Fiddling with Injuries (the ongoing series…)

by adminKFS on · 8 comments

Hello everyone! I’ve crawled out from under my blog rock!

Over the past few months, as some of you know, I’ve been dealing with an overuse injury involving my wrist that has caused me to take a break from playing for a few months and has also limited my time at the computer. Regretfully, I’ve had to cancel most of my summer engagements but I’m happy to report that things are getting better I am now back to practicing- slowly but surely. So I thought I’d write a short piece relaying my story – I think we need to talk more about these issues as musicians- awareness is key to prevention.

Originally, I was diagnosed with having mild carpal tunnel syndrome back in April of this year. I did have a little tingling in my thumb, first, and middle fingers of the right hand, especially after typing and playing. But my main complaint was having stiffness in my right hand, and especially in my middle finger. The only thing that would relieve it was warm water and a bit of movement. The specialist I was seeing recommended that use the splint most of the time to keep my wrist neutral – especially at night- and to take Alieve.

The symptoms seem to have coincided with physical therapy I was doing for my shoulders. You may remember a blog that I wrote a while back, “Fiddling with Injuries “, about a chronic shoulder injury that I was dealing with. My pec muscles have grown extremely tight over the years and I noticed that when I tried to stretch them out I was feeling pain in my right wrist rather than a stretch through those muscles. The specialist said that this could be related to with the issues I was having in my wrist but the diagnoses and treatment was still the same. I was referred to another physical therapist who specialized in performing arts.

To make a long story short, over six weeks things seemed to get worse rather than better. The less I moved my wrist the worse the symptoms got. It was an extremely frustrating process – and expensive. I felt that the specialist and the physical therapist were not listening to my symptoms. In my gut I felt but I was not being treated for my actual condition. By the time it came to the faculty concert, at my first camp I could barely move my fingers at all. I knew then I needed an extended break.

Eventually, I found another specialist and therapist that I trust and carpal tunnel syndrome was pretty much ruled out. A program combining acupuncture as well as comprehensive stretching and conditioning seem to be doing the trick. I have a lot of work to do but I am happy that the symptoms are improving.

So through all of this I’ve learned many things can mimic carpal tunnel syndrome. Finding the right help is imperative and there is a lot of help to sort through. It can seem overwhelming to find the right professionals to work with.

So far so good. I’m gearing up for the Celtic Colours International Festival in Cape Breton in October. I will keep you posted about my progress through this blog.

Please feel free to share any of your experiences with injuries in the comments section. We can all learn from each other!

Fiddling with injuries

by adminKFS on · 6 comments

For the past 3 years, I’ve been dealing with chronic neck and shoulder pain. It started very soon after I enrolled at Berklee. At first it was tolerable. I sought help in physical therapy but after working with two different physical therapists my improvement was minimal. This past summer, after teaching at four week-long camps, I knew I was in trouble when I could not raise my right arm above my head. I finally made a point to ensure I was getting the proper help. I saw a shoulder specialist who referred me to a great physical therapist. I also found a great massage therapist. As of yet, I do not have the problem officially diagnosed as anything in particular, other than chronic muscle tightness and pain. But I do feel I am headed in the right direction.

I’m certain that just because I started to show symptoms at Berklee, the problem did not begin there. One of my private lesson instructors discovered that I had a habit of squeezing the fiddle tightly between my right shoulder (I play left handed) and my neck. I played for twenty years like this so it was no surprise that I was extremely tense in these areas. It took the change of playing from 1-2 hours a day before going to school at Berklee, to playing 6-7 hours a day to notice what this bad habit could do to my body. I wondered why I played like this. Another instructor noticed that my shoulder rest was not contacting correctly to my body so that I had a gap between the shoulder rest and my collar bone. I compensated by squeezing tightly for all of those years.

In addition to this bad habit, I did not take part in any other activities that counteracted playing the violin: no sports, almost no stretching or anything of the sort. I’ve come to the conclusion that the pain in my neck and shoulders is not going to be an easy or quick fix, but rather a lifestyle change.

I am relearning how to play without squeezing. Not easy. But I finally found a left handed shoulder rest and that has helped. When I play, I make sure to take breaks and stretch. I’m also increasing my physical activity and I devote much more of my day stretching and staying active.

Everyone’s body type is different and not everyone experiences injuries despite years of playing and bad habits. The first step to preventing injuries is being aware of your body. If you experience pain, where is it occurring? Are you playing with unnecessary tension? It is very valuable to have a teacher watch you play to look for any inefficiencies. Does the pain occur after a certain amount of time when playing? Taking breaks is always a great idea and be aware of your body’s limits.

For beginners, awareness is especially important. The violin is such an awkward instrument to play, and not being comfortable leads to unnecessary stress on the body.

I’m definitely not an expert on musicians’ injuries, but I am speaking from my own experience. Being aware and getting help as soon as possible is key to preventing chronic injuries. Also, take preventative measures before you experience pain. As musicians, we need to think of ourselves as athletes. Any serious athlete will warm up and cool down as part of their routine. As musicians, our bodies need the same thing.

Here are some resources on the web about common musicians’ injuries:

Also check out this book:
The Athletic Musician: A Guide to Playing without Pain by Barbara Paul and Christine Harrison, The Scarecrow Press Inc, 1999