Most of us who play guitar have experienced some type of playing-related pain at one point in our development. Sure, not every ache and burning sensation turns out to be serious, but I am going to share my personal experience that will definitely open some eyes, hopefully benefit others, and also hopefully encourage others to share their experiences, as well!
I will start off by stating that, in my opinion, any type of recurring pain is cause to stop and evaluate some things. Ideally, the solution may require something as simple as a slight adjustment of technique. On the other hand, it's far better to seek professional advice, as opposed to just guessing and rolling the dice in hopes of a quick fix. Here's my story:
In early 2015, I developed a slight pain and tingling sensation in my right index finger (my picking hand). I ignored it for weeks, until eventually I literally woke up one morning with a shooting pain down my entire right arm and my right index finger completely numb. The sensation in the entire arm would come and go, but the index finger was numb 24-hours-a-day. Even still, I waited a couple of more WEEKS until I finally mentioned this to Pebber.
His advice? STOP PLAYING IMMEDIATELY, AND SEEK OUT A CHIROPRACTOR WHO DOES KINESIOLOGY MUSCLE TESTING AND ACUPUNCTURE. I found such a chiropractor, and within minutes of my very first visit, I was informed that the reason for the pain, tingling, and numbness in my right index finger originated from a disc at the base of my neck, behind my right shoulder! It was this cluster of nerves which were affecting my entire right arm, all the way to the tip of my index finger. I completely stopped playing; never even picked up a guitar, and it took about 4 months of weekly treatment (chiropractic adjustments and acupuncture) before I was able to start playing even the most basic picking and warm-up exercises again. This may seem like a long time to some folks, but it was the BEST advice and one of the BEST decisions I've ever made in my life.
Pebber knows probably hundreds of musicians who have had similar issues, and he is full of cautionary tales about what can happen when seemingly minor pain goes undiagnosed and untreated. He knows guys who have ruined their entire professional careers, because they did not bother to take the time to address such issues, or because they tried to start playing again way too soon!
Obviously, I am not trying to alarm anyone. I am just advising anyone experiencing recurring pain to please go get it checked out professionally.
On a final note: If for some reason you end up seeing a doctor who immediately starts talking "surgery," I would seriously advise you to seek an alternative treatment. Pebber and I have known guitarists who were diagnosed with something like "carpal tunnel syndrome" and told they must have surgery. Yet, these same guitarists sought alternative solutions and were eventually completely cured WITHOUT having to go under the knife.
Again, I hope my experience helps some of you, and I look forward to reading about your experiences!
STAY HEALTHY! PRACTICE WELL!