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The Weekend Vote weekend vote: Has playing the violin ever caused you physical pain?

December 12, 2010 at 3:10 AM

Is playing the violin a big pain in the neck for you?

It has been, at different points, for me. For a while I had neck problems, and I had to start doing a series of neck exercises to keep from seizing up. Then, I also had some over-use issues, as I write with my left hand and had a job that involved taking a lot of notes. For that, I simply had to stop playing (and writing and typing) for two weeks.

My back certainly gets very tight, especially on the right side. Yoga helps this greatly. In fact, yoga has pretty much kept me from being injured for a very long time.

How about you? Has the fiddle ever caused you pain, and how did you cope?

From Michael Divino
Posted on December 12, 2010 at 3:35 AM

 Neck and hand, although I voted just for neck. 


For my neck, I've been much more aware of the level of the left shoulder.  I used to get horribly tense in my lower left neck., which I'm sure cause the tension in my left hand between the index finger and thumb.  Things are much better now!  Proper set-up is a must.  :)

From Jim Hastings
Posted on December 12, 2010 at 3:59 AM

For a while, after starting with a different shoulder rest, I had some neck aches; but when I adjusted the right side of the SR so that it rested firmly on the upper chest, that took care of things.  I was able to keep the head more erect and could play for longer stretches just fine.

I like to stretch out my hands and arms frequently during practice.  The "take a bow" strategy also helps me stave off any gathering tension.  During practice mini-breaks, I start by tilting the head downward toward the floor, then upward toward the ceiling, then side to side, 'round and 'round.  For me, this really stretches and relaxes the neck and back muscles.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Side note about lower back problems: A lot of folks complain about them.  One factor with some sufferers is weak abs (abdominal muscles).  When the abs are weak and out of condition, the lower back will try to compensate for the deficiency, taking over the work that the abs should be doing.

From Daniel Robbins
Posted on December 12, 2010 at 4:29 AM

   Early last summer before I developed calluses on the first two finger tips of my left hand, a few times I felt a burning sensation when sliding on my first finger on the E string.  It felt like a hot wire was being slid against my finger tip.  Since it was near the end of the night of playing at the restaurant, I wasn't too concerned.  I may not have felt that sensation again since my finger tip soon hardened into a callus.  

   Also, at the end of a few weekends of playing about 13 hours at a different restaurant, a finger tip or so was aching, almost a bruised feeling.  Since it was near the end of the long weekend, it didn't bother me much.  This seemed to be paying dues.  Also, I had 4 days off from playing after it started aching, aside from some practicing on my own, and so that feeling went away before the next big weekend of playing.  

From Yixi Zhang
Posted on December 12, 2010 at 4:48 AM

You can experience pain in almost any part of your body by playing violin improperly. I had sciatic pain on my left leg due to improper practice of the violin.  Alexander Technique fixed it. I discussed this issue in some detail in a thread and Buri made some very good comments there.

From Roland Garrison
Posted on December 12, 2010 at 7:36 AM

I'm not the most flexible, and I have developed pretty thich tendons from years of manual labor. My hand and wrist has a hard time flexing like it should. I adapt with poor technique, but I try to improve. I hold on to the thought that if I really practice like I should, eventually my hand will develop the flexibility it needs. Until then, I need to limit my practice time to shorter sessions with breaks in between.

From Julian Stokes
Posted on December 12, 2010 at 8:34 AM

I voted no - starting the violin again has worked to relieve me of pains caused by typing and hunching over a computer keyboard. Then again, I am much more RSI aware than I used to be. And less likely to engage in self-injuring behaviour.

From elise stanley
Posted on December 12, 2010 at 10:03 AM

I voted 'no' too.  There have been twinges here and there but, as above, I'm rather sensitive to over-use injuries - probably something learned from dancing.  If it starts to hurt find out what you are doing wrong!!

On the other hand, I'm an amateur with a maximum playing time of about 3 hrs a day.  The real problems must come for students and pros that play as their main occupation. 

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on December 12, 2010 at 10:27 AM

 It's no for now, but I had issues with back and neck pain, especially during orchestra rehearsals, when I was younger.  These were solved by a different shoulder rest (Kun) and visiting an Alexander Technique practitioner.  They came back for a while when I started playing the viola, but I found that a 15.5" viola was more comfortable than a 16".

A couple of years ago I had wrist and arm pain that I thought might be due to the viola, but it turned out it was due to my arm position when riding my bike to work.

From Deborah McCann
Posted on December 12, 2010 at 2:42 PM

Until I had a major car accident, it did not cause significate issues.  But now I have neck issues and have to pay close attention to chin rest and shoulder pads.  Also, not mentioned, but dental issues.  I have to use dental wax between my teeth on the left side, as I am older and was born with delicate teeth.  This cuts down on the cracking of teeth that are not yet crowned.


From Richard Watson
Posted on December 12, 2010 at 3:37 PM

 I played on a large viola, almost 18". By midway through the third act of Tristan I was exhausted and the back muscles were really tight. I never found out whether a smaller fiddle would have made this marathon any easier, but those dozen reps were really tough.

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on December 12, 2010 at 3:57 PM

All of these.  Until I changed a few things with help of my teacher.

Ice, anti-inflammatory and technical change is the best cure...

From Eloise Garland
Posted on December 12, 2010 at 4:42 PM

I've never had any major issue related to playing the violin. Of course I've had some neck twinges and muscle aches if I've played for too long, but nothing to force me into taking a break for a while. I did seriously injure my right wrist just over a year ago and had it in a cast for quite a few months (far too many!!) with absolutely no physical therapy to follow. This does mean I have to be extra careful with any wrist movement that involves it twisting or changing angle suddenly in any way. (A few weeks ago I was shopping and placed a carton of juice in the basket. The result of that action strangely enough ended up with an excruciating pain shooting through my wrist!). It reminded me of how careful I do have to be when playing the violin and make sure I warm up thoroughly before hand.

From Lawrence Price
Posted on December 12, 2010 at 4:54 PM

The only time that I ever had any pain associated with playing was when I stopped using a shoulder rest for a couple of years and began having a consistent sharp pain in the middle of my back.  Once I returned to using the dreaded rest, it immediately disappeared.

From Karl Kummerle
Posted on December 12, 2010 at 10:07 PM

Lately I've developed wrist pains from the 6 or so hours of playing I do daily... I put myself on a regime of ice, proper posture, and the same series of finger stretches used by those Russian pianists who practice 14 hours a day. Seems to have cleared it up for now. A shoulder massage helped too. ; )

From Helen Harvey
Posted on December 13, 2010 at 1:36 AM

i tried to vote for more than one, but couldn't.  Pain is a signal I"m doing something wrong.  I analyze which muscles are involved, try to figure out the offending tension, and relax or reposition that body part.  Pain in my rhomboid major was fixed by bringing the violin more in front of me.  Pain in the neck... well... i need to relax the shoulders and find a taller chin rest-- where???

From Janis Cortese
Posted on December 13, 2010 at 5:44 PM

I'm not sure whether or not mine count since I'm still settling in, but scroll hand is generally my most problematic area, pretty much same as for everyone else.  I use my hands an enormous amount -- LOTS of handwork as a hobby, especially this time of year -- and viola is without a doubt the most ergonomically challenging of all.  I just try to take breaks and don't do stupid things like learn how to do one neat thing and then do it for an hour solid.  Ask me how I learned not to do that.  *eyeroll*

From Janine Bithell
Posted on December 13, 2010 at 7:24 PM

YESS! in my shoulders! it gets very very bad and forces me to stop playing.

From Trevor Jennings
Posted on December 13, 2010 at 7:38 PM

When I read about "those Russian pianists who practice 14 hours a day", the phrase "get a life" keeps popping up in my head. Can't think why ;-)

The answer to the vote for me is "no", both in the present and past.

From Maurizio Cassandra
Posted on December 14, 2010 at 10:30 AM

 When i was twenty years old, i studied many ours for an examination, and i had big problem with my left hand. I can't play for two years and i visited many doctors without result ,because after sometimes the problem began psycological. However now i know that the problem was caused by an incorrect vibrato. Don't worry there is always a way to play again. But in my life i knew violinists with great problems to right hand after a life as enfante prodige :(Corrado Romano,Serghey Diatchenko,Salvatore Accardo, Y. Menuhin,) and only Accardo and Menuhin with yoga coud play again but only for a few years. I am sorry for my english.

From Queenielou Quita
Posted on December 14, 2010 at 1:10 PM

Neck, Hand & Shoulder :D ^^

From John Cadd
Posted on December 14, 2010 at 2:16 PM

Tell us about the furniture you use and how it affects your posture. Do you try to keep a straight back when you sit? Does your sofa let you sag out of shape?  Are you overweight?  Does playing keep you slim?

From Elana Lehrer
Posted on December 14, 2010 at 6:38 PM

 Yikes.  The numbers of people injured are higher than I ever could have guessed and reading this is sobering.

I've never had any injury due directly to playing.  Might I ask a question to those of you experiencing injury--when did it start?  I don't know if I've just been lucky or perhaps these things don't start until later in life.  One thing I do know is that naturally, the curvature of my spine is exaggerated.  Just the way I'm put together.  I've read that people with this build are prone to back injury.  Perhaps I should start yoga before it's too late?

From Trevor Jennings
Posted on December 15, 2010 at 1:03 AM

I think we should be careful in interpreting the results of this poll. It is incorrect to deduce that 21% of violinists have no ailments attributable to playing the instrument. To start with, the poll is informal and not a carefully randomized poll of the population such as market researchers or political party pollsters might use. The results we have here tend to be self-selecting in that those who have physical ailments attributed to playing the violin will naturally be more likely to post than those who suffer no ailments, so there is an in-built bias to be considered.

Further, only a small proportion of the membership of are posters to the forum. I do not have the figures but I would make a guess that the number of posters is in the hundreds, out of a membership of about 27K. This is suggested by similar figures from another music forum that has a membership  of about 68K, of which only a few hundred actually contribute posts. In forums of this nature there will of course be a much large number, not easily quantifiable, of non-posters who are readers only (i.e. the "lurkers") and who rarely, if ever, post.

Bearing the above points in mind I am inclined to discount the 21% of "no" votes as being significantly too low to reflect the real number of  violinists who suffer no ailments from playing their instruments. However, I think we can legitimately make some useful deductions from the poll results about the relative incidence of various ailments within the total of those with ailments if we discount the "no" votes and concentrate only on those with ailments.

Concentrating on those with violin-related ailments only (198 votes) I would therefore amend the available results to:
neck problems 29%
back problems 28%
arm problems  23%
hand problems 20%

Combining the categories of ailments, we have, as a percentage of ailments:
body (neck and back)  57%
limb (arm and hand)   43%

From Maggie Burton
Posted on December 15, 2010 at 2:50 AM

 Tendinitis and thoracic outlet syndrome and a host of other diagnoses! I went to physiotherapy, did Alexander technique (my saviour!!) and was really careful in everything I did for 4 months and took time when I needed it for small breaks (week-2 weeks at a time). I now only play for 30 minutes at a time then break for 5 minutes but I'm no longer unable to play because of it. My back still hurts sometimes at the end of the day but I do my stretches and ice my wrists and I wake up feeling great the next day. 

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