Tendonitis and Playing through it

February 9, 2007 at 06:37 AM ·

Replies (38)

February 9, 2007 at 01:09 PM · Hi Alexandra,

I cannot stress how much you need to put the violin down and recover fully. If this is real tendonitis, you will definitely injure yourself permanently if you keep playing. Two weeks off from violin is much more productive in the long run than a non-functioning body.

I would also suggest seeing a doctor about it. This is not something to mess with.

February 9, 2007 at 05:58 PM · My daughter has dealt with tendonitis in her right wrist the last couple years. She has followed a strict routine of no more than 30 minutes practice at a time, with at least 10 minutes rest between sessions, and icing the wrist during that rest.

That is what has kept her wrist pain-free. You need to immediately give yourself a rest right now, for at least one week. And start back up with short sessions (15 minutes) divided by rest.

See a doctor who knows about musician and athlete repetitive motion injuries. Also what has helped my daughter, as prescribed by a specialist, is physical therapy to strengthen the muscles in the affected area, thereby relieving the stress on the tendons. Again, a physical therapist who specializes in working with musicians is ideal.

Good luck.

February 9, 2007 at 05:54 PM · Oh, dear. : ( No words of wisdom, but wanted to say good luck to you!

February 9, 2007 at 05:49 PM · Please don't try and play through it. My daughter (trying to play through the tendonitis) was in an audition and her left hand froze. She couldn't move any of the fingers on her left hand.We got her to a hand specialist and she's fine now. But she didn't play for a month. Now she has a brace that positions her left thumb that she wears at night.

These can be permenent injuries.

February 9, 2007 at 07:30 PM · It may sound odd, but it's worked for me:

Do a little swimming. It's relaxing, totally different from violin playing, and has helped me understand certain ergonomic motions better. If you can get a little swimming instruction, there are some instructive relationships with violin-playing there too.

February 9, 2007 at 07:38 PM · And as you recover, review playing with zero stress--anywhere--I won't go as far as to say pure Alexander, but in that ballpark. It's helping me some.

February 9, 2007 at 08:01 PM · I also went through a spell where I could not play due to pain in my back and wrists. I could not play at all for 6 months. During this time I saw a sports doctor and began sessions with a chirpractor. He recomended yoga which really changed my life (not only my violin playing). After a lot of rehab. and yoga/physio I began to play very little and after SLOWLY increasing the amount I played each day, I could begin to perform nearly at the level where I was before the injury. I have fully recovered after 2 years and now take great care of my body and stretch before every performance session. You can get through this, but you MUST take a break and then start the recovery process. Make sure to listen to your body...it will be with you for the rest of your life.

All the best :)

February 9, 2007 at 08:33 PM · Greetings,

there isn't a quick fix. Do what everyone says and stop playing. You can od as much with your mind and too your knowledge of scores not to lose time. If you are smart about it you may even gainmore than form playing.

The benifits of takeing Alexander lesosns are enormous,



February 10, 2007 at 06:16 PM · Wow, Gina - heck of a story! : (

February 10, 2007 at 08:31 PM · Buri, besides being a good candidate as a spokesman for Alexander, I think is right on mark.....

I should have added that in recovering from bad injuries from nearly day1, that so much cringing, stress, and then further injuries resulted that had I not started getting help along those lines, it would have been disastrous.

It was to the point, and this area was not even in play initially, that the entire right side of my left hand was inflamed and swollen and red.

So, with acutally alot of peoples here help, I started losing the tension, actually, taught myself to lay the instrument down, and then encountered someone who drove the no-stress principles home--so far nicely and successfully.

I find so far that short-term injury is different than those ongoing types that mature string players often encounter because mine were so acute, but they are also very telling in the early days to pay attention. The days of no-pain/no-gain are definitely over for string players. I think that is the most important thing, in seeking your own solutions.

February 11, 2007 at 07:37 AM ·

February 11, 2007 at 01:07 PM · Have you had any studies like an EMG to check if you have any nerve injury-it's really important to know that! I did not have tendonitis, but I had an overuse syndrome (mostly left hand) in college-here's what helped:

-reduced playing to 20 minutes a day, 3x a day. Added like 2 minutes a day until I could get myself back to 4 hours (took a semester).

-saw OT and PT and did stretches/exercises (like those for tennis elbow). Found out my normal hand strength even after therapy is less than the average joe.

-learned how to practice smart (analysis away from the instrument), and learned what my personal physical limits were.

-minor set-up adjustments: more flexible left thumb, let wrist come in more toward the instrument (a "straight" wrist can cause tension by making your arm try to use flexors & extensors at the same time).

-stopped whenever there was discomfort; was encouraged to NOT use anti-inflammatories to more accurately discover what was triggering the pain.

-learned relaxation techniques (deep breathing).

-heat before, cold after.

-deep tissue massage also helpful.

-I am a leftie and write small, so I started using comfie pencil grips to reduce tension in my left hand. I also had a work study job in a school office, and I had to stop filing (very hard on hands).

Again, this was for overuse, not tendonitis. Tendonitis is considered a more severe problem.

My husband is also a violinist and has had occasional tendonitis. He had good success with Alexander technique. Could you have an entrapment somewhere else? My husband also has a couple of herniated discs in his neck and those can lead to problems in the hand/arm.

You are young and can afford to step back a notch in your practice while you sort out your physical pain. I knew a couple of violinists at CIM whose playing careers were basically over during their freshmen year because they tried to "play through" severe tendonitis and ended up with permanent nerve damage. Use this as an opportunity to get smart about your physique and how to protect your longterm playing health.

February 11, 2007 at 03:15 PM · I think one of the best pieces of advice were stated just above. Learn your personal strength and limits. I know it is hard. When all those around you seem to be boasting of 4-5 hr. practice days...it is easy to feel like a slacker if you have a different approach.

I personally used to practice hours and hours (and then more hours)...sometimes I would have returning pain, but also I was not learning to my full capacity and practiced badly.

Now, playing professionally, I have pain. A lot of it is from those years of overuse and tension. Sometimes it takes awhile to catch up. Or perhaps playing so much in orchestra, sitting incorrectly, has caused back problems.

The most important thing I have learned is that I practice and learn better if I play less, think more, and make sure that when I do practice, I am an intellegent practicer. I try to stay totally focused and conscious. Not only of the music, the phrasing, the technique, but my body as well.

Now that I am starting to learn my body (not too late), my overall playing is making progress quickly in certain areas. Maybe not as obvious to anyone else, but I know how different it feels.

So I don't feel bad that I only practice a few hours a day, except on working days, then it is obviously more.....since that is what works best for me.

Being stressed out about getting enough practice in is not a good state of mind to be in if you want to be relaxed and productive anyway.

Be careful about computers and other things that might exascerbate your injury. Be aware of how you use your back and neck and arms...well, whole body, for every little thing you do throughout the day...

Hoping you have a safe and full recovery, and can enjoy making music pain free again-


February 11, 2007 at 03:59 PM · Patricia, Jennifer... Yes...

I persisted when I shouldn't have, and don't regret it; and, don't think any damage done because I won't likely be playing 'real' Paganini...

But, it feels like 'a lot' of violin issues related to posture, injuries, balancing, and then related techniques all depend on chilling out within one's strengths anyway to be done well?

February 11, 2007 at 04:37 PM · Like Gina said make sure you stretch. I have had some repetitive use injury in my left wrist and it pops up now and then. Recently I've just had to bite the bullet and "waste time" in my practice sessions and stretch for 10 minutes before I begin. I've come to really enjoy this and I feel so much more prepared, mentally and physically when I actually DO begin practicing.


February 11, 2007 at 06:19 PM · Alexandra:

I feel for you, too. It's a lousy problem to have. But the great thing about this website is the expertise, support, encouragement, wisdom, and technical knowledge you get, as is typical with all of the responses above.

My own story is that while I'm strictly an elderly amateur who has been playing most of my life, I played enough to pick up left elbow tendonitis (from the violin, not from tennis) that was so severe that I literally could not lift my left arm. Surgery four years ago cured it (thank goodness), and since then I take better care of myself and I've been fit as a fiddle (sorry).

Never had a hand problem, but let me share a hand relaxation technique to add to the many suggestions above:

1. Sit in a comfortable chair with an arm rest. Let your left arm settle comfortable on the arm rest so that your left hand dangles free over the end.

2. It is important to focus 100% on the following images and sensations.

3. Now imagine that your left hand - from just above the wrist down to your fingertips - is not a hand, but a wet dishrag. It has no nerves, no muscles, no tendons, no bones. It just flops down and hangs there.

4. There is no feeling but a sense of heaviness, lethargy, and the weight of gravity. A wet dishrag is simply there; it has no feelings and no movement.

5. Focus completely on that sensation for 1 to 3 minutes (set a timer if you wish).

6. Then wiggle your fingers, move your hand around a few times, and go about your business.

7. Do this in the morning when you get up, in the evening before you go to sleep, just before and after you practice, and any other time it is convenient and you have a minute or two (such as riding on a bus). And certainly do it if you feel any pain or uncomfortable stress in your hand.

And remember, what is most important in this technique is to KEEP YOUR ATTENTION FOCUSED ON THE SENSATIONS. What typically happens with a technique like this, or even approaches like the Alexander Technique, is that after a while it becomes routine and is less effective. That's because you get so used to it that you forget to focus. It is the FOCUS OF ATTENTION that makes these things work and continue to work.

Hope that helps.

Cordially, Sandy

February 11, 2007 at 06:24 PM · Still-that's 'very' good Sander.... And when the focus starts deteriorating, it's a good way to work on focus at the same time!. ;).

February 11, 2007 at 06:28 PM · Absolutely.

Hi, there, Albert.


February 11, 2007 at 06:39 PM · A lady with a big stick is knocking me around saying "Relax you stiff country boy wanna fiddle (uh I'll use the word fellow)" ... I wasn't kidding--it's good, and exactly where I'm at in a 'bunch' of things.

I was practicing timing using some things I was shown, and closed my curtains....And, uh one, and uh two.... Raggedy Andy, I'm not.. ;)....


February 11, 2007 at 06:48 PM · Raggedy Hand, maybe?

February 11, 2007 at 07:04 PM · Shhhh!. ;)

February 21, 2007 at 05:44 AM ·

February 22, 2007 at 04:28 AM · I absolutely agree that some time off is essential.

Now that my voice has been added to the chorus, it's important that when you start playing again, you don't reinjure yourself! I notice that you are studying two very large and demanding concertos, and are practicing two hours a day. I hope that doesn't mean that your practice time is devoted entirely to your repertoire. Especially considering the pieces you're studying and your age, it would be extremely dangerous to dive straight in to the Tchaikovsky and St-Saens without at least a proper warm-up, and substantial time on scales, arpeggios, and double-stops.

That may be painfully obvious, but the temptation to skip scales and slow warm-ups could be great when trying to learn the Tchaik and S-S on two hours a day, at least it would be for me!

I'm sorry for your predicament and wish you good luck for a thorough recovery.

February 22, 2007 at 05:07 AM · oh no!

I definitely encourage you to stop playing immediately when your arm starts to hurt. I myself am suffering through tendonitis from my neck all the way down to my left fingers because I used to practice 6 hours a day. I went to a physical therapist, and from then on he helped me all the way through my process of healing. Until now, I haven't been able to pick up my violin for 3 months.

Now, I'm not very clear about your problem but you should definitely ice it or maybe use a heat pad. I advise you to go seek a doctor so they can help you stretch it out and loosen it up. The good thing to do is to keep it lose and not play for a while, and when it is thoroughly healed, started playing little by little. My teacher strictly told me to play 5 minutes, then rest for an hour, then play another 5 minutes, and rest for an hour. Then later on I could keep on increasing my practice time.

Keep moving around a lot and playing sports is a great way to help tendonitis, especially swimming (mostly back stroke). And don't carry heavy things and don't type too much on the computer either. Hope there will be good recovery soon!

February 22, 2007 at 02:29 PM · You could seek out a therapist who specializes in musicians' ailments. Eastman and Ithaca College have same on their professional staffs. Or since those are not always easy to find, a good sports therapist. Here you need to look for one who does not have the old-style attitude of "buck up and play through your pain." Also consider a dietician or naturopath. And read more here about Alexander, yoga, tai chi, Feldenkrais, etc., and see if something appeals. Then do it. Good luck!! Sue

February 22, 2007 at 03:38 PM · Swimming and Alexander technique are in my opinion a violinists best choice for keeping in shape!

Alexandra, working on repertoire like the Tchaikovsky violin concerto or just playing while suffering from tendonitis is only going to make it more difficult for you and the hopes of a future career playing the violin will only diminish… listen to what others have wrote on this post, STOP… give it a break, get a doctor with experience in this field and with musicians.

Best of luck,


February 23, 2007 at 06:59 AM · Sorry to hear about this.

Books that have been an absolute godsend to me on this issue are A New Approach, or The Twelve Lesson Course - both by Kato Havas (published by Bosworth)

This is essentially a method of eliminating physical tension whilst playing so there's no strain on the tendons however long you play.

For example, reducing any 'gripping' of the violin and pressure of the left hand - this can be achieved without losing any power in our playing.A lot of great players you watch have phenomenally supple and feather-light left hand yet remain very powerful - in fact this is as a result of using balance and momentum more than weight and pressure, and eliminates any strain on the tendons.

Like everyone I think a good rest from playing is essential before you do anything.

Really hope you feel better soon,


March 6, 2007 at 05:05 PM ·

March 6, 2007 at 11:24 PM · Greetings,

>I need at least a year off, or so says my doctor, for it to heal and that simply is not an option.

Interesitng choice of options: One year off or 60 years off?



March 7, 2007 at 12:28 AM · I posted this in the "Hopeless" thread, and I find it to be very relevant here, too.

This is going to sound unorthodox to a lot of people, but a doctor named John Sarno established a relatively famous and controversial theory many years ago that most chronic pain that people have is NOT caused by structural problems with their bodies--their bodies create the pain (through oxygen deprivation, it's believed). The idea is that when rage, fear, etc. in the unconscious reaches a certain point, the unconscious directs the brain to create pain (itching, etc.) as a distraction to prevent the undesirable feelings from surfacing. In particular, this tends to happen to people who are perfectionistic, insecure, competitive, and self-critical.

Most people actually get better just from accepting this diagnosis, and relatively quickly, at that.

There are lots of websites on this--search for Tension Myositis Syndrome.

Dr. Sarno has had better results with this than any type of medical doctor I've ever researched--over 80% of his patients who accept the theory are pain-free, again, usually pretty quickly.

Consider a number of studies that have determined that 1) people without back pain are just as likely to have bulging and herniated discs, etc. as people WITH back pain.

All this is very researchable. Look up books by John Sarno, and search the web for "tension myositis syndrome."

In my experience, his theory is correct. I've been a chronic pain sufferer numerous times, and have gotten better after accepting what he says is the true cause of the pain. Many thousands of people have.

Think about it--tons of young people are out thereweight-lifting, playing rough sports, etc., and many elderly people with some degree of arthritis are not in terrible pain. ESPECIALLY if you're relatively young and otherwise in good health, a structural reason for the pain does not make much sense, in most cases.

Again, I know this sounds unorthodox and controversial, but I believe it to be true, and I hope it helps people.

March 11, 2007 at 07:40 AM · There are a lot of good suggestions on this thread, I think you should at least research them all as you never know what might work for you.

Look up something called Rolfing, it did wonders for me. That, and yoga.

I think if you deal with the root of the problem now then there's no reason why this should affect your potential career.

I'm curious, after you start practicing, or warming up, how long until you feel any pain or discomfort?

March 11, 2007 at 11:22 AM · Buri posted a good option choice.

"one year off or 60 years off?"

My opinion may be pessimistic and maddening to some, but I will take the risk...

If you don't do what is best for your hand, and take the year off, you will possibly ruin you hand and all possibilities of playing will be gone. You are what, 15, 16 years old? If you take a year off, you won't miss the boat on becoming a professional. And who knows, maybe you will recover faster, like 6-9 months or so. To play 4 hours a day, you obviously have a large space in your heart for the violin. Can you imagine never being able to play again. No more concerts, no more playing for family members, no more friends talking about how wonderful you are at violin. It will all be over, just like that. I am not a doctor and don't know that you will permanently ruin your hand, or violin abilities. But, from what I understand from your comments, your doctor knows/believes this. You have to take the time off for your well being and security of your potential career. Potential being key, as this won't happen without the TLC your hands need. Sorry if I seem harsh, but this is neccessary. Sometimes the truth is painful...

March 11, 2007 at 11:56 AM · Oh I don't think that's pessimistic at all, it's just the truth,

Alexandra, I think what it comes down to is, do you want to be in the group of violinists who had to quit because of an injury or do you want to be in the group that recovered from an injury?

But, I have a feeling you already know all this, and, you will know absolutely when you need to stop and you will. It just might be in retrospect later than you would have liked.

As for tips that pertain to the musical perspective, I can't think of any besides pain killers. For me when I'm in pain I'm just not "in the mood" to be musical.

March 12, 2007 at 03:02 PM · I said this above, and I'd like to say this again. Please read my previous reply regarding TMS, and at least consider that nothing (or at least not as much as you may think) is structurally wrong. Your pain may not be the result of a structural problem.

August 9, 2007 at 12:34 AM · Get "rolfing" treatments. Pianist Leon Fleisher is now playing with two hands again after many years of inability to play with both hands due to tendonitis/repetitive stress injuries. I recommended this treatment to a friend of mine who studies at Temple University under Helen Kwalwasser and she's forever grateful that I introduced her to this treatment method.

August 9, 2007 at 12:40 AM · Ok, it's been about five months since we last heard about the problem, wonder how it came out?

I've heard Rolfing feels like being run over by a monster truck.

August 9, 2007 at 03:06 AM · Though those who practice it are not considered doctors,neuro-muscular therapy has been shown to be very effective when nerves become inflamed pinched or entrapped or muscles and tendons are overused and inflamed. I had an accident some years back that caused considerable pain from my shoulder down to my left arm and fingers. Though I went through physical therapy I sought the help of an Alexander Technique specialist who mentioned that her husband was helped tremendously by neuro-muscular therapy. I went for three sessions and my problem never recurred. A month of physical therapy turned out to be more of a bandage on the wound rather than a real cure. Bear in mind that broken bones and major structural damage cannot be fixed by this therapy but nerve damage and muscular tension can. A number of my symphony colleagues have used the therapist I went to in the north Baltimore area and have been able to play normally again without recurring pain maintaining their busy practice and performance schedules. You can look for neuro-muscular therapists in your area online but it is better to ask around for a recommendation from someone who has used one and can vouch for the results. I would swear by my particular therapist in Baltimore!

August 24, 2007 at 04:22 AM ·

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