V.com weekend vote: Has physical injury ever affected your violin playing?

October 10, 2020, 9:47 PM · Our Violinist.com interview with violinist Dylana Jensen earlier this week gave me optimism about the physical problems that can be posed by violin-playing: that it's possible to heal from injuries, solve them, prevent them.

Certainly, playing the violin or viola can cause injuries, such as tendonitis, nerve compression, repetitive strain, etc.

Then again, not all injuries can be blamed on the fiddle, but a lot of them make it harder to play; for example: a broken wrist or shoulder, neck pain from a car accident, arthritis, etc.

injury

Personally, I'm going through an interesting experience called "frozen shoulder," a swelling of the capsule that holds the shoulder joint. The doctor told me that it has nothing to do with playing the violin, it just happens to some people at a certain age. (29, in my case, HAH!) It limits range of motion and causes quite a lot of pain. The doctor said it will "freeze," then "thaw," over the course of 6 months to...several years! Fortunately (knock on wood) I can still play, and if I do a lot of excruciating stretches and some daily yoga, that seems to help retain more range of motion. It certainly reminds me that, even with much care, it's not always possible to control everything that happens to our bodies.

Over the years I've also had episodes of repetitive strain (being left-handed and a writer as well as a violinist). I can thank my early teachers for helping me learn to play in position that has worked ergonomically for me, on the whole. And while I use a shoulder rest, I feel free to let go and hold the fiddle with a balance of head and hand.

Do you have experience with injury that has affected your violin-playing? Did the injury actually come from playing, or from something else? How did you cope with your injury or medical condition, when it came to playing? Did you change your technique? Do you currently have a physical problem you are coping with that affects playing? Please choose answer that best fits, and then share your experience, and your advice for others who might be going through the same thing, in the comments.

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Replies

October 11, 2020 at 03:20 AM · I overdid it practicing the viola a few years back and it wrecked my shoulder and upper arm. More lately, what I am discovering is that violin RSIs are exacerbated quite a bit by computer RSIs. A violist friend told me that I should watch out for "computer and viola shoulder." And I think there is something to what she says.

October 11, 2020 at 04:08 AM · A bit of a left pinky issue (tendonitis-like) from being a little too enthusiastic about trying to get it stronger - lot of Schradieck and other exercises added all at once.

Thankfully, I cooled it for a week and then restarted with less work at a time and it was fine.

October 11, 2020 at 11:38 AM · Multiple injuries, all of them initially non-viola-related -- but playing viola aggravated at least one of them.

Sprained wrist from a biking accident, 2002. Out for several weeks.

Broken hand from a biking accident, 2011. Out for two months.

Rotator cuff strain, initially from helping my parents with home repair after Hurricane Harvey in 2017, then aggravated by continuing to play viola among other things. Forced me to stop playing for a while in spring 2018, then continued to affect me on and off until spring 2020. I took several complete breaks of a month or more. as well as a bunch of shorter breaks, and haven't practiced more than 4 days in any week since July 2018. Finally seemed to be fully recovered around the middle of May 2020.

Whiplash after being rear-ended at a red light this summer. I'm only just starting to play again this month after a 2-month break, and have not gone longer than 30 minutes at a time or played more than twice in a week.

October 11, 2020 at 12:56 PM · A tandem bicycling fall that broke and dislocated my left clavicle. Once it was healed I found that I now need a shoulder rest and all those neural super-highways had to be adjusted to regain intonation.

Now it's Osteoarthritis (OA) that bedevils my wrists, thumbs and fingers to the point where any note above fourth position resides in the kingdom of pain. Fortunately, there is a lot of literature available and my students only stay with me till they are fluent in third position.

October 11, 2020 at 02:28 PM · Two physical therapists have told me my frozen shoulder originated with forward slouch and forward head posture. Poor violin posture, learned young, aggravated by bad computer screen hunch. I've heard it referred to as "doing the vulture."

Exercises for strengthening back, neck and shoulders have mostly healed my shoulder. But when I get lazy about doing the exercises, the pain comes back.

October 11, 2020 at 03:39 PM · At age 22 I was a working pro. musician, enrolled at a major music school, with a highly regarded teacher. All of a sudden I was hospitalized with juvenile-onset rheumatoid arthritis. Everything stopped. I tried to make a heroic come-back, but hard practicing only triggered a relapse, and after a few years I gave up and left the profession. It took about 20 years for the condition to "burn-out" on its own.

October 11, 2020 at 06:09 PM · 20-odd years ago I spontaneously developed pain in the right arm and an ulnar nerve palsy which MRI showed were probably due to age-related cervical spondylosis causing constriction of the intervertebral foramina (although when the surgeon looked at my scans he said "which side are your symptoms?). The loss of strength in my pinky made me prone to drop the bow so I took a 6-month rest from orchestral playing. It still isn't as strong as the left but it'll do.

October 11, 2020 at 08:59 PM · I'm going through the frozen shoulder thing too. I initially assumed it was an overuse injury from playing the violin so didn't seek treatment as I thought it would improve if I backed off a bit.

So when that didn't work out and I finally went to the physio and was told it was a frozen shoulder I was surprised.

The painful exercises (my physio says if they don't hurt, I'm not doing them hard enough) are actually yielding a really good result - I have in just a few weeks a significantly greater range of motion, and back playing as before.

October 11, 2020 at 09:05 PM · I have a blood vessel going around the knuckle in the wrong place; it goes over the bone rather than around the bone. If I play something that requires the pinky to really squeeze (towards the nut), the blood supply is cut off. If it lasts longer than a few seconds, my pinky gets a little numb and fatigue.

Luckily, the situation doesn't happen very often in non-contrived music. There was a few bars in Schradieck that I cannot play too slowly, and I think that's about it.

October 12, 2020 at 01:39 AM · I overdid it with viola practicing and playing in the fall of 2018. I was getting swollen joints in my fingers and wrists. Taking time off, playing only the violin (which is much lighter and smaller) and just playing at rehearsals a few times a week helped me recover. I also stopped doing 4th finger extensions and 1st finger back-extensions on the G and C strings especially. I changed how I fingered things and used more half position and 2nd position. And, I discovered that the way I was lifting and holding my instrument was putting extra strain on my wrist, and now I always support the instrument with both hands when I lift it up under my chin. Since then I've noticed that too much typing on the computer, bike riding on a bike with low handlebars, and doing push-ups can also aggravate these pains, so I've tried to accomodate those also (by limiting computer use, raising the handlebars on my bike to ride more upright, and doing push-ups standing against the wall rather than in the standard way). I also usually only practice 30-40 minutes at a time, or less, before I take a break. So far those steps have kept the pain at bay and I feel fully recovered.

October 12, 2020 at 01:39 AM · Tony, I’m so glad to hear the painful exercises work, it’s gives me hope! I also thought I’d injured myself somehow with playing, but it just was not the problem at hand!

October 12, 2020 at 05:00 AM · Yes. Tendinitis and muscle tension. I’ve struggled with it for 15 years. IT flares up if I play too long. Very frustrating. I have to limit the amount I can play at gigs and rehearsals.

October 12, 2020 at 07:05 AM · I have had both-wrist inflammation due to falls, and though 45 may not be "old", I think more recently I have been experiencing some muscle fatigue on the left arm combined with mild pain, which I have been very careful with, but in a way it has been all for the better. It has forced me to be extraordinarily aware about utmost tension free playing. I think the latter was a case of me experimenting with new shoulder rests after feeling some weakness in the arm after making ut work too hard with a low shoulder rest position. That had always worked for me in the past, but since I am very careful not to harm anything I have opted to use shoulder rests more normally (not too low-though I still do not believe in the SR being overly restrictive... that also brings about lots of tension in my experience.)

My left hand and arm are both feeling 99.5% again, so perhaps it was a temporary situation. But still, it reminds me to always play in the most relaxed and natural way possible, within the obvious constraints of violin playing. Whenever something stings, I stop to check out whether I am playing too forcefully in some way.

Please do not get hurt while practicing/performing!

(I did answer "non playing injuries" due to the nasty few falls I have had a few years ago that prevented me from playing for weeks-much more immediately impactful, though I feel the playing injuries can add up in time, and it's best to play it safe than be sorry. I have been lucky to avoid falling on my wrists for several years, but I have had about three of those accidents on hard surfaces.)

October 12, 2020 at 03:53 PM · Ideally, I would tick "Yes, playing-related injuries" and "Yes, non-injury medical condition that affects playing". I did tick the former.

Playing related injuries: I have had an ongoing issue with my left trapezius muscle. It first became a problem as a teenager, while playing in the pit orchestra, for my highschool musical show that year. Several days of 5/6 hour long rehearsals, plus three shows, really really took it out of me. And crikey, it was excruciating! I could liken that to a broken collarbone (which I have broken twice). The old injury is generally kept at bay these days, as I have far more awareness about tension, proper set up and how to avoid injury.

Non-medical condition that affects playing: I have blue hands! I suffer from Secondary Raynaud's Phenomenon/Syndrome, which is a very painful condition. It is often triggered by cold weather, holding cold items, or even touching things like cold door handles! The associated numbness, makes playing extremely frustrating, particularly in the winter. It takes me much longer to warm up, achieve tricky passages and the joy of practice is gone, for much of the winter season in Wales. I have to be more careful with my warm ups, and generally just taking care of my hands. In the summer, I have the opposite, erythromelalgia, which is swelling instead, with red and puffy hands. cannot win, but it doesn't stop me from playing and having fun! I have good pain management, and generally know how to manage these issues. Autoimmune conditions are tiring, but manageable.

So there is my word vomit about what ails me, no idea if it is helpful for anyone else.

October 12, 2020 at 08:02 PM · Yes, I have had a playing related injury-- my left shoulder really hurt from playing too tense, and possibly with an incorrect shoulder rest and chin rest. Once my shoulder stopped hurting, I tried switching chin rest and shoulder rest, and to focus on form and being relaxed. I also stopped using a shoulder rest to make it completely free. But if I ever find a shoulder rest that feels amazing, I would not be opposed! Mainly I care about whether I feel relaxed and happy when I play, which I do now. Apart from that I am very lucky with my body, and knock on wood, I hope I will stay that way.

October 13, 2020 at 02:45 PM · In July 2017 I fell at Centrum Fiddle Tunes workshop and broke the radius in my left arm. It seemed simple enough, yet the bone didn’t heal in line. I also experienced CRPS (or RSD)which made most everything in my hand and fingers hurt after the cast was removed. The pinky side was affected the most. After two surgeries on my pinky joints and 65 OT appointments, my fingers still weren’t functioning properly enough to play in the symphony. When I started back, I did just as Janet Orenstein did, rewrote fingering in my part sitting at my own stand. I played in the second violin section after being principal 2nd violinist and violist (in my quartet) for years. Now three years later it isn’t functioning much better. My thinking is because of Covid I am not sure I will ever play in an orchestra again. I am still giving lessons though even that has changed as Fall approached... more Facetime and Zoom than outdoors socially distanced. I have switched to 2nd violin in our women’s quartet of over 35 years. My fingers are all tight and the pinky is permanently curved and not quick enough in first position. It functions better in the upper position. A change of attitude about most everything these days is all I can handle. I am grateful that I can still play and teach.

October 14, 2020 at 05:28 AM · -Rotator cuff issue from when I was learning spiccatto and doing it tense and overdoing it (Better now, but still kinda clicky)

-Tinnitus (I got some musician earplugs earlier this year, but meditation helped the most, and there seem to be some promising clinical work on hearing loss)

-I have Raynauds (seems to be primary) and it is much better than it used to be and really doesn't even affect me anymore (Diet, exercise, stress management and meditation all helped)

-I had some bad arthritis, but that went away together with the Raynauds

-I had tennis elbow partly from violin, although it came on suddenly when I was riding my bike (solved completely by using a Theraband Flexbar)

Good times!

October 15, 2020 at 08:27 AM · 1. Right shoulder (bad posture from using computer would be my guess) - Calcifying Tendinits (one type of frozen shoulder, one day woke up with constant shooting pain, couldn't sleep without pain killer, couldn't lift my arm, the calfication will slowly gets absorbed by body over time, but you have to endure the pain during this time.)

2. Both elbows (weight from carrying baby) - tennis elbow repeatedly within one year

3. Left shoulder (bad posture?...)- Scar tissue...I don't know, just something's wrong

So I played violin for 6 years, then I got pregnant. One day when I was about to sleep, both my arms got really sore and numb, the pain came and went like a wave, with few minutes of interval for a couple of hours and caused contraction. Later I found out if I play violin or use hand too much during day time, my arms gets sore like that. So I stopped violin. After baby's born, I got the above symptoms in that order.

Treatment part:

I went for Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy. It injects your own platelets to accelerate the healing process, not covered by health insurance, and are expensive, and treatment hasn't been proven. It is said the younger the patient, the better the healing process. I spend the next 5 years receiving the treatment, not only the above mentioned joints, but together with some other problems I had, eg, mild sciatica pain sometimes.

It took 5 years because my body had so many things to be fixed. A complete course of PRP therapy consist of 3 sessions with the doctor, each session needs to wait at least 1 month in between. *My mom made me wait 2 months, she knew the doctor, she's a nurse, she's had PRP, she found for her, the healing process still kept going after 1 month. She didn't want to waste money (yeah she paid for the treatment, bloody expensive), so she made me wait longer in between each session.

Each session, the doctor would chose 3 places for injection, each place will probably receive several shots. Each place took me 1~2 complete courses of PRP therapy depending on how serious the injury was. I'm not trying to promote PRP, and it probably won't work for everyone, but it's just one possible thing you can look into. So after a hiatus of 5 years, I'm back on violin a few months ago. Hooray!

I'll save this therapy detail for last...skip it if you don't like needles.

For my calcified right shoulder, the doctor first poke a needle knife directly into the calcified part, and try to wash some of it out. He even showed me the calcified "stone" he washed out. Then he poked a hole in the calcified part with needle (you could feel something poking and scraping your bone, errrr. and he went *tsk *tsk, look! The stone is so big it blocked my needle!), then inject directly into the hole so it'll be more effective.

October 15, 2020 at 07:50 PM · When I transitioned from violin to viola I got tennis elbow in my left arm. However, I found exercises which eliminated the pain in a few weeks, and it hasn't come back in the 8 years since. (Maybe I've built up the appropriate muscles.) My primary exercise was eccentric wrist extensions with a 2-pound dumbbell, but I also do wrist flexor and extensor stretches.

There seem to be a lot of violists in this thread - maybe we can come up with a new set of viola jokes. ("Don't arm wrestle with him...")

October 15, 2020 at 11:29 PM · Viola is physically harder to play.

At one point about two years ago, it seemed like every single orchestra in my area -- from professional all the way down to youth orchestras and adult beginner orchestras -- was missing at least half of its regular violists due to injury at the same time.

October 18, 2020 at 02:35 AM · "Minor sprains" comes nearest to what I've had to deal with. They didn't stop my playing, although they were an inconvenience -- because I had to stop to bend and stretch even more often than I do in a normal practice session.

About 5 years ago, I pulled a muscle in the lower back during a workout. I was completing a last set of cable curls for biceps, and I could feel that I was nearing failure; but I pushed on anyway, telling myself: "Come on! You can get 10 reps out of this!" That was a big miscalculation. I had a couple of minor chiropractic adjustments and took 2 weeks off the workouts, but my playing continued. Then I was fine. Every workout injury I've had, I can trace to inattention, slack form, or ego. The culprit this time was definitely ego. Lesson learned. I've been injury free since then.

No playing-related injuries that I recall. I do take a few precautions, though -- like warming up thoroughly, after walking and stretching, before I settle down to hard-core practicing and playing. During warm-ups, I alternate Schradieck-type finger gymnastics and simple vibrato exercises.

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