Playing violin, Sciatic pain, and Alexander Technique

March 13, 2007 at 11:12 PM · I’ve heard a lot of office workers have sciatic pain and they would normally conclude that sitting long all day long causes it. People standing all day long can have the same problem. I heard violinists complained about the pain and contributed it to long hour sitting on hard orchestra chairs. Even joggers complain about the same thing. I don’t know why all the other people have this problem, but I may find what went wrong with mine.

I play violin in the mornings and evenings after sitting in an office all day long. The first time I experienced sciatic pain on my left side was shortly after I had started playing violin again last year, after 20 years without touching the guy. X-ray shows that my vertebrate is entirely fine so my GP and physiotherapist both believed the problem being that the sciatic nerve was pressed by the left piriformis muscle, which was very stiff due to sitting in the office all day long. I rearranged my office setting so that I could stand most of the time when I was working, but the pain didn’t go away. The physiotherapist I saw is one of the best in town but his treatment only provided temporary relief. I did stretching and various exercises recommended by the fine therapist but no obvious improvement. I stopped the treatment and the pain remained until a little over 3 weeks ago when I started my AT lessons. The pain was diminishing within a week and now it is pretty much gone. I’m sitting all day long in office, workshops, conferences, and concerts without problem. My violin practice is much more focused now and I certainly enjoy the practice a lot more each day. The only time I can feel the tense feeling around the piriformis area is after I practice violin more than two hours a day. I still have a lot to work on but I'm very please with the result that seems to be brought by AT lessons.

The interesting thing is that my AT teacher hasn’t started working on my violin playing yet. So far she is doing a lot of table work on me to help me to realize how the back, neck, shoulder, hip and knee joints should feel when the body is in balance. Just by frequently checking these areas throughout the day, within or without violin, it makes all the difference.

I know this is a single case comes from 1st person subjective point of view, and three weeks is too short a period to conclude anything definitively. But I thought it is conceivable that sciatic pain may be caused by violin playing (standing or sitting), if one is not properly balanced, and AT can effectively deal with it, if the pain is caused by muscle tension.

I’d like to hear what you guys think about this possibility. Skeptics are most welcome!

Replies (9)

March 14, 2007 at 12:27 AM · Greetings,

an AT teacher doesn`t work on your violin playing or any other action you choose to perform. What they are doing is working on your use of `self.` The word self is use dbecause Alexander was admant that we cannot separate mind, body, spirit whatever and thus it was essential ot have one word for the whole package.

streesful actions are not in themselve snecessarily bad. It is how we us eourselve sin repsonse ot stres sthat ic the problem. We begin to misuse our self. AT doe snot teach one to do anything. It is unique in thta it teahces one to not doanythign that is not good use of the slef. Then whatever activity one is doing will be done in the most eficient manner posisble.It is thus a precursor to any kind of activity. I have had the best violini lesosns oin terms of tehcnique from AT teachers . Its apity mosyt of them knew nothing about interpretation or maybe they did...

Cheer,s

Buri

PS One veyr good stretch is to lie on your back and bring your knees toward syour chest. Put your left anle inside tour right knee.

Put your right had around your upper thigh and sticj your left hand between your les. Join hand where they meet atr the back/bas eof right thigh. Pull!!!

See you in hopsital,

Buri

March 14, 2007 at 12:42 AM · Buri,

I'm sorry I probably didn't make my point clear. I entirely agree that it is not what you do but how you do it that can cause the problem. But I thought it's worth pointing out too that the pain in one's leg can be caused by the activity of one's hand. I guess this is obvious point to an AT teacher, but not so immediately clear to other health professionals or some violinsts.

March 14, 2007 at 01:57 AM · Greetings,

now you see why Alexander wa sso opposed to talk!

But I would still suggets that from an AT perspective the main problem is always primary control. What the hands are doing is secondary and flows from the PC.

Incidenatlly, there are a lot of disucsison about habit formation and breaking in thes eforums for obvious reasons. However, the traditional repsonses about curing habots are in diretc conflcit with AT. Since AT is about non-doing then trying to `replace an old habit with a new one` is actually a no no. Whta AT seeks to do is go much deepr and bypass the original wish that creates the misus eof the body.That`s why Alexander elsosns typically do a lot of chairwork. Standing and sitting is our most common activity (usually) and it is -always- (;)) done incorrectly with the kinds of results you describe in your firts post. It is also very easy to by pass the original wish to sit. Instead the client is asked to work on primary control and then bend the knees. The wish to `bend the knees` ha sno prior conection to our wish to sit down which typically leads ot a massive use of all kinds of muscles and twisting followe dby a slump. But, at the end of the day, sitting down is simply bending the knees (with good PC).

Likewise standing up becomes , perhaps, bend over from the hip. Most people don`t know where their hips are either!!!!!! The eyes/hea dlead and suddnely you are standing but you don`t know how you got there. It is sooooo beautiful. I love demonstrating this to people.

I bet if you observe what your head does as you stand it tilts back slightly. That is the standard misuse of self that thorws what little pC out of the window. I have never had a studnet who doesn`t do that. Scary! It crushes the top of the spine beautifully.:(

Sorry, I also incoreectly vizualized my favorite exercise. The hands link at the top of the shin just below the knee when you wish to pull.

Cheers,

Buri

March 15, 2007 at 03:53 AM · Ok, no talking. Just a question:

Is it a good idea to play violin sitting on an exercise ball?

Oh, and you are right about my head being tilted back most of the time.

March 15, 2007 at 03:51 AM · Greetings,

no idea....

Its interesting when I go to Vivien Mackie`s seminars (try her book `Just Play Naturally`). She is well past seventy and kind of stout but an immensly strong frame. She often takes piano players stools away and asks them to sit on her back as she curls up face down on the grounds. It provides a wobbly and constantly changing surface which served I suppose to focus attention on the lower regions, a major weakness of piano players who almost always bisect the body around a spurious waist line.

So maybe the ball is useful up to a point. Personally I would work on standing up and playing as I think this is the most efficient for getting the hang of whole body use and energy.

But why not try lying on your back or any other stuff that interests you?

Reminds me of a thing I witnessed at a five day AT seminar. At the first meeting one of the participants said they thouhg AT was a hoax. When the teahcer asked why she said that she had been to five teacher s and not one of them had cured her fifteen years of aching, stiff shoulders. The teacher asked how long she had worked with each person and she replied that she had had five lesson: One with each teacher! (We laughed...) She said that everytime the teacher moved her arms and shoulders around until she found a new and perfectly comfortable position. However, whenever she `recreated` that `correct` position at home she was back in pain again within a few hours.

She had failed to grasp that AT is about experiencing options outside our habitual use; learning that there is no `correct` postion or `posture` only good use of the self; and that one has to be willing to be wrong and frustrated many times in order to get to the highest level of benefits,

Cheers,

Buri

PS How big is the ball...? If you are banging your head on the ceiling it is the wrong approach.

March 16, 2007 at 03:07 AM · Buri,

The ball is so huge that I need a ladder every time I try to sit on it, and ceiling is low enough so the top of my head can get stuck and stabilized this way. Now you’ve got the whole picture why I like the ball so much!

Seriously, I find using a ball is very good because my legs and joints have to be completely relaxed to be in balance. I get a clear out of balance signal right away because I would notice the need to use leg muscle or toesto compensate the imbalance to keep me sit still. If I’m standing and playing the violin, tensing up of the leg muscle is not so immediately noticeable. But I understand your point about the importance of standing up and feeling the support/energy from the ground. I guess I’m not quite there yet – I can barely feel this energy by standing still, let alone when I’m playing the fiddle. I had my AT lesson this morning and we were doing more chair work: sitting down and standing up and keeping my nose down, eyes open and active, etc. A long way to go. But I also learned something absolutely amazing today -- the arm lifting. Rather than using the shoulders or upper arms, I can effortlessly lift my arms by my fingers, imagining them being pulled up by magnetic power. I wonder how would this practice be eventually applied to violin playing.

March 16, 2007 at 03:24 AM · Greetings,

sounds like you are similar to me in that you have reduced awarness of your skeleton and how it is a self supproting eddifice. Thus you use your muscles to hold you up when it is unneccesary placing a huge amount of stres son the system. The inner thigh muscles can store huge amounts of tension and it is a good idea to be constantly telling yor legs to `Do less@ during pracitce.`

Indeed, before you practice do the integration exercise I recommend in a recent blog.

Hands lead the arms up. Indeed. What reaches for a cup of coffee your shoudlers or your fingers?

Cheers,

Buri

March 16, 2007 at 03:56 AM · "Hands lead the arms up. Indeed. What reaches for a cup of coffee your shoudlers or your fingers?"

Fingers and sometimes toes!

March 16, 2007 at 05:33 AM · Greetings,

ah, thta explains why `the Pobble` had so much trouble getting his caffeine fix...

Cheers,

Buri

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