V.com weekend vote: Have you ever had, or currently have, an injury that affects your playing?

May 5, 2017, 7:03 AM · Let's face it, playing the violin is a very physical activity, and when you are injured, that can affect your playing.

If a broken arm or wrist forces you to wear a cast on your arm, obviously this will hinder your ability to play. But other injuries can cause problems as well, such as a neck injury from a car accident or a back injury.

injury-violin
Image by Violinist.com.

The instrument itself can actually cause injuries, such as tendonitis, nerve compression, repetitive strain, and more.

I actually had repetitive strain problems for a while when I was in my 20s -- from writing too much! As left-handed newspaper reporter who played in the symphony at night, I was greatly overdoing it. I wound up laying off of both playing and writing for several weeks and making adjustments to both my playing and writing habits: stretches for before playing, and special implements for writing: an easier-action keyboard and a big plastic spongy thing to put around the pen I used to take notes.

How about you? Have you ever had, or currently have, an injury that affects your playing? Please mark your answer and then describe in the comments.

Thank you to Ella Yu for this week's vote idea. I invite you to e-mail me with your ideas!

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Replies

May 5, 2017 at 02:29 PM · I broke my right wrist ice skating which then needed surgery. I now have a long rod with several pins in my arm/wrist. Luckily I was just starting a music admin job at the time so it was OK that I couldn't play. I did physio and got back an excellent range of motion. One year later I played my first orchestral concert and am playing regularly now. My wrist is a bit stiff so I have to work more on my spiccato, but other than that my playing is normal. One of my doctors said the athletes and musicians always do the best in recovery because they are so motivated!

May 5, 2017 at 02:40 PM · I broke my left ring finger a couple years ago. I was very motivated to do the physical therapy so I could play again.

May 5, 2017 at 03:09 PM · I have never hurt myself seriously in my entire life. Other than minor injuries like minor wrist sprains and finger pinches that forced me to stop playing or play with limited facility for a few days, I have never had injuries that forced me to quit playing for any more than a week. I currently play with literally no pain, maybe except for the occasional chin rest-shoulder rest pinch and inconsistent minor pain which I mostly attribute to something else from a traditional medical philosophy. I have had next to no playing-related pain.

May 5, 2017 at 03:21 PM · Several years ago I was working on something with a lot of 16th notes and I was launching right into it at the start of my practicing without warming up. I think it was the D minor gigue (JSB Partita No. 2). A couple of weeks of that, and my left forearm was relatively sore. I stopped playing for a few weeks and I've never had the issue again. I'm not really sure whether warming up had anything to do with it, probably just wasn't being vigilant about managing tension.

Last fall I had issues with my neck. I wasn't really sure of the cause -- possibly bad ergonomics at my work desk -- possibly something I was doing ergonomics-wise while recovering from an unrelated medical procedure -- but it definitely didn't agree with the violin or the viola, and I had to power through it because I had a recital performance (I played the Beethoven Romance Op. 40). After that I stopped for two months and got PT for my neck, which was wonderful and now I'm back to my usual routine, but trying to be more careful about posture, etc.

May 5, 2017 at 04:42 PM · Lifted something the wrong way 4 weeks ago, soft tissue damage only, but haven't yet tried to start playing again. DV, however, it'll come.

May 5, 2017 at 05:25 PM · Had a shoulder operation that set me back for nearly 2 years. I was able to play after 9 months but not well.

May 5, 2017 at 06:35 PM · Currently dealing with De Quervain's tenosynovitis (tendinitis of the tendons that run from the thumb along the inside of the wrist). It has literally stopped me from playing far longer than anything in the past. Still waiting to see if the cortisone injections (it's in both wrists) are going to allow me to regain my previous freedom. I don't know what caused it - whether it was violin-related or not (left one may have been, right one, not, since it occurred while I was not playing due to the left one). I currently have other health issues and it's possible that they played a role in it. Very frustrating.

May 5, 2017 at 07:23 PM · I have chronic scapulothoracic bursitis in my right shoulder from weightlifting for football(squats, not even an upper-body exercise...). It's caused lots of issues with bowing technique since I started learning, but I think I've mostly figured out how to play w/ good technique without aggravating my injury. The main issues I still have are pain during bariolage and loss of control over my right arm after playing for a few hours when I've not had a cortisone injection recently. Also have carpal tunnel syndrome, but that doesn't cause too many problems.

May 5, 2017 at 07:28 PM · @Paul, I have to laugh at your remark about the D-minor JSB Partita #2.

During the study of this piece this past March, I started haveing severe arm/shoulder/wrist pain. I haven't been able to play since then. Despite Pt and other therapies, my pain persists so it looks I'll have to get surgery to fix my shoulder impingement syndrome. I'm hoping I'll recover in time for September when Orchestra starts up again (and I can resume lessons).

May 5, 2017 at 08:22 PM · Around 1990 I was diagnosed with three "slipped" cervical disks. I don't know what caused this - it was either playing with a slightly misshaped violin neck (semi-circular cross section rather than elliptical - something to be wary of) or it might have been doing too much paperwork across wide king-size hotel beds while on business travel (this was before laptop computers). Whichever, the result was paralysis of parts of my left arm and fingers - to the extent that I could not play the violin for a year. Although I could still maneuver about a cello fingerboard I lost my cello vibrato during that year - so after one concert in the orchestra's cello section I concentrated on orchestra management instead. It also took more than a year for me to be able to control separate motions of my 3rd and 4th fingers on violin (cello fingers work differently).

I was never again able to use arm vibrato on violin, but I have eventually worked up a (I think) rather poor wrist/hand/finger vibrato. (Now at age 82, arm vibrato is no longer an option, anyway!)

At least cautious and lengthy use of a great La-Z-Boy chair solved the paralysis problems and avoided surgery. That was my idea - not my neurosurgeon's.

May 5, 2017 at 09:49 PM · I broke my arm a few times and my Tendon in my left thumb ribbed. I had a surgery and ergo therapy but it still hurts while playing the violin. I just really wanna keep playing but I am scared my tendon cracks again or something happens.

May 5, 2017 at 10:23 PM · I had an issue with my left pinkie in my first year at university, where my tendon went 'twang', no idea what happened, but I was out of action for around a week. Rest is all that improved it.

In my second year, I suffered from excruciating back pain and was referred to a sports injury therapist, who explained that because I had nearly no muscle mass in my back, I was subsequently relying on my frame (bones) to keep me upright through practice and rehearsals. I began the long road of slowly developing more muscle overall.

2 years after finishing university, I was diagnosed with bursitis, and had a lengthy recovery with the help of a physiotherapist. This however did not fix an additional problem that would go undiagnosed for a further 3 years.

Almost 3 years ago now, I was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease called SAPHO syndrome. It is difficult to diagnose and incurable. It causes inflammation of joints, which now include collarbone joints, hips, knees, ankles, wrists, neck and lower spine. It limits movements a causes significant pain. It has reduced my playing far more than any other injury or condition and remains a constant and growing problem.

May 6, 2017 at 12:50 AM · I've had and still have some playing and non-playing injuries. Playing related is arthritis in my left hand first finger base joint that is mostly under control but keeps me from vibrating with my 1st finger, and an inpinged ulnar nerve in my bow arm that keeps me from playing prolonged passages with fast separate bows.

I threw my back out earlier this year and couldn't stand or sit for any length of time, let alone in proper playing position. Several years ago I smashed my right ring finger in a garage door. Still played, but with only 4 fingers on the bow!

May 6, 2017 at 01:35 AM · I have tendonitis in my left wrist which is mainly from learning the guitar many years ago. The violin is better than the guitar in relation to this problem but the tendonitis is still there, lurking in the background.

I also have a right shoulder problem from violin playing. I have never been able to get that sorted out so it limits how much time I can spend on the violin each day. Yoga helps but nothing else I have tried seems to do much.

May 6, 2017 at 03:25 AM · After reading everyone else's injuries, mine is pretty minor, more an inconvenience and only minor pain. Just over one year ago I tripped over my laptop cord, lost my balance trying not to fall, and jammed my left hand pinkie into the wall when I fell. It was broken, but not enough to require surgery. Doctor said the swelling would last for 9 months. He was wrong - it is still swollen and I have trouble playing in tune with that finger.

May 6, 2017 at 03:34 AM · Five years ago I developed right shoulder rotator cuff tendinitis. I was working on Mendelssohn VC, and I was knitting a lot. While I always do at least an hour cardio 5 days/week, I didn't do much strength work at the time. The shoulder is completely recovered now, but it took more than six months of treatment, rest and workout to fully recover. Now I make sure to take a lot of breaks when practice, and keep up with daily strength workout and Yin yoga.

May 6, 2017 at 04:31 AM · I stabbed myself by accident on the right palm when trying to separate frozen food (I'm left handed). I partially cut the nerve that controls the sensations of the inner side of the thumb.

My thumb was numb so I immediately went to a hand specialist (don't stick to a regular doctor, in my case he stitched my hand and told me I didn't cut any nerves).

The hand specialist told me I cut a nerve and that I had to go to surgery, which I did, maybe 5 or 6 days after the accident, the sooner the better when there's nerve damage.

A couple of months after the surgery I can play as if nothing had happened.

Touching the scar gets uncomfortable sometimes but only happens when I massage it intentionally to improve the scar's mobility.

So you know, use spoons to separate frozen food, and ALWAYS go to a hand or nerve specialist after going to a clinical doctor.

May 6, 2017 at 02:15 PM · Long story-short, I was diagnosed with carpel tunnel syndrome and scheduled for surgery. Realizing, I would be without my violin for weeks, I tried one more option. I went to a cranial- sacral massage therapist who fixed the problem which was NOT what had been diagnosed by physicians and surgeons.

I was fine within two weeks.

May 6, 2017 at 03:27 PM · I voted "non-playing-related injuries" -- the second option. The only one I recall that affected my playing was a lower-back muscle pull in early November 2015. It happened while I was doing incline dumbbell presses during a workout. Haven't had many injuries in working out, but I can trace each of them to a moment of inattention or slack form. I was off the gym and off the fiddle for 18 days after this happened. Then I was fine.

I've been injury free now for about a year and a half and strive to keep it that way.

May 6, 2017 at 06:46 PM · I have lost the cartilage in the joint that attaches my left thumb to the wrist. This has made playing violin painful and difficult. Several doctors have recommended having a simple trapeziectomy to end the pain, but, if the surgery didn't go well, I'm afraid this might end my violin playing for good. Is there anyone out there who has had or knows someone who had this surgery? At present, I am playing violin wearing a thumb splint.

May 6, 2017 at 11:08 PM · I never made it to professional level due to my super-short pinkie. A couple of years ago playing on the G string, a joint in my pinkie subluxed and remained mildly painful for about a year. I continued my community orchestras, but limited practising as much as possible.

I am constantly at risk of pinkie and left wrist injuries and need to make sure I relax when playing and rest for a few days if pain starts.

May 6, 2017 at 11:48 PM · Catherine, you should submit a discussion board thread concerning your problem. Robyn, a different hand position may be in order if you haven't checked already.

1. Tuck your elbow in more and move your hand higher so the knuckles are more in line with the fingerboard.

2. Move your thumb closer to the pinky.

May 7, 2017 at 02:24 PM · I fell down last year and turned 3 fingers of my left hand. Took some month before my pinkie could stretch far enough again, but it's ok now...

May 7, 2017 at 11:31 PM · When I was a teenager, I always had stress in the last joint of my left pinkie. The joint would kind of "stick" the wrong way if I made an extension or such, and I'd have to flex it back to get it to "unstick" it ... obviously not practical during fast passages. You do that several times in the space of one practice session and it gets pretty sore. Then if I tried resting it, just when it felt okay then it would happen again, so it was an ongoing problem. I still have that tendency but nowadays I'm just much more careful and it hasn't happened in a long while, maybe once a year or so, which I can manage. Maybe there's a silver lining to having taken 25 years off.

May 8, 2017 at 03:15 PM · My initial injury occurred on the way to church here in Minnesota one icy morning in January a few years ago. I slipped on the ice and went down on my right shoulder. Fortunately, the church's new sexton was walking with me and was able to help me up. At the time, I would usually play for two services on Sunday mornings. Because of the pain, though, I returned home.

What I didn't yet know was that I had torn my right rotator cuff. As I continued to play, the constant bowing aggravated the injury. By December of that year, I had to see a specialist. The MRI showed that a branch of the tendon had torn completely away from the bone. I had to have surgery to repair the rotator cuff just over two years ago.

I began physical therapy about two months after the surgery. By that time, I hadn't played for sixth months. Fortunately, I found a physical therapist who was herself a serious violinist and she helped quite a lot and I began to recover.

Another medical issue arose, however. I developed extreme tremors that caused me to lose control of my right-hand technique. The culprit proved to be a medication that I had taken for almost 20 years. I had forgotten to refill the prescription before Christmas and my supply ran out. But the tremors stopped almost immediately! My doctor has me trying alternatives to it now.

Since January, I've resumed playing a regular weekly gig with a string band and hope to be able to return to the orchestra that I had played with for a couple of years before my injury.

May 8, 2017 at 03:35 PM · Only affected me for a day during my first year of in-school violin lessons. I got a bee sting on the palm of my right hand at recess just before practice. It made the bowing really uncomfortable, but I played anyway. It was gone before the next practice.

Though I've never been severely injured, I was prevented from playing due to poverty. My parents couldn't afford to get me my own instrument until this year. They just found me a nice violin two days ago (for cheap, $200, from a flea market, for my 22nd birthday.) If we had found that before, we probably would've gotten it. I haven't played strings since middle school, because they cut the orchestra program going into high school.

Building up my finger callouses again is the most joyous pain I've felt in quite some time.

May 9, 2017 at 05:36 PM · Here is an interesting and related story from CBC Music.

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