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: