My shoulder hurts after practice

June 23, 2015 at 04:50 AM · Hi guys,

Like evrey year, I am about to do an intensive violin camp where I play from 6-10 hours a day. When comes the evening concert, my shoulder REALLY hurts and I have trouble concentrating and moving it. (Even when I am not playing) Is there any way to relieve the strain I put on my (left) shouler while practicing? BTW I am 16 years old, and I'm not sure this happens to violinists my age.

Thanks alot!

Replies (21)

June 23, 2015 at 05:18 AM · From someone who's had two surgeries done to the left shoulder here are the things that I follow:

1. Shoulder strengthening exercises

-with small weights, I'm sure there are many resources online but I followed my physio's directions and I still do them.

-If you have access to a gym with rope climbing machine, that helps a LOT for the shoulder and the back.

2. Shoulder Stretching

-This you can and should do in between practice

(Touch the back of your head with your elbow for 5 seconds then bring your hand down to your hips, again more resources online.)

3. Many and frequent resting.

-Don't play continuously for more than 30 minutes at a time.

I'm by no means a professional player, but these things help me a lot. I really started playing the violin again after my second surgery to regain the range of motion. I still can't hold the violin "properly".

June 23, 2015 at 07:24 AM · If it is gripping the violin which is causing the lasting pain we must change the way we hold it.

Try with no chinrest or shoulder rest. Maybe the violin can rest on the collarbone and the left thumb, (gently leaning on the side of the base of the index), and a gentle contact with the left side of the chin. No contact at all with the shoulder.

Then see what you can no longer play, and look for absolutely minimal accessories to fill the gaps and to prevent slipping.

In my case, with a long neck and wide but sloping shoulders, I use a Kun rest well in front of the collarbone, so that the violin is resting on the unraised shoulder, and is balanced, see-saw fashion, by my jaw on a much customised chinrest.

Just my two centimes d'euro..

June 23, 2015 at 12:25 PM · Hi,

Left shoulder pain has several causes, many of which are in the setup. So, here is a look at possibilities that can hopefully help you diagnose and overcome your difficulties:

1- Avoid rotating the left elbow to the right. This may be controversial as it is routinely taught these days, but it puts tremendous strain on the muscles of the left shoulder by affecting the entire balance. The body balances itself vertically in line with gravity towards the spine. Off-center habits are compensated by tension to restore the balance (sort of like a leaning tree being prevented from falling by a rope, in this case the rope being your muscles) Your elbow should be pointing down (i.e. upper arm perpendicular to the floor). Make sure you go forward into the higher positions and not around the violin. In doubt, simply follow the string forward.

2- Making sure that your left hand is setup naturally for your particular hand - meaning on the base of the index finger with the thumb coming up to its natural height. Many people hold their thumbs too low for their left hands which can create strain and tension. The thumb should never press into the neck of the violin either. If you find the need to press, then your left hand setup is probably not in balance for your particular hand.

3- Keeping the left shoulder down and not pressing the neck into the chinrest - Pressing with the neck into the chinrest and/or raising the shoulder will create tension that will create pain.

4- Making sure that your playing geometry works for you - hard to tell without seeing you play, but you have to make sure that your playing geometry works for the width of your shoulders to arm length ratio. This will affect your choice of chinrest and where your chin is placed on the chinrest. Anything that causes a hyper-extension will hurt. Also, bringing the left shoulder in to reach an improperly chosen or setup shoulder rest or cushion should be avoided and addressed.

5- Bow hold - in my experience, people who over-spread the fingers in the right hand tend to experience a sympathetic reaction on the left side. To be natural, fingers should be an extension forward or your hand and be at hand width. The hyper-extension of the index or in some cases of the little finger, or in other cases both, puts tremendous strain on a hand because it is not natural. This may be a controversial view, but this over-spreading of fingers is at the root of many injuries at the moment, as is the habit of pressing the fingers into the bow. The tension from these causes often a raising of the right shoulder that affects both sides as the left side will tend to tense up as well to try to restore balance.

6- Without getting into specifics, exercise in general, especially cardio (even more than weight training). Cardio improves circulation and oxygen levels in the body which is essential to keeping inflammation down. The body usually needs more exercise than people think.

7- Diet - Foods that tend to acidify the body will increase inflammation and make matters worse for pain. Avoiding things like carbonated drinks, sugar, white flour, caffeine, dairy products, pork, or anything that is a known inflammatory can be really helpful for many people. Also, avoiding anything that has artificial preservatives or substances that are hard to digest. Make sure you are well hydrated.

- Edit - 8- General practice habits - of course, it goes without saying that practicing slowly helps in avoiding straining movements. Also, many people including well-known performers and teachers recommend the 50 minute hour as a habit for long practice schedules - 50 minutes of practice with 10 minutes break between each session. I personally find that this works best as well.

All this said, being comfortable and health is part of a whole balanced approach. More than avoiding tension or inflammation it is about trying to be balanced in order not to have them. There is rarely one cause. We often make the mistake of adding things and exercises without addressing the root causes in the playing and lifestyle in general. Like someone one told me, removing an offender is more important than anything you can add extra.

Hope that something in this list will inspire you in finding a solution to your situation!

Cheers and best of luck!

June 23, 2015 at 12:26 PM · A good part of your problem might be just raw fatigue and some inflammation from overuse. On 6 to 10 hours of playing a day, you're doing a lot more playing than I presume you're used to doing in a day. Violin-playing is an athletic activity. If you were going from jogging every morning to running a marathon, you'd feel that too.

But consider taking an anti-inflammatory like Aleve in the morning, before it starts to hurt.

June 23, 2015 at 02:36 PM · My opinion as an experienced player, who has lived and played through past periods of pain: first, loosen up and stretch shoulders, wrists, hands/fingers well befor starting to play, and learn to notice your shoulder position while practising. Don't "practise hard" - at least not physically. Try to maintain a relaxed awareness of proper, natural alignment while playing simple warm-ups, graduating into more complex playing demands as you progress through your regimen. Take frequent breaks to loosen any accumulated tension. Drink water. Enjoy the process, while keeping sight of the goal, whether it be to learn a particular piece (challenge is fine, but be realistic) or generally to improve technique. Work with a good teacher, who is interested to help you along your path. Good luck!

June 23, 2015 at 02:41 PM · Alexandre,

Several good ideas are discussed above. Not all of them are the cause of your problem. Talk with your teacher now, before camp. She knows your playing pluses and minuses better than anyone.

Its very likely that your neck and head are clamping an upraised shoulder. If so, work with your teacher to un-do this bad habit. You don't need to change equipment, just learn to hold the violin with no forced muscle tension. The weight of your head will hold the violin in place. You need some coaching and some exercises from your teacher to develop this new habit. When you find yourself in the old bad habit of clamping, stop, then restart with the new habit. This is a skill like any other on the violin. Practice it.

June 23, 2015 at 03:53 PM · I am not a doctor, so take what I write with a pinch of salt.

3 years ago I had a transient issues with my right shoulder and spent considerable time reading about the subject, seeing my physio and doing prescribed exercises.

There appears to be a shift in sporting community (among professionals) when it comes to applying ice packs and taking ant-inflammatory drugs.

Both had been used for many years, but experts agree that there is no short-cut in recovery from injuries; ice will numb the pain but slowdown natural healing. The same with anti-inflammatory. I stand to be corrected by a physician, but inflammation is natural response to injury. You do not want to have too much inflammation, but suppressing all of it is again counter-productive to healing. Your body needs at least 4-6 weeks to heal on its own if you help it and do no more harm to yourself.

Others have already written about the setup; injuries are caused by poor setup and / or overuse. Find a better setup, and do not over-use your instrument. For immediate relief, action plan on recovery and prevention, see a qualified physio-therapist, preferably experienced in working with musicians.

June 24, 2015 at 01:19 AM · Greetings,

every single one of the above responses is correct and supplies one or more views of the big picture , one part of the elephant if you like.

Starting with Lydia, yes , making a jump from three or four sensible hours to six to ten is a horrendous leap. A very accomplished professional player friend of mine suffered a terrible hand injury as a result of suddenly having to play close to ten hours a day with very limited break. So it can happen to anyone. Why does it happen to anyone?

When you combine the number of hours with a technique that contains a faulty body usage somewhere, then the result is pain and injury. The more specific posts such as Christian and Mike's cover these issues well and unless you fix this kind of area the trouble will continue. I suspect like Mike that it is a clamping issue but that is something that needs to be clarified between you and your teacher.

However, in the end none of these things actually get to the root of the problem although they are essential. The foundation of our playing or any other activity at all, is the relationship between our head, neck and the spine. This is what is taught in Aalexander lessons, and unless you have this training or awareness correcting the local issues will still not fully eliminate physical problems when pushing the body to extremes. Alexander technique is widely taught in music institutes but even today not enough pros have training in this or similar methods and end up injured or working round injuries. Often having to conceal them to protect their jobs. There are surprisingly few pro players who play at their full potential simply because of this necessary foundation. It is not posture, but something much deeper, although relatively simple.

The pain you are experiencing is an early warning that at a basic level all is not well and you really should seriously explore Alexande rTechnique or maybe feldenkries before you go on this camp if it is not too late. You can take painkillers etc. but pain has always been a warning t hat you are damaging the body ans if you insist on carrying on simply because a) you have paid for the camp b) your teacher wants you to do it c )any other reason while ignoring the stark warning you are getting then you will seriously jeopardize your future playing ability.

Best wishes,


June 25, 2015 at 02:01 PM · Are you using a shoulder rest? If you learn to play without a shoulder rest, you are forced to develop body awareness that will prevent you from having these sorts of issues. Here are a couple of videos from my series on how to prevent pain through learning to play without a shoulder rest:

June 25, 2015 at 03:50 PM · This echos my first post, Marcus. Your videos are really useful, but I feel they don't really cover on all the issues, especially shifting and vibrato. I often play viola, and many of my violin students have much smaller hands, proportionally longer necks, and narrower and more sloping shoulders than you or me.

Every one of the "greats" you mention raises the shoulder from time to time, and all of them have squarer shoulders than me or my young students.

One size does definitely not fit all!

June 25, 2015 at 08:43 PM · I use an SR but do not grip or have my chin on the chinrest much of the time. I can waggle the whole instrument around easily as I play.

Yes, I do hold it a lot with the LH.

I can also play without an SR but prefer at this time to use one.

One of the problems especially with no SR is that a downward shift needs a moments hold/grip/ call it what you like as you negotiate the shift. There is no way around that.

I tend to agree with Adrian about this.

June 26, 2015 at 07:20 AM · Greetings,

although in my case I went through years of pain that was cured instantaneously by dumping the shoulder rest (I have tried just about all of them) I don't think irt is ne essarily true that this will automatically get rid of this kind of pain through a new awareness in every case. Indee sit may cause more problem sfor people whose physique is such that they are simply better off with a shoulder rest.

It is certainly true that we get new awareness which can be very helpful but the player then may well have to deal with all the problems mentioned day AdIan and Peter and have absolutely no idea how to go about it.

Nor does ditching the rest address the fundamentAl problems that begin even beforeutting the violin up that Alexander Technique brings to light

Idle thoufhts,


June 26, 2015 at 07:37 AM · Very considered views from Buri. I also agree that Alexander Technique would be a very positive step for most players (of any instrument). Many years ago i had about a year with an Alexander teacher who was also a musician (a viola player) and it has almost certainly helped me avoid most problems well into retirement, and I'm now a very relaxed player.

I've seen orchestral players devastated by tension and bad posture who have not survived a bad dose of Wagner, and especially the Ring Cycle ...

June 26, 2015 at 09:12 AM · I've been doing some playing without my shoulder rest, and I can see there is a real tendency to automatically raise the left shoulder. This never happens with the SR.

I agree with Adrian that many of the great players we see do also have this tendency amd maybe more than we can actually observe when the camera angles are full on the front of the violin. So maybe many of these players had some problems which they overcame in some way. Or maybe they just lived with the problem and kept quiet about it?

Please comment on this without starting the 100th shoulder rest war!

June 26, 2015 at 11:59 AM · Hi,

Peter, the SR thing can be tricky. The raising of the shoulder for the SR-less happens for many players who raise the collarbone to fit the violin between it and the jaw/chin. Part of the problem is the emphasis on the almost "over-high" violin that we have come to expect in modern playing. The one thing with the SR is that it can hide problems of movements by not allowing the violin to lose balance with movements that don't work. But those problems are usually there with or without an SR, so the SR is not the source.

In terms of orchestral playing, one thing that pops to mind is how people set up their chairs. Many place a chair to face a music stand and then crunch the left shoulder in to make the violin angle work. I have seen this many times. A good trick that I learnt from one of my former teachers who was first violinist of a world famous quartet for a decade was to set the violin angle with the stand and then place the chair to fit the rest. The chair will usually have the feet pointing in a different direction than the stand, but the playing angles/geometry for the instrument and body will be correct.


June 26, 2015 at 12:42 PM · Christian

Good points. And yes, I did angle the chair to make sure I was not making myself uncomfortable, in the orchestral context. It was probably an unconscious thing. You could avoid the conductor a bit then as well, depending on the section you were playing in.

June 26, 2015 at 02:00 PM · Or avoid your stand partner! :)

June 26, 2015 at 03:09 PM · Especially if they have been eating garlic ...

June 27, 2015 at 05:34 PM · Do you use a shoulder rest? If so, is it the right height? I used to have horrible shoulder pain because my shoulder rest was too short, so my left shoulder was raising to make up the space. Since buying a taller shoulder rest, I've had no problems at all. You may also just be too tight when you play. When warming up, carefully monitor your muscles, and pay attention to how tense you are.

Unfortunately, those summer camps just wreak hell on your body. I recommend taking a small vacation from the violin before your next camp, so you feel fully healed before entering what is essentially violin boot camp. Good luck!

June 27, 2015 at 07:09 PM · Charon, I quite agree! I had to order the extra high feet for my Bravo, to avoid clenching.But for others, particularly children, shoulder rests can cause pain through being too high.

Also I have never found a chinrest that didn't need some anatomical "customising"..

July 22, 2015 at 01:01 PM · You shouldn't be playing 6 - 10 hours a day in my opinion. What in the world are you doing all that time? Do you alternate between standing up and sitting? Anything you can do to switch things around is good.

Swap out your strings for lighter gauge also.

But I don't know how radical an idea this is, but there is more than one posture you can play the violin with. Violinists haven't always played with the instrument under the chin. But you'd need a professional to help you learn a second posture.

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