Sore Hands From Playing Djembe? How To Soothe Them

Sore Hands From Djembe

If you get sore hands from playing djembe, this is worth a read.

​Zombie Horror Djembe Show

A couple of years ago, I was playing a particularly long show. ​​My hands were in pain and I knew they would at least be bruised​. As we approached our big finale, ​​I looked down and discovered my entire djembe was covered in blood.

Hours of playing had opened up a small split in my hand​ and it had bled everywhere. In an instant my​ ​performance turned into ​​a zombie horror ​fright fest.

​The audience were in shock.​ The sound guy was ​wide-eyed. I don't care what you say about 'bleeding for your art', it's not a good look on stage.

I pretended to laugh ​it off and soldiered on, but I was mortified.

​This is an extreme ​case, but ​​it ​shows you what comes from over-exerti​ng yourself. Constantly striking yours hands against the djembe takes it's toll.

​You should accept that some discomfort is unavoidable. ​If you want to drum, ​​there is going to be a price to pay.​ You have probably experienced ​it already.

However, it needn't be a horror show and there are ways to minimize it until it's no longer an issue.

What I learned from my embarrassing gig was that you need to prepare, you need to take care of your hands and you need to know your limits.

​Over time, I ​came up with a routine that keeps my hands supple, ​soft and pain free. I've​ avoided ​thick calloused palms, splits in the skin and unnecessary discomfort.

And I haven't bled on stage since.


The continuous impact of hitting your hand against the drum​ ​can ​result in an over-use ​or​ mild trauma injury​. ​The repetitive strain can ​damage and inflame the ​tissues and leave them painful.

There are a few more symptoms too. You may notice the following after excessive drumming:

  1. ​Sore and bruised hands
  2. Blisters
  3. Split skin on fingers
  4. ​Discolored urine
  5. Small black spots on the palm of the hand

​The good news is that on the whole ​they are usually ​minor issues and ​I have always recovered from them.

My Routine​

​In general, use a little moisturizer​ to soothe and repair hands before and after playing. You will eventually develop callouses that will protect your hands and the tips of your fingers.

​To keep my hands in great shape I use ​this method:

1. Sore ​& Bruised Hands​

If you have sore or bruised hands after a long djembe session, try the following.

​1: Epsom Salts

​Prepare a bowl of lukewarm, very salty water. ​Epso​m salts, like these on the right are great for this.

Soak your hands​ for 10 minutes or ​more.

The warm water will help your circulation and ​reduce ​bruising. The salt draws the ​fluid in your skin out of your pores and reduces swelling.

Products from

​2: Shea Butter

When done, dry your hands and ​rub in some ​shea butter. ​

​Any type should do, but I use this​:

Then give your hands a break!

2. ​Blisters

If you​ develop blisters during or after a session:

  1. Wash ​​them in lukewarm water ​using a mild soap.
  2. Disinfect the​m with a disinfectant alcohol wipe ​to ​rid them of any bacteria. It use these ones ​because they are small and you can keep a few in your djembe bag.
  3. Apply an antibiotic ointment such as this ​to sooth and prevent infection​.

​3. Split Skin on Fingers

Split skin can happen when ​playing hard with dried out fingers. If the skin on your fingers splits, as can happen after a particularly long drumming session, start by cleaning the wound.

Then scrub it with a clean pumice stone such as this one ​to remove any dead skin.

​Once ​your hands are a bit softer, rub in some shea butter​. Make sure your hands are dry afterwards.

Then use a medical paper tape such as Micropore. I prefer this to regular ​sticky fabric plaster tape because it keeps your fingers ​from gettng moisture logged under the tape. 

​​However, that wouldn't suit you if your hands tend to be more sweaty. ​In that case, I would use this non stretch ​athletic tape​.

Don't wrap the fingers too tight. T​hen give your hands a rest until the wound heals.

​4. Dark Colored Urine

​This is an unexpected symptom I had a while back after a long session. ​After a show I went to pee and my urine was a dark brown.

​I was quite taken back, but I had heard of this happening​.

​It went away​ fairly quickly. I drank lots of water and​ by the next day my urine returned to normal.

​If you want to know more, this case study on the ​US National Library of Medicine calls it percussion hemoglobinuria.​

​Tips for Easier Playing

  • Remove rings, watch and jewellery before playing.
  • Some tenderness of the hands is to be expected in beginners, but rest if playing becomes overly painful.
  • Before playing, ​apply shea butter to your hands.
  • If you require more protection, wrap ​​tape around the tips of the fingers before you play​. This will absorb some of the impact​ and can also prevent them from drying out​.
  • Drink water! Keep yourself hydrated to assist the kidneys in repairing damage to the hands.
  • Regular short sessions, rather than infrequent and long ones are better for the hands.
  • ​Discomfort should ease within a few ​sessions of regular playing as the hands become accustomed.

​This is not medical advice. See your doctor ​if you have concerns.

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