice into short sessions. Three hours a day is a lot of work. You may need to either build up to that level or take frequent short breaks. (Studies show we learn better in 4 15-minute sessions than a single hour-long session anyway).

I would also recommend that you not switch to your left hand if you right is hurting. If my right hand hurts I will stop altogether and give both hands a rest.

Finally, stiffness and/or soreness in your hands is, in my experience, associated with too much tension while practicing. A softer, looser, more relaxed grip may benefit your hands as well as your magic.

Hope this helps. Carpal Tunnel is not fun.
Pete McCabe
Posts: 2135
Joined: 01/18/08 01:00 PM
Location: Simi Valley, CA

Postby Guest » 02/19/03 12:54 PM

thanks for quick reply to my question, i must add that i am 31 years old and when i read about daily 8 to 10 hour practice sessions by others, i assume they are all healthy 16 or 20 year olds and i am just too old for this. yes i can spend two hours at the time riffle shuffling and i think you are right about the need to break it into four or five instalments rather then doin' it all at once.
i do not spend long time at the keyboard but i think you are right about hand tension while practicing and i am working on that. also hand position is important and for example i found a substitute for a waterfall riffle shuffle that i think is much easier on the hands never mind quieter and prettier to look at.
right now when i practice i wear ace bandage around my wrist and forearm because i dont think the handeze would permit much movement abillity that one would need while practicing.
ace bandage helps.
thanks again!

Postby Bill Duncan » 02/19/03 05:27 PM

Carpal Tunnel is just one of many Repetitive stress injuries that modern day humans are prone to develop. The key word is repetitive.

Instead of practicing a hundred passes in a row try puting together a "drill" that comprises many different moves that use different muscles. This doesn't have to be an actual trick or routine but simply a series of moves that teaches your fingers to think for you.

Do it slowly to make sure each move is perfect in execution... like Tai Chi.

Pete's advise about tension is VERY key. Work for smoothness and a relaxed manner and you'll find that speed comes with time and without the pain.

Bill Duncan
Posts: 1382
Joined: 03/13/08 11:33 PM

Postby Pete McCabe » 02/19/03 05:45 PM

When I was studying classical guitar, I remember my teacher emphasizing that certain fingerings put your hand in a more cramped position, while others put it in a more extended position.

The goal was to alternate, so if the hand was cramped in one measure, it would open up with the next change of position.

I think this can be applied to the practice of moves. Classic palming a card is a contractive move. The Houdini Color Change (aka Erdnase First Transformation) is more of an expansive move, at least as far as the right hand is concerned.

You might want to review the moves you are practicing and see how they feel in your fingers, then try to alternate them to avoid practicing similar finger movements too many times in a row.
Pete McCabe
Posts: 2135
Joined: 01/18/08 01:00 PM
Location: Simi Valley, CA

Postby Guest » 02/19/03 06:51 PM

thank you for your time and thoughts on this subject. what i don't understand is that that issue is not discused more often elsewhere. i can't be the only one (i know that i am not) to have this problem while learning card manipulation.
the "drill" advice is great but i am afraid that i don't yet know enough moves to put together a little practice routine for myself. and for example when i practice or was practicing coin roll... well there is no way around that but just do it till it hurts. i am changing my habits now but thats the way i thought i needed to practice "till it hurts"
now when i practice coin roll i do alternate hands and it feels better already, like i give one hand time to rest a little.
and one more thing, sorry about misspelings this is my second language so...

Postby Pete McCabe » 02/19/03 07:29 PM


I strongly recommend that you do not practice till it hurts. Practice for 10-15 minutes at most, then do something else for 10-15 minutes (or longer).

Practicing for hours at a time will not only hurt you physically, but it is more likely to drill in bad habits that naturally occur when you are first learning a move.

I'd recommend that you spend your non-practicing time doing something even more rewarding and useful to the performance of magic, like creating presentations for your tricks or practicing any of your non-manipulative performance skills (i.e. vocal production, movement, projection, etc.)

Another thing you can do is just think about performing the sleights you are learning. A fascinating study I read about years ago: They took a group of people and measured their skill in dart throwing. Then they divided the people into three groups: one practiced throwing darts, the second did not practice throwing darts, the third did not practice but mentally imagined themselves throwing darts.

The group that practiced got better.
The group that did not practice did not get better.
The group that mentally practiced got better. Not as much as the group that actually practiced, but more than 50% of the improvement.

Finally, you can always learn a sleight-free trick or two, which you should be able to practice without pain.
Pete McCabe
Posts: 2135
Joined: 01/18/08 01:00 PM
Location: Simi Valley, CA

Postby Guest » 02/19/03 08:23 PM

I am not sure it is a good idea to practice manipulation for hours on end.
Less is more.
A little can go a long way.
After all, a really good close up magician (I assume this is what we are discussing) only NEEDS half a dozen card sleights at most along with a few more sleights with coins, balls, cigarettes and thimbles perhaps.
Anything more than this is superfluous although
certainly useful if it is not taken to excess.
Some of the worst performers that I have ever seen are skilful beyond the bounds of necessity.
They are so caught up with their technique that they forget what they are supposed to be there for. To make the magic entertaining.
The real skill of a magician is not the technical part. In fact too much of this can actually destroy the simplicity of a good effect.
No, the real skill is ...................

Ah. No point saying it. I am sure everybody knows what the real skill is. If they don't they shouldn't even be doing magic in the first place.

Postby Dave Shepherd » 02/19/03 08:33 PM

I think it's worth pointing out here, too, that the brain actually needs time to process the physical work your muscles have done.

Very often, I am much better at any motor skill (such as sleight of hand or guitar/bass playing) after I take a couple days off from practicing. This is particularly true if the impetus for my taking a break is tiredness.

I'd say (as has Pete) that you should really respect the fatigue you feel, and stop when you feel tired. That's when the brain is going to work on your muscle memory to make the movements a permanent feature of your body's "movement set."
Dave Shepherd
Posts: 423
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: 15 miles w. of Washington, DC

Postby Guest » 02/19/03 09:33 PM

Try Handhealth.com . He has many products to help with general hand fitness.

Postby Guest » 02/20/03 11:34 AM

yes. all your advice is exelent, right now i am taking couple of weeks off from cards and resting my hands.
i also did a search here and found someone with same problem, he posted his question more than a year ago i think that is why i didn't see it right away.
super help, thanks again :)

Postby Guest » 03/15/05 02:21 PM

I just ran across this new gizmo for hand/wrist health:


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