Burning right shoulder

December 11, 2006 at 04:15 AM · Okay so here's the issue.

For about a year or so My right shoulder has burned when I play violin. I can also move a certain muscle or something like I can tense my shoulder in a way I can't my left one and my hands and wrist of my left hand hurt sometimes. My shoulder is so bad that when I play for a short period of times it burns so badly that I have to stop. This has happened in concerts and everything. Is this serious? what could it be? I think I should go to a doctor but what good would that do? thanks for the help!


Replies (31)

December 11, 2006 at 04:45 AM · Greetings,

yes, you should go to a doctor and get some kind of diagnosis. If nothing else it might give you some sens e of the problem. Find one who has helped other musicians that you know.

It is basically pointless to continue playing with what may be a serious problem, especially if left to its own devices. Burying your head in the sand like an ostrich is the worst thing you can do. It may be somethign simple that rest and ice will cure. or you may need to deal with the intial pain and then go to , for example, Alexander lessons and find out what you are doing to yourslef when you play, and at otehr times which is causing such pain.



PS My neighbours cat is called Po Po

December 11, 2006 at 04:59 AM · What Buri said, and make sure your shoulder is remaining neutral when bowing, play from the elbow, and keep both elbow and wrist relaxed--after you get a fix on what is happening.

December 11, 2006 at 05:07 AM · I'm certainly not medically qualified, but having been there a lot lately it sounds like a nerve is being impinged. Check it out before you get serious damage.

December 11, 2006 at 08:29 AM · Playing violin means doing sports for your body. At some conservatories here (Berlin, W├╝rzburg, Hannover etc.) it became obligatory for new students to be introduced to special music-health-institutes (e. g. Berlin). The docs there are mostly musicians theirselves or specialized in typical musician illnesses. A diagnosis isn't that much worth, if you don't know how to prevent it on your instrument (!!) or how to support your body, when you're not playing (Feldenkrais, Alexander, sports, Yoga, Tai Chi, massage etc.).

I were their once, you've to take your instrument with you ("Play a minute and I'll tell you, where it hurts."). Check out some institutes in the U.S., you might find some addresses or ideas on this really confusing website.

At least you should send some mails to institutes (Medical Clinics for Performers (in the US and Canada) and ask for appropriate institutes or docs in your state, maybe you describe concretely in 10 lines, what happens (when do the pain appear? how long? any possibilities to ease the pain with moves? just playing violin? etc.)

Institutes like the Texas Center for Music & Medicine sounds good for this purpose: "The Texas Center for Music & Medicine includes an interdisciplinary team of musicians, music educators, clinicians, and research scientists. The Center represents educational, medical and musical resources, brought together to study, treat, and prevent various medical problems associated with learning and performing music. Clinical resources are available for both students and non-students. Clinical care is provided through the Center for Performing Arts Medicine at the UNT Health Science Center in Fort Worth, the UNT Counseling and Testing Center, and the UNT Speech and Hearing Center."

They should send you some addresses.

Maybe it's a good idea to be seen with other eyes (not yours, not your teachers) as well: ask a good violinist in your area to check your pose, equipment and approach.

Visit a doctor, one paragraph of that strange site sums it up:

"Therapists and doctors know that musicians are notoriously hard to persuade to reduce or stop their playing to allow injuries to heal, and some instructors (or even parents) may tell students to ignore pain, or accuse them of trying to avoid practice. But "No Pain, No Gain" is a disasterous policy for a musician. If it hurts, back off. THIS IS SERIOUS STUFF: is it worse to have to not play for a few months . . . or to risk a permanent injury, disability, pain, and never playing again?"

December 11, 2006 at 03:04 PM · Hi,

Do you raise your right shoulder when you play? From what you're saying, it sounds like that happens. Also, your bow arm must be tense.

One of my previous teachers used to tell her students to play with the shoulders against a wall next to doorpost. Why not any old wall? Because your bow will run into it!

As far as your bowing technique goes, it's difficult to know without seeing you, if that's the problem, or what the problem exactly is. Feel free to e mail me if you want to provided more details.


December 14, 2006 at 05:17 PM · I suggest going to see the doctor immediately, and stop playing till he/she gives you a diagnosis.

It could be a tear inside the shoulder. It happens to many orchestral players.

After it heals, and some therapy, you could find a teacher to discuss ways of improving posture etc.

December 14, 2006 at 05:24 PM · Great and appropriate advice from everyone. Health comes first and is indeed nothing to put off doing something about.


December 14, 2006 at 05:44 PM · since i have no idea on the specific nature of the pain, where, how, when, it is tough to suggest a direction. for soft tissue pain, some require nothing but rest, some require a better understanding of the mechanics and lifestyle modification as mentioned above, some require serious attention to avoid irreversible damage to a tendon called supraspinatus which often gets inflamed when it glides under a bony/spiny area called the acromion process of the scapula, thus the common term, shoulder impingement, or rotator cuff tear, a condition that may be diagnosed clinically and confirmed on MRI.

i don't want to say too much so that you will have nightmares, but IF the tendon injury is severe (play through pain for a long time is a sure way to get there), surgery may be needed. but lets not go there.

here is the dynamic between me and my dentist fyi. every time i have a toothache, i always wait, until it hurts more and so bad that i have to go to see him, a nice korean guy that has beautiful opera music from the speakers. he always goes: you know, if you would have come in earlier, we may not have to do the crown.


December 14, 2006 at 08:16 PM ·

December 14, 2006 at 08:15 PM · to me it sounds very much like a rotator cuff tear.

Please see your doctor asap!!!

December 14, 2006 at 09:29 PM · It has only been recently that I've figured out how to play the violin without pain in my right shoulder. It still flares up now and then, but it's dramatically better now - thanks in part to comments from violinist.com. (no, I wasn't paid to say that...)

I originally injured my shoulder as a high school wrestler...and continued to aggravate it by playing the violin.

I was always told by everyone that I was raising my right shoulder, but it was a bad habit and hard to stop.

I'd seen doctors and physical therapists over years and years and they all said that I had a few weak muscles in the rotator cuff. Nothing serious that a little physical therapy wouldn't cure. But it sure didn't feel or work out that way.

When I learned how to swim well, I found that that really helped my shoulder. I also found that when I learned how to play tennis well, that that also helped my shoulder.

I also found that when I did these activities nonergonically, that it really screwed up my shoulder and caused lots of pain.

I've long worried that in my old age I'd have major crippling arthritis in my right shoulder.

Try everything - but the best thing you could do would be to have a good violin teacher explain to you how to use your bow without raising your shoulder. It really seems like that's the core of your problem. Rest helped but when I started playing the violin again the pain came back.

Pilates helped. Swimming helped. Playing tennis well helped strengthen it. Learn how to do everything ergonomically. I've never learned it, but Alexander Technique makes sense. See a doctor - who will likely recommend a physical therapist. They probably will give you lots of exercises with therabands.

Take all of their recommendations and try to incorporate them, but always use your head. If it doesn't make sense, ask them to explain it in a way that makes sense to you.

Go after it like a pitbull because playing with pain is no fun. And playing without pain is so much better in so many ways. Not least of which is you will sound better.

I suspect that you'll find the answer if you're diligent. Don't give up. It finally worked for me and it was worth it.

The comment that worked for me:

The bow arm starts from the muscles in your back behind your shoulder blades, not your shoulder. I found that that comment was the one that put me over the edge in terms of playing without pain. But then everyone's situation is different...

Incidentally, the back of the shoulderblades is also where one's swimming stroke, one's basketball shot, and one's tennis serve starts. It can also help to watch some greats from other sports. :)

December 14, 2006 at 09:30 PM · Terry,

All what you have described is fine, but in this case going to see a doctor and taking a break is a must. Only after, is it OK to work things out with a teacher etc. Most likely she does have some bad habits to overcome. Nevertheless, when there is burning in the shoulder etc., the best thing is to stop and seek professional help.

December 14, 2006 at 09:33 PM · Gennady,

I completely agree with you.


December 15, 2006 at 04:53 PM · ...when there is pain, there is tension...which means bad position, stiff neck or shoulders...violon playing is all about feeling free...many players lift their shoulders when they play and are not aware about it, even professionnal violinists...sometimes they move to much...

Being comfortable with the instrument means playing effortless...

December 15, 2006 at 05:20 PM · but, when i play effortless, it sounds even worse, doctor!

December 15, 2006 at 08:40 PM · Dear patient !...you can be energic, but without physical tension or unnessary contractions. All of this, you learn it between 4-5 years old and 12...after that age, it is very difficult to get rid of bad posture and habits...and it is also very important to have a positive attitude in general and a free spirit.


December 15, 2006 at 09:41 PM · Greetings,

Al, when Marc talks about effortless, he doesn"t mean without tension so much as correct -use- of tension. It actually takes quite a lot of tension (nd the equavalent relaxtion) to play the violin.

Onf of the most uselss instructions for violinists is " be more relaxed." It tells us nothing and the poor studnet becomes more confused as tehy throw out random orders to the body which then produces a sound somwhat akin to the exulatnt gasp of a pregnat armadillo,



December 15, 2006 at 10:32 PM · marc and buri, well said by both, esp buri's point of a teacher who has been there done that telling the student who has not been there nor done that that just relax.

marc's point brings up another point which is always on my mind when relating a physical skill to another person, that is, it has been my observation that even under correct teaching, the student tends to overrecuit muscle usage, almost never just right, almost never underrecruit. anxiety, tension, whatever. i find the key is that the teacher needs to catch that moment and quickly bring the student back to an appropriate level.

without that teacher's timely engagement, the student tends to condition the brain and therefore the muscle use incorrectly, which, over time, tends lead to injury because of chronic overuse of muscles that are not meant to be used certain ways. further, we all know, it is so darn hard to consciously break a bad habit,,,it is very difficult to get rid of a demon in our head. grr.

for instance, (it is getting funny that i am so called sharing this with violin gurus here with my background, but what the heck), with the bow arm as may be the case with our poster's complaint...if we habitually raise our shoulder higher than necessary, it is essentially like lifting weight for 30 min to whatever time you use to practice, with barely any break (non pun intended). something may actually break.

just happens that the rotator cuff tendon is most easily impinged when the shoulder is lifted up at 90 degree sideways from vertical (think of wingspan measurement). particularly if the thumb is pointing down...aka, violin bow hold. at that angle, we could be doing D or even G strings, and god forbid, not that i have not seen before, doing even A and E.

we grind it away, in pursuit of musical perfection, when a tendon, the size of a spagetti noodle, with no blood supply (tendons are not like muscles) is pushed against sharp edges of bone.

1/3 cut: reversible. rest and therapy

2/3 cut: significant discomfort. lap arthroscopy may be needed to shave off the sharp edges. long term therapy. many many baseball/tennis youth change career simply because they are caught with a 2/3. no more speed in the arm left.

3/3 cut: need reattachment with open surgery, not pretty.

December 15, 2006 at 10:35 PM · I totally agree with Buri.

And btw Marc, playing a musical instrument or playing sports etc., it is all about balancing of tension and the many degrees of.

We are only fully relaxed when we are DOA or six feet under.

Learning to balance tension while playing.......perfect examples would be watching Bruce Lee in action or Heifetz for that matter.

December 15, 2006 at 11:44 PM · Thanks Buri and Gennady for a good reminder. I always hated the "be totally relaxed" school of instruction! Also "feel the weight of your arm in the string", while I'm at it. :0

December 16, 2006 at 02:49 AM · After my first post on this I've been thinking about your situation. I had major left shoulder Rotator Cuff surgery two years ago and was in a sling for roughly 6 to 7 MONTHS. I ignored (somewhat) minor shoulder pain. "I can tough it out with my high pain threshold." Yeah, right.

Now I'm getting somewhat similar symptoms in my right shoulder. The super surgeon who fixed my massive left shoulder rotator tear said I would be in a sling with this upcoming surgery, worst case, two days, probably a day until the pain starts to subside. We're catching this early.

I strongly advise you, like the others, to see a qualified top Orthopedic doctor and get an MRI.

The left shoulder thanks to Dr. Emanuel and Russ Eaves, the incredibly excellent Therapist, got me back to over 100% of pre surgery range of motion. The left arm and shoulder have never ever been better. Get that thing properly cared for now.

End of rant and good luck.

December 16, 2006 at 04:08 AM · Soo...

Thanks for everything guys... I love how I'm dying... I really HAVE to play violin... like it's my life.. I hope this doesn't harm me... if it helps I think I have muscle issues cuz sometimes both arms hurt and my legs... it's horrible... but of course the legs have nothing to do with my playing lol and also could my shoulder be double jointed??



December 16, 2006 at 04:28 AM · Greetings,

your legs have a lot to do with violi plating. Unless your whole body is well integrated you will never reach your true potential. Take a look at Oistrakh and the way energy spirals up from his foot and shoots the bow across the strings with such energy. It does seem like you need to take a little time out and do soemthign like Alexander Technique, Feldenkreis, Yoga , Reiki etc.

Best of Luck,


December 16, 2006 at 01:24 PM · i can imagine life for a 11th grader can be confusing and hectic. and i have met some who ask for advices and then do nothing about them because, simply because.

i hope you take what people are saying here quite seriously and i also hope your parents take it seriously. in fact, i hope they are aware of your sufferings.

without a sound body, you may regret down the road because physical pain can turn everything upside down. you, more so if you are a female, are at the crossroad to potentially develop chronic pain for the rest of your life unless you seek prof help to get a better idea why you are hurting all over.

best of luck in making the right move and this forum cannot really give you the answer you are looking for.

for the symptoms you are talking about, i can give you a list of potential things to check up, ranging from simple muscle strain to mulptiple sclerosis.

but why would you subject yourself to such speculation when you can get a more definitive answer when a qualified physician exam you face to face? to save couple hundred bucks? trust me, you are worth it.

December 22, 2006 at 12:24 PM · I just realized that...

I took my violin to the shop a few days ago and the guy told me my bridge was on backwards. so this MAY be the cause for my burning shoulder... lets hope haha..


December 22, 2006 at 12:53 PM · and you are not even a fiddler,,happy new year to a new shoulder!

December 22, 2006 at 01:00 PM · For years I had severe shoulder pain every time I took up the violin and put it under my chin. Then I realized that all that time it was a cello.

:) Sandy

December 22, 2006 at 01:37 PM · I suffered for years before I realized you're not supposed to hold the bow with your foot. I guess I should've taken those lessons after all.

December 22, 2006 at 01:44 PM · for years i have had the dream of becoming a violinist. every time i have the urge to practice, i put down the violin next to me and start thinking about it,,,until the feeling goes away:)

December 23, 2006 at 08:12 AM · Greetings,

nope, reverse dbridge won`t give you shoulder pain. I suppose a burning bridge might...

Back to my ostrich flock,


January 3, 2007 at 03:09 PM · Gennady,

the word "TENSION" is innapropriate when talking about violin or piano playing...I understand what you mean when you are speaking about balance, but I would rather speak of " ENERGY" or how to balance it the right way...tension or useless contractions blocks the energy when playing the violin...Heifetz was totally free when he played and the intensity of his playing had nothing to do with the fact of using tension to achieve what he did... on the contrary, Heifetz, liberated a considerable amount of energy while playing, and all of this, because there were no physical interference caused by tension...the same applies to Kreisler, Oistrach or any other great violinist...

Happy new year!


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