My back hurts when I play for a while

October 5, 2007 at 11:37 PM · My back always hurts when i play for a while. (20-30 minutes)

My teachers say that that means I've been putting too much stress on my back and I need to relax a little bit. but when I do that, my back tends to slump some and feel too relaxed and that creates a bad posture. However when i do try to relax without slumping my back too much, my back feels fine, but my left hand is lowered and slumps a little and its hard to me to play my notes. What is a good posture without my back hurting so bad and it won't make a bad position for my left or right hand when practicing?

Replies (31)

October 6, 2007 at 02:45 AM · Try practicing sitting in a chair.

October 6, 2007 at 04:17 AM · Greetings,

you would be well advised to take Alexander lessons. In the meantime try the follwoing exercise:

Lie on your back. Raise your legs while keeping them stright and your knees together so they are almost at right angles to your body. Hold that psoition. Now contract the lower abdominal muscles to raise your legs a little more and so your butt comes juts a little off the fllor. Hold that small contraction and let the legs back down a little . Repeat a few times and build up to fifty times a day.



October 6, 2007 at 05:26 AM · If it's anywhere from the middle to the small of your back, and it's just a generally broad, dull pain with a bit of burning sensation, your muscles are getting fatigued. This can lead to muscle spasms, which is the most common cause of someone feeling he's thrown out his back.

In addition to Stephen's suggestion, another good exercise is either to go to a gym with a back extension machine, or to get some elastic exercise bands (Sports Authority and other such places have sets of them for around $20), sit in a chair, place your feet on the center of the bands while holding one of the handles in each hand, spread your feet apart so that the only slack left in the bands when you hold the handles against your chest causes you to have to lean forward, then keep this hold while you sit up, pulling against the tension of the bands.

Do this twelve times, and see how your back feels. If it starts to feel a little strained, but you're not experiencing muscle fatigue (or pain), do another set of twelve repetitions. Again, if you're feeling a bit strained but not fatigued, do one more set. If, at any time, you feel actual pain, stop immediately, and don't try this exercise again until at least a couple of days after the pain has gone (even if it goes away shortly after you stop).

Do this every few days to help strengthen your lower back muscles. Before you know it, that pain you're experiencing should go away, because those muscles will have to make very little if any effort to hold your torso upright with the extra leveraged weight of a violin and arms sticking out in front of it.

Hope this helps. :)

October 6, 2007 at 05:35 PM · Undoubtably you have tension in your left hand.Try running through these steps to find out the cause.

1) stand in violin position ie feet slightly aprt in v bend your knees and check that your shoulders are relaxed.Does your back hurt?If answer in no go onto no.2 if answer is yes repeat until pain free.

2)Lift violin on to shoulder turn and lower head onto chin rest and drop the left arm letting it dingle dangle by your side.Does your back hurt? If the answer is no go onto no.3 if yes redo excercise making sure also that your neck is relaxed.

3)Lift arm into playing position and make sure that your thumb is relaxed by tapping it onto the side of the kneck and that your hand is well rounded and all fout fingers are over the string.Do not squeeze the neck of the violin with the thumb and index finger.Does your back hurt? If the answer is no go onto no 4 if yes go through all steps again until pain free-

4)Play a simple one octave major scale starting from an popen strings playing almost flagolet that is lightly touching the strings.Make sure that the fingers are dropping from there base joints and aren't being thrust down by handf pressure.If you can do this with no back pain then move onto dropping the fingers down properly.I think somewhere along these excercises you'll find the cause of the problem.


October 6, 2007 at 07:50 PM · You might also just work on your posture away from the violin. I like Janet's methodical approach...

Try balancing a plate-size something on your head--of course one that won't break. Then learn to walk like this--it can be done. All the while focus on what is happening in your back and shoulders becoming increasingly aware, and progressing slowly.

After mastering this, walk along a very straight line, increasing your awareness of your breathing even more. At worst, you'll have good posture. At best, you'll become in touch with your body as well--and keep those shoulders back. Good luck with this.

October 6, 2007 at 09:48 PM · Have your someone watch where your feet are when you play. Try the Suzuki model of left foot forward a half-step, feet in a little vee separated a few inches, with weight equally on both feet. This has a surprising effect of helping your ribcage stay up, not to mention your violin. As soon as your front ribs start sinking towards your tummy, there is strain on the middle of your back and more tension in your shoulders. Sue

October 7, 2007 at 11:26 AM · Janet, I've found your comments very useful. Can you say anything about pain on the right of the back below the shoulder blade associated with bowing?

October 7, 2007 at 11:36 AM · This could be due to pulling the bow with the shoulder rather than using the muscles in the upper arm.The shoulders should be completely relaxed.Use the same set of sequences as for the left hand.

1)Stand in violin position without the instrument or bow with feet slightly apart in a v with arms dangling and shoulders relaxed.If there is no pain go on to no 2

2)Lift the right arm from the elbow consciously thinking of where the movement is coming from.Do not lift the shoulder check that it is completely relaxed.If there is no pain move on to no 3

3)Inclinate the hand into bowing position and you can now bow into the air.Use your upper arm muscle and open your elbow to pull a down bow as you do this your wrist will form a valley and your hand will follow.This is infact quite easy to do as gravity helps a lot. What is more difficult to do is an up bow.Some would say that the wrist leads the way but Buri had it pegged with the index finger.However when you change bow the wrist will now make a mountain and everything else should follow.Here the the upper arm muscle has to work quite hard against the force of gravity and usually problems occur with the up bow.If you can manage air bowing with no pain go onto no 4.

4)Now you can try to bow on the instrument put your left hand in 5th position so that the violin is lightly supported by the thumb at the oint where the body of the viuolin meets the neck.Of course at this point there may be many other problems which come to light.Is the bow being held correctly?Are the fingers loose and flexible?Is the thumb loose?All these need to be checkedTension at any one point can lead to pain in the back.

October 9, 2007 at 01:43 AM · Greetings,

Part of Janet`s excellent sequence reads:

\)Lift violin on to shoulder turn and lower head onto chin rest and drop the left arm letting it dingle dangle by your side)Lift violin on to shoulder turn and lower head onto chin rest and drop the left arm letting it dingle dangle by your side.\

Within this instruction lies the origin of many people`s problem.

The Alexander Technique has been very effective in identifying how people`s misconceptions about their body can lead to serious tension problems. In this case, it is the origin of the turning movement. Ask many people where the neck turns on its vertical axis and they will blunder around mentally and then sya something like it’s the knobbly bits on the back of my neck, or actually more usually touch the back of the neck. However, the head actually roates on top of a point which is located a sfollows:

Stick your forefinfers in the hollows behind your ears. Image they are a pencil meeting in the middle of your head. It is where these fingers meet that the rotation occurs. It is actually quite easy to compare the degree of muscular tension it takes to rotate the head when focusing on these two diffenret points.

The next crucial factor is what leads the movement. It should be the eyes, but there is a significant difference between leading with the left eye when turning the head left and leading with the right. If you lead with the left eye then your ody will become –dis- coordinated. The opposite eye must lead. And the reverse whne going to the right.

I would also add to hercomments about using the arm muscle to `air bow` be clear about which muscle is doing what. The fundamental premis of the kinesiology of violin playing is that a muscle cannot extend of its own free will. It can only react to an opposing muscles contraction. Thus during this exericse on the down bow think of the tricep moving the bow and on the up the bicep. Just think arm muscle i snot quite clear enough for my taste....



October 9, 2007 at 05:38 AM · Absolutely fantastic,this is going to go down a bomb in my tiny tots group where action and not words count far more.Now I just have to invent an interesting story line to go with the fingers stuck in the ears possibly something to do with superior intelligence from outer space.

October 9, 2007 at 05:53 AM · Greetings,

Once upon a time, Big Ears wa s walking down the street when he was hit on the hea d by a prune. Of course this isn`t a common occurence, but his next door neighbour had tried to feed her husband prunes and he had thrown one of them out of the window in a rage. As luck would have it the prune shot right into Big Ears ear. He stuck a finger in to get it out but it only became jammed further in. He rushed to hospital where fortunately Dr. Buri who had years of experience with this kind of injury was able to assist. He told Big Ears to stick his other finger in his ear too. Then he gave BE a magic elixir which made the finger slonger and longer until they touched the prune on either side. `Now, just one little squeeze between the finger tips,` said the Doc. Sure enough the prune shot out of Big Ears nose.

Another triumph of Alexander Technique over misuse of the self.



October 9, 2007 at 10:50 AM · Janet, that has been very helful, many thanks.

October 9, 2007 at 10:53 AM · Unfortunately Noddy and Bigears are not well known in Italy ,Buri your story does rather date you they went out of fashion when Golly became a racial issue!But nostalgia also brings to mind Bill and Ben the flowerpot men.Now they really did have superior intelligence and little weed brings to mind 'The day of the Triffids'

October 9, 2007 at 06:53 PM · This opened my eyes. My husband and I recently bought a new mattress and pillows. I am shocked how this has cured his back ache and my neck pain during our waking hours. He always would get a sore back after standing for an hour and definitely by the end of the day. I had a chronic neck ache for years. I had tried every kind of shoulder rest invented assuming it was from my posture while playing, but nothing worked. A new pillow and the right mattress has made us both move as if we are 10 years younger. It is not a cure for a back injury, but do not underestimate the impact of your sleep posture and how it impacts your waking posture and muscle tension. If your sleep posture puts stress on your muscles and spine then other muscles are stressed during your waking hours tryinig to compensate. You spend 1/3 of your life in bed. Your posture awake and asleep makes a huge difference.

Good Luck

October 9, 2007 at 07:17 PM · What mattress did you get? Ours sucks.

October 9, 2007 at 10:41 PM · Hi,

Posture and body use issues aside, to me, IMVHO, this kind of problem tells me that you may have the instrument improperly setup for you, i.e. wrong chinrest, wrong kind of shoulder support, or other placement problems of the instrument. You are bending your back to compensate for the fact that you are not comfortable holding up the instrument with your current setup. Maybe that is worth investigating too.

Just an idea...


October 9, 2007 at 10:44 PM · Janet- I refuse to recognize time as a linear concept so I cannot be dated.

Flob a dob a dob,


October 10, 2007 at 04:17 AM · Brooke,

Several good thoughts, above, especially regarding building up your body/back strength. That's always a in-win.

Additionally, assuming your problem is mostly due to improper posture, I suggest trying a standard singer's excercise:

Stand with your feet comfortably apart, and you entire back & back-of-head against a wall. Do not lean at all to the rt or left. This will put your body in near-perfect balance. Practice playing your violin in this position, and do not let your head come forward. This should help you unlearn any bad posture of muscle-memory. If you absolutely can't play without bringing your head forward, then I suggest that is a problem, since that forces your back muscles to have to hold up the weight of the head.

Another thing to examine is your breathing. A correct breath for anyone, not just singers, is from the diaphram. You pull the diaphram down from below & from the sides. Many people breath by expanding their chests, or even raising their shoulders. This not only limits your maximum breath intake, but builds up tremendous tension in the neck, shoulders, and trapezius.

Make sure you are breathing correctly, without playing the fiddle, or you will have little chance of ever being truly relaxed while PLAYING the fiddle. See a good voice teacher if absolutely necessary. Yoga can also help with this.

One caveat: I am a voice teacher, not a violin teacher. (and not much of a fiddle player, either!) I do have a strong backround in physiology, so this suggestion is based on general physiological principles, not violin-specific training. FWIW, this helped me a LOT when I was just beginning my violin studies.

Good luck.

October 10, 2007 at 06:02 AM · Buri thats interesting.If time is not a linear concept how do you visualise (which is the incorrect word as it is an auditory passage of time but am using imagary - oops another visual!) the passage of a melodic phrase?

October 10, 2007 at 11:59 AM · I think there are two possibilities here. The most likely and common problem is that you are arching the lower part of your back in order to hold the violin level, like Buri said. The other possibility, I suppose, is that there is some actual problem with your back, but I doubt that, or you would be feeling it all the time. So, I suggest you video yourself playing from your left side and see if you notice anything. I'd video myself until my back started to hurt. You might notice something yourself as you review the video, but if not, take the video to your teacher or maybe even a doctor!

Good luck!

October 10, 2007 at 04:24 PM · That's an excellent suggestion, Howard.

October 10, 2007 at 04:30 PM · From my studies of the Alexander Technique I understand that strengthening exercises can be counter-productive. It's better to eliminate the tension and stand in balance than to strengthen muscles to fight against each other.

As for standing against a wall, the back of my head is not in the same plane as my back. It's about an inch and a half forward. To pull back the head is ruinous. 'Let your neck be free so that your head goes forward and up'.

October 10, 2007 at 04:47 PM · I do pit gigs (3+ hours in a cramped orchestra pit), a lot of chamber music (including weekends & workshops that involve several hours of playing per day) & I'm also a runner. I used to have back problems fairly regularly but they decreased significantly in frequency & intensity when I started doing Pilates. The focus of Pilates is to strengthen your core muscles -including the back muscles - all of which help to support your back. I’m also very fortunate to have a Pilates instructor who also specializes in Alexander Technique.

Can't recommend Pilates enough.

October 11, 2007 at 01:29 AM · Edward,

I know this will be sacreligious around here, but while I think the Alexander method is full of excellent and worthwhile ideas, I don't agree with everything he laid out. I studied the Alexander method, in depth, 30 years ago, then moved past it. (did my undergrad thesis on tension, got a Masters in excersice physiology, blah blah blah....) Much of Alexander is good, (an excellent synthesis of various pre-existing ideas) but as with any methodology, there are other schools of thought that are valid.

I won't elaborate since there are many Alexander proponents here, and I'm not looking for a fight, but I stand behind my previous statements.

October 10, 2007 at 10:03 PM · I have a daughter who has serious, serious back pain, mostly upper-back, and a year of Alexander with a highly-recommended therapist (one on one) didn't help much. She's also had two solid years of different physical therapies, all kinds of diagnoistic medical tests, different sorts of massages, trips to various orthopedists and whatnot-- a lot of effort has been poured into the problem. I think there could be some issue with her set-up, but we've changed her instrument and tried various chin- and shoulder-rests and nothing much has worked. Some problems are just hard to solve. My daughter wishes for a magic bullet, but she's also worked hard to get in shape (she was out of shape before) and has developed a practice regime with a lot of breaks. She's dropped out of orchestras and given up on the idea of going to conservatory (even though her playing is better than ever and she's very talented and loves her instrument) because she knows she could not handle the pain issues with a conseratory schedule. Even if she solves this eventually (and we don't expect it to go away quickly) she will probably end up going to a regular university where (we hope) she can take lessons with a first-rate teacher on the side. Maybe, for her, it's a blessing in disguise to have to deal with this now, as opposed to investing her youth in developing a music career and then having the pain issues start.

October 11, 2007 at 04:26 AM · Hi Edward,

I think we would all agree that strength training will not correct misuse, but when used to correct imbalance, it is appropriate and often necessary (although I wouldn't engage in therapeutic strength training without the guidance of a physiotherapist, as misalignment can worsen the problem.) If I'm not mistaken, physiotherapists are experts at diagnosing, prescribing for, and treating misalignment and muscle imbalance.

Hi Allan,

I'd be very interested to read your critique of AT. I like to have a balanced view.

Hi E.,

Sorry to hear about your daughter. Is her teacher dedicated to finding a solution to her pain? Therapy and AT can help but unless they are applied to how she plays, how she moves (or possibly, how she prevents fluid motion), results may be limited. Has her teacher been to the therapist with her? Has the therapist seen her play?

It's difficult to assess without seeing her in action, but here are some common problems related to violin playing and upper back problems (in no particular order):

1) Grabbing violin with head/neck/left shoulder

2) Rigid neck, left shoulder, so that there is no freedom of movement

3) Rising shoulders

4) Shoulders pushed forward

5) Violin droops, pressed down (no buoyant support from left arm), of greater concern for those of smaller proportions

6) Permanent twist in the body

Some things to look/listen for:

1) Pressed sound

2) Head, neck, shoulders held for prolonged periods in a frozen state while playing; head turned to left permanently; neck bent toward violin

3) Left arm seems to dangle, hang off of neck

4) Shallow breathing

5) No countermotions, or followthrough motions

6) Locked knees

7) Hyperarched lowerback

8) Rigid motions

9) 'Stuck' motions; i.e. each motion ends with a tension before starting a new motion (e.g. in bow arm)

10) Body alignment: are her ears over shoulders, shoulders over hips, hips over ankles?

Pain is often a hidden part of a musician's life, especially for those who are able to 'pull it off' without addressing biomechanical problems. So in a sense it is good that she deal with it early in her musical life as you say, whether she pursues it as a profession or not.

Practicing in short spurts may help relieve the pain but will not allow her to develop the proper muscles involved in violin playing necessary for balance, strength, speed, and stamina.

You need a support team which works together, but in particular a teacher who understands the biomechanics of violin playing. You need the support team to train your daughter to sense her motions kinesthetically. She needs to know what it feels like to be rigid, to be fluid and balanced, and sense the difference. She needs appropriate treatment (which it seems she's getting), but for a permanent solution she needs a wholistic and sound technique to keep her from reinjuring herself each time she plays.

Best wishes,


October 11, 2007 at 05:17 AM · A different angle on back pain and improving posture: think about taking a course in a "finishing school" (that snobby training for the rich and elite) - besides learning how to deal with more silverware, plates and glasses placed in front of you on a table than you can imagine, they also teach posture while both sitting, standing, and moving around in general (tea-cup on the top of your head while walking around bit). It can be more fun than an AT class - and practical in other aspects if you ever go to (or plan to go to) fancy dinner parties. Granted, this won't teach you the specialized ergonomics that you need while holding a violin underneath your chin, however it does teach you the fundamentals of poising yourself properly as well as training out any nervous tension you may have in performing in front of other people.

October 11, 2007 at 08:54 PM · With all due respect to the snobby elite, Mendy, I'd rather take my cues from those who train their bodies for functional movement, than from those who learn to sit still, or stand and walk 'lady-like' (which may involve locked knees and a hyperarched lowerback - a posture further accentuated by (caused by?) highheels, and probably ingrained from infanthood).

The best training there is for proper use of back is for powerlifters/olympiclifters, because for them, misuse means a broken back. There is a good reason why compound exercises (as opposed to isolating ones) are incorporated in every athlete's training regimen. A few squats, dead-lifts, overhead presses, once a week (learned properly with good technique) will cure most people's mysterious back problems (assuming there is no chronic injury to begin with of course), and instill a good foundation for use.



October 11, 2007 at 09:01 PM · Excellent post, Jeewon.

The best way to cure a bad muscle-memory is to learn a new, correct one.

October 12, 2007 at 08:59 PM · Hey,everyone thanks for all the help. All the information is very useful, ill consider AT if anything else really bad goes on. Ive figured out the problems. My back is too straight so ive been working on that, making to where its bent a little but not too much or else thats just as bad. My shoulders were also creating majority of the problems, my shoulders were too high up and often would really invert to where my music was and I was putting way too much stress on it. Doing shoulder and back stretches and push ups helps me with this.

November 3, 2007 at 07:50 AM ·

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