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Erika Burns

Searching for that Silver Lining

August 22, 2010 at 7:31 AM

 I would say I am naturally an optimistic individual. My facial muscles usually produce smiles, and I seem to try to find the best in everyone…except at times, myself. This optimism is balanced (healthily?) by a tendency towards perfectionism and therefore stress. They are constantly pitted against each other—my battle scars tend to take the form of tight back muscles, good grades and performances, and actual scars (note for later: already fought back from an ACL injury to play soccer again). This summer, however, is testing my ability to stay positive no matter the challenge more than any other occasion.

When I was sixteen, I was diagnosed with tendonitis from playing too much without breaks—I’d never even heard of musician-related injuries before. After therapy, I returned to playing, although I haven’t been completely pain free ever since. Fast-forward four summers, and I find myself again unable to play my violin. (I took a summer off when I was seven and regretted the lack of progress ever since. Now it is just devastating to be injured again.) This past year has been a series of progress and relapses. Last summer I was diagnosed and treated for tendonitis while investigating the possibility of a ganglion cyst (expert’s opinion: not large enough to be an issue, waited and it went away). I was recovering for about three months, than was hit with the most severe pain I’d ever had. It was ever-present, and treatment for tendonitis failed to help. My school’s sports medicine doctor and trainer thought it more likely I had a pinched nerve, and gave me exercises to strengthen my shoulders. These worked—and I highly recommend making sure your rotater cuff is as strong as it can be!!!

That should have been the end of my issues, and I should have had a wonderful summer getting healthy. However, moving home from college ruptured my routine, and I found myself in pain similar to this past February. My exercises didn’t help this time, and I often found myself hurting while on the computer or doing household chores with both my hands, not just my bow arm. I feel like my life is a broken record at times. Anyway, when the neck MRI failed to show anything and my doctor said the word “overuse,” I rebelled and have been seeing a naturopath ever since.

Progress is slow. On the other hand, acupuncture has reduced my pain a lot. My new doctor believes in ruling out every possibility before making a diagnose—which has been a wonderful (and novel) approach.

 We consider my pain to be chronic, although the exact timing and location of the pain is unpredictable. The current thought right now is perhaps something like fibromyalgia—but luckily I don’t have all the symptoms of FM. We’re considering a natural medicine that raises the D-ribose levels in the body, which should help restore the body’s natural muscle regeneration along with continuing acupuncture. The goal is to finally get rid of the pain—frankly, I don’t know what it feels like to not expect pain. 

 It has been so hard to stay optimistic when it feels like the last three years of my life have been wasted by something that doesn’t fit most traditional diagnoses. I have faith however that I can get over this, and I pray that it will be soon. Even though I will be starting my second year as a music major soon, being a musician still feels like a dream.

So, you all will probably be hearing more from my adventures in the lands of Detection and Rehabilitation. To kick things off, I thought I would write down those blessings that have come as a result of this hell, and those that are going to get me through this (and I think should, for anyone else going through this right now). 

People haven’t given up on me. It is so easy to give in to all the doubts and misgivings about even trying to fight this. Fortunately for me, my family, teachers, doctors and school have made it clear I am not a hopeless case…and give me an e-slap for even thinking the word “yet.” It also probably helped that I chose to go to a college rather than conservatory—I don’t think I could have lasted in the latter this year.

Discovering some of the causes. Experiencing pain while on the laptop? It’s probably because of the laptop. While I have yet to find a perfect solution, I’ve learned that something about the necessity of ergonomics. Also, I had no idea how weak my core and shoulders were…now it’s time for Pilates and Yoga. Perhaps the fact that all my pain has occurred in years I haven’t played soccer is also a factor.

I’m learning so much about injuries and musicians! This is so exciting. I have so many books checked out, I could start my senior project right now. In fact, I’m thinking about posting some reviews of some of the books I read, because they have so much neat info in them.

I’ll finally learn to practice without the music well. Any suggestions? I’m reading the Art of Practicing but would love other ideas.

I’ve finally had a massage! And learned that I need to take relaxation much more seriously. Perhaps I’ll finally learn to quiet my mind.

This has been a really long post, but it’s been mulling in my head for a while. It is really cathartic to think about the good things that have come about from such horror. I still have my cries on the sofa, and I’m still angry that something as heavenly as music can cause such hurt, but I think that I might have made some peace with my situation right now. And that has to be a silver lining. 

From Dion Ackermann
Posted on August 22, 2010 at 9:47 AM

Erika I have spent twenty years of my life in a gymnasium and have seen how the correct use of exercise and weights have turned weaklings into robust athletes. With the right attitude physical disabilities can be overcome.  To rebel is the worst attitude to have, that makes you over train and go beyond your limits. Start with light weights and exercises that don't cause you pain and your confidence will grow. But don't do it on your own at home, join a gym that is where the inspiration will lift you and give you a positive outlook on life. I have seen miracles and it can happen to you.  

From Alexis Thorne
Posted on August 22, 2010 at 11:27 PM

 I can honestly relate. I had a superficial neck injury (muscles and pinched nerves as well).  It was incurred through a non-musical event, but for a whole month I was in misery unable to freely turn my head. I had spent a deal of time with a physical therapist and have since incorporated light weight training and yoga into my life. Doing that has helped me alot, and although I only takes classes and work out two or three times a week, I definitely feel a huge difference. I'm more relaxed when I play and my heightened awareness of my body has helped me correct my posture and play comfortably. The only downside is that I prob can't go back to my otherwise lethargic lifestyle, but I'll take the fitness and stress reduction any day. 

I actually wish I was more health conscious sooner.

From Julian Stokes
Posted on August 23, 2010 at 12:50 PM

Best wishes for a speedy diagnosis and sustained recovery.

(I am not a doctor - but have you considered food allergies, especially wheat and/or dairy? I used to suffer from aching muscles/joints and it ws only when I spent a week that coincidentally didn't include dairy products that I put 2 and 2 together. )

From Elana Lehrer
Posted on August 24, 2010 at 12:20 AM

I can relate.  I was in a life threatening accident and needed multiple surgeries.  Meanwhile I played violin in excruciating pain but wouldn't give up.  After starting to recover from the last surgery I was hit with a widespread medical issue (only a few months ago) that has yet to be determined.  I've been trying to play for over a decade now without pain, and with lots of setbacks.  I did happen to have a wonderful physical therapist, so, like you, I have some positives to look back on.  I admire your attitude.  I am also seeing a naturopath and had tried D-ribose.... your family and friends are right.  You are NOT a hopeless case.  No one can say they were until their life is over.... and you have so much of your life left in front of you.  Very few people have to give up playing.  Many struggle but play again, so the most likely outcome is, you WILL play!  I wish you the best of luck. 

From charles johnston
Posted on August 24, 2010 at 3:27 PM

 Hi- I'm so sorry to hear of your years of distress, but I'm certainly impressed by your perseverance. You must really love the violin and music. The problem is that doctors, chiropractors, et alia don't understand violin pain at all. I've had countless students with virtually the same litany of complaints. I've always been able to help them because the cause is always the same: when they play, they use muscle groups against one another. Let me explain. Muscles ONLY contract and release. They do NOT push and pull. For example, you use one set of muscles to open the hand, and a different set to close the hand. What do you think would happen if you activate both sets of muscles at the same time? If you activate them with equal force, your hand will be locked in one position. But since you have a "higher" task" in mind, i.e. playing music, you try to override the muscle that's interfering by using more force with the muscle that is supposed to do the job. Before long, that tension will lead to pain. The reason it's hard to diagnose is that the cause of the pain is not where the pain is. Think of a rubber band. You stretch it to the breaking point, and it breaks at the weakest point. But the CAUSE of the break (pain) is the pulling apart of the rubber band, i.e. the activation of two opposing muscle groups. No matter how long you work to recover from this injury, it will be repeated as soon as you pick up the violin again, because you'll immediately start doing exactly what caused your pain in the first place. The solution is learning what muscles you need for a given task, and learning how not to use the opposing ones. How to do that? You may be able to do it with just the information I've supplied. But it would be best if you could study with a product or Dr. D.C. Dounis. He was a physician who understood how the muscles work. Alexander Technique can certainly help.  If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to let me know.   Charles Johnston

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