Are you a healthy musician?

I was diagnosed with tendinitis in my right hand at the age of 16, which started a long series of struggles, search for solutions, and interest in the field of performing arts medicine

What I've learned from all I had to go through is that non-specialized doctors, particularly sports doctors, have no understanding of musicians and of what kind of physical stress practicing causes, and how to solve any of it. The only consistent advice I got from everyone was to drink water, and some doctors suggested I play less loud or I play less notes!

I tried pain killers, on-skin patches, chiropractic, not playing piano for months at a time, not using my hand for months at a time, Chinese medicines, application gels, acupuncture, apple cider tablets, Alexander technique, and even a cortisone shot (an interesting experience where the doctor ended up pocking himself with the needle he had just taken out of  my arm!).

The recurring theme in the music world was that if I had an injury it was because I was doing something wrong when playing. Some teachers told me that I was playing too tense, but I learned recently that I have the opposite problem. I am hyper-flexible, so I need to "hold" my wrists when playing, because the range of motion is so big that is what actually creates inflammations.

A high percentage of musicians suffer from recurring pains in their wrists, arms, shoulders, backs, and vocal cords for the singers. The most at risk are violinists, harpists, drummers, cellists and pianists.

If a physical injury was caused by people not playing their instrument the "right" way, does it mean that violinists, harpists, drummers and pianists are less good musicians than people playing other instruments?

I don't think so.

I suffered a lot from the stigma that was put on my injury, and the association people made that I wasn't playing "right." I sure hope that as the field of performing arts medicine grows, more and more musicians will understand that as some professional athletes suffer injuries from over doing it, so do some musicians.



  1. When I worked on a cruise ship, I was dating the cocktail pianist. About half way through his four-month contract of playing 4-6 hours a day, on a bench that could not be adjusted (don't even get me started), he started having a lot of wrist problems. He started playing with wrist braces, but it wasn't until he started using a back brace while playing that the problems got better. The lesson here is: don't forget your back exercises! :-)

  2. Hi Deb, the story you tell is unfortunately such a frequent one. The lack of an adjustable bench can really have terrible consequences on pianists.
    I have played more than a few concerts and recitals sitting on a pillow, or on my coat, or on books. And even if those extra props help make it better, you just can never find a balance as good as when on an adjustable bench.
    I say, let's just forbid the making and the selling of non-adjustable benches!!!

  3. Oh interesting. I have tendinitis in my right wrist from playing a tennis shot as if it were badminton 6 years ago, so every time I play (violin, viola, or especially clarinet because it's heavy) it hurts. I haven't spent time and money trying different treatments or doctors, but it sounds like Vitamin B6 might be worth a go!

  4. I've had problems with thumb tendinitis (I study clarinet) over the past year and a half. For me exercise physiotherapy did the trick. After a few sessions, when the serious inflammation was gone (through massage and the fact that my physiotherapist suggested me to move my thumb rest up to lower the pressure on the thumb) we started doing exercices to strengthen the muscles in my thumb, fingers, wrist, arm and shoulders. Some of those exercices I can do at home too (e.g. stretchings of all lower arm muscles). Now I can play as long as I want without any pain (except indeed when forced to play in uncomfortable sitting positions).

    By the way, Geraldine, I love your blog! Lots of interesting articles.


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