Eric Clapton, one of the world's most iconic guitarists, is now struggling to play the very instrument which propelled him to fame.

The 71-year-old is suffering damage to his nervous system so severe it's affecting his ability to play, he told Classic Rock magazine.

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"I've had quite a lot of pain over the last year. It started with lower back pain, and turned into what they call peripheral neuropathy - which is where you feel like you have electric shocks going down your leg," he said.

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The Tears In Heaven singer said "it's hard work to play the guitar" and he's come to terms with the fact his condition will not improve.

As such, Clapton - who has cancelled concerts in recent years due to severe pain - is considering quitting touring altogether.

That said, Clapton also said he'd survived worse having struggled with addiction to alcohol, prescription drugs, cocaine and heroin.

He says because he's in recovery from those addictions, "I consider it a great thing to be alive at all".

"By rights I should have kicked the bucket a long time ago," he said.

"For some reason I was plucked from the jaws of hell and given another chance."