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Heather Broadbent

Violinist Recovery from Broken Wrist - Finger Strengthening

January 11, 2013 at 1:53 PM



November 2010, Thanksgiving week, was a Mexican vacation I will never forget.  It was the vacation when I broke my left wrist.  It was a very strange incident or accident rather. I was walking down some rocky stairs without a railing, hit an uneven step and down I went.  Right before the tumble the words came to me "Everything will be all right."  I didn't tuck my hands under when I fell - no, I fell right on to my left hand, it stung and my eyes smarted.  I got myself up and spent quite a bit of time after the fall in hot tubs.

As soon as I returned to the states, I got out my violin to play to make sure everything was OK.  I was a bit surprised to have pain in my fourth finger every time I used it especially past third position.  I went to the Doctor and they took x-rays but did not find a fracture.  So they diagnosed it as a sprained wrist.  As all musicians know this is a very busy time for concerts.  I had a very special concert along with my regular Christmas season Orchestra concerts and gigs.  December 17, I was invited to showcase myself in all aspects.  This concert included my students playing with me accompanying them, my solo playing of Piazolla tango, Paganini Caprice, Bach Sarabande, and La Paloma violin and guitar duet.  After all of this I played with two rock bands.  It ended up being a three hour concert.  I did this with a small brace on my wrist and I was using pain patches given to me through physical therapy.  After the concerts were done, I visited my family in Utah and did not touch the violin hoping that with rest the pain would go away.  My oldest brother Tom, saw how limited use I had of my wrist and being a volunteer fireman with some knowledge of broken bones he told me my wrist was broken.  I told him no, they took x-rays and found nothing.


When I returned to Wisconsin, I knew I needed more tests.  I don't remember how, I think it was a referral from my GP, I was able to have an MRI and they finally found the fracture.  I had fractured my hamate bone.  It is a very rare break and is very difficult to heal.  The doctor said I had a five percent chance of healing and a smaller chance to heal correctly.  Immediately I was put in a cast.  Now remember this is over a month from the initial break and I had played hard on this broken wrist.  At this point in my life - music was my life.  I knew no other.  I practiced at least three - six hours a day, studying with Rachel Barton Pine, performing recitals, working as a orchestral violinist in over twenty orchestras and teaching my private students accompanying them all on piano and here I was with a broken wrist.  I was sick.  I had to have the cast for a minimum of eight weeks, which actually turned into twelve weeks.  I couldn't type, play the violin, obviously, or the piano.  At least I could still swim with the cast.   I was so glad the cast was removeable this way after I went swimming, I could put on the new cast.  I requested two casts so I could go swimming.  If I didn't have swimming in my life at that time I don't know what I would have done.  There were a few months I couldn't use my arm at all so I found many different ways to swim using the rest of my body for example only kicking, dolphin kicks on side, back and stomach.  I was very creative.

I honestly don't remember what I did with my time except for watching youtube videos, reading books on musicians and thinking about what I can play as soon as I could play again.  I did a lot of soul searching  - I had a lot of time to think and looking back, I needed this catastrophic event to re-evaluate my life.

I was so thankful that I was still able to teach my students.  They were what got me through that difficult time.  I remember there was a snow day and the students couldn't come to my door.  We were all snowed in.  I was devastated.  What was I to do.  It was a very difficult time for me  to avoid the depression doldrums.  I had to stay positive that my wrist was going to heal - I knew nothing else in my life except for being a violinist.

In February, I was able to see dear friends of mine perform at Carnegie Hall.  This was a great diversion for me.  In this picture you can see me with my cast.  I tried to hide it in all of my pictures and this is the best picture to see the cast.


The cast went all the way up to my elbow.  As you can see in this picture my fingers were like jello.  I lost all muscle definition in them and they were the weakest they have ever been in my entire life.

At the end of March, I received great news based on a cat scan of my wrist - I was very lucky and my wrist did heal perfectly against all odds.  That was just the beginning - I had to go through three months of physical therapy.  When I first tried to play the violin it was an impossibility and that is not an exaggeration.  I couldn't even turn my wrist to face the violin.  I couldn't even hold the violin let alone put my fingers on the fingerboard.  It was more painful to turn my wrist to play the violin than the actual break.  I practiced very small increments once I could get my fingers to the violin.  I had support from other fellow violinists that had more catastrophic injuries than mine.  Violinists that I never knew had problems - we were stand partners and they were and are great players.  After my injury, I learned that one lost the tips of his fingers with a table saw accident and another had ruptured her tendon and could not straighten her fourth finger.  I had no idea until they told me and they only told me to help me.  I knew if they could pull through that I could too.  By the end of April 2011, I was back playing my normal concert schedule with the orchestras combined with ice and physical therapy.

So hopefully this post will be helpful to other musicians with injuries.  Besides stretching every day, I had a few tricks to help regain strength in my left hand.  The therapists had me use gripmasters.  I started with very small weight and then slowly increased.

I also squeezed different sponges - again starting with easy and increasing the difficulty.

I have used Chinese Balls as well.  You want to eventually be able to roll them in one hand without having them touch.  The chimes are wonderful for relaxation.


For any pain, I have always found Tiger Balm to work the best for me.


This is the finger strengthening exercise I use with my students young and old.


Please know I am not a physician or a therapist. This is all based on my life experience. If you are having any pain issues please see a physician, chiropractor, therapist etc. Everyone has different issues and different bodies.

Now looking back - it had to happen - I had to break my wrist and have performing completely absent from my life for a short time in order for me to re-evaluate and grow as a person. To climb the next steps in the ladder of life..........

Happy Healthy Practicing

Heather Broadbent

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From Randy Walton
Posted on January 12, 2013 at 2:34 PM
Now looking back - it had to happen - I had to break my wrist and have performing completely absent from my life for a short time in order for me to re-evaluate and grow as a person. To climb the next steps in the ladder of life..........

Why is it that we sometimes have to hit absolute bottom before we can progress?

I'm glad that everything turned out well with you and that you are helping others in their quest for musicianship on the violin.

From Rocky Milankov
Posted on January 12, 2013 at 3:47 PM
Thank you for sharing your story Heather.
From Heather Broadbent
Posted on January 13, 2013 at 8:26 AM
I agree completely. For me I was so focused in one direction that the only way for me to "see" was to have that focus taken away from me. I can honestly say that if I hadn't broken my wrist over two years go that I would not be where I am now. I would not be blogging, making videos or living in Bulgaria playing with the Chamber Orchestra.

"I'm glad that everything turned out well with you and that you are helping others in their quest for musicianship on the violin."

It was all meant to be - Thank you for your comment:)

From Heather Broadbent
Posted on January 13, 2013 at 8:32 AM
Rocky - Thanks for reading:)
From Charles Cook
Posted on January 15, 2013 at 11:53 PM
It's a really bad idea to bang the fingers down on anything. Low and light, not high and hard.

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