Beginner with shoulder pain, normal?

October 29, 2015 at 02:13 AM · Hey guys,

I started recently with the violin and my shoulders seem to hurt after practicing for a bit, is this normal? By shoulders I mean specifically the rotator cuff and shoulder girdle areas.

I'm an recreational bodybuilder and I'm thinking it might be my relatively weak lower traps / external rotators but, I'm also wondering if this is just a natural process of starting to play the instrument.

I'm going to give extra attention to the muscles responsible for shoulder stability and stretching everything in the upper body but, I'm interested in external input, especially from those with weightlifting background.

Replies (21)

October 29, 2015 at 02:27 AM · I recommend working on your back which involves your arms and shoulders. Rope machine/rowing machines are the best.

The pain may be just a strain/stretch. Bad posture contributes to it greatly. It'll take time to learn how to relax properly. You shouldn't feel any pain unless if you decide to play after a workout session.

I come from military background, I try to stay in shape. Since my injuries(dominantly in the left shoulder), I've used the violin the improve my range of motion.

I took many physio sessions, and they told me to focus on shoulder strengthening and back. Well, there's a reason why physiotherapists exist.

October 29, 2015 at 02:40 AM · Some discomfort can be normal at first whenever you start using parts of your body that you normally didn't use before in a certain way, but actual pain is something that should be taken seriously because it's a sign that something isn't quite right.

If you have a teacher, tell them that you're experiencing pain. They should be able to address it in person to determine the causes of it better than we can here on the internet (all we can do is speculate).

If you don't have a teacher, well... Tension tends to be one of the primary cause for pain and poor technique on beginners. Make sure you are as relaxed as you can be. Make sure you are not lifting your shoulders or tensing them up while playing. People argue to death about using or not using shoulder rests, but some body types (like mine) really need it, while others actually get pushed into uncomfortable positions with all that 'scaffolding' under their violin. Also your chin rest should be adequate, it's an often overlooked factor on comfort while playing.

Also make sure you aren't overdoing it. A while ago I was practicing 4 hours a day for a week to get a piece right, and that was too much for me.

I don't do weight lifting, just regular exercise to keep me from turning into a couch potato. :)

October 29, 2015 at 02:43 AM · I should warn you, that eventually you may come across do I work out, or do I play the violin. I've been picking the latter for some time now,

My right arm is still nicely toned, and my left arm needs some attention. Well, it's making my body asymmetric.

October 29, 2015 at 02:47 AM · Christian,

not normal.

It is all about:

1. the posture

2. repetitive movements

If #1 is not good, #2 will inevitably lead to injuries, it is just a matter of time (and player's age).

I went trough rotator cuff injury myself and with the help of excellent physiotherapist and my own persistence I am now injure-free.

Find a good physiotherapist and work with him / her.

If you are in acute pain, stop playing and allow your shoulder to heal. It takes 4-6 weeks for your body to heal itself. Do not stop using your shoulder in normal daily activities, to prevent "frozen" shoulder syndrome.

do not apply ice

do not use anti-inflammatory drugs

If not in pain, consider the following:

practice open strings only while standing with your back aligned with the wall. In order to avoid hitting the wall with the tip of your bow, you will need a corner with the void on your left. Make sure that you are standing straight, with your backbone and especially shoulder blades touching the wall.

Revisit the shoulder rest, especially the height - the higher it is, the more you will have to lift your arm and lean forward with your right shoulder.

Revisit other 2 dimensions:

1. horizontal - is the violin @ 45 degrees, or the scroll is turned more toward the left?

2. the tilt of your violin: do you have to play up-down on E string or to lift your right arm to reach G string?

Lastly, if you have a sport tape (or KT tape) placed in V -shape, stretching across your shoulder blades toward the backbone, this will be a reminder for you whenever you want to "dislocate" your shoulder by leaning forward.

It is difficult to explain all this here. but I hope that you get the main idea.

October 29, 2015 at 12:02 PM · Hi,

Some professional advice...

You didn't specify which shoulder, so I will assume both, though the left is more common in violin playing with the symptoms that you describe. Most are caused by positioning.

Here are the most common causes of shoulder pain and how to eliminate it:

1- Position of the left arm: one of the big problems in teaching today, is the advocation of rotating the left arm to the right instead of keeping the elbow pointing down. To see if you are well aligned, check your upper arm. If it is perpendicular to the floor (i.e. at 90 degrees), it is more likely correct. Look at violinists like Ray Chen or James Ehnes if you use a shoulder rest, or many of the non-SR players to see.

2- Position of the left hand: the classic position advocated by Flesch is the most natural way of placing a left hand for most anyone. Basically, with your left arm in the correct position mentioned above, the violin neck rests on the base of the first finger with the thumb coming up opposite the base of the first finger (not the tip of the first finger). The height at which the thumb comes up opposite is based on its own length, the distance between the root of the thumb and the base of the first finger. Therefore it varies from person to person and hand to hand. However, unnatural positions of the thumb (i.e. too low or too high) will create tension. In the case of a small hand, it may be a good idea to move the thumb further back to open up the hand.

4- Keep the shoulders down: any raising of the shoulders will automatically create tension in the back. Make sure that you do not need to raise the collarbone to fill the gap between the shoulder and chin; if you find that you do, then a different chinrest, shoulder rest or cushion might be in order.

5- Using the fingers: the biggest mistake mental is to think that we are playing up to the 3rd and 4th fingers, while we are actually playing forward. Changing this thinking will alleviate all kinds of tendencies towards physical responses to the word up; like raising shoulders, twisting hands, fingers and arms.

6- On the right side: the biggest source of tension is in spreading the fingers on the bow more than the natural width of the hand. The one exception is in the case of extraordinarily long fingers for a narrow hand. The overspreading of the index (commonly taught) generates tension that transfers through the repetitive movements to the elbow and the shoulders and back.

7- Moving the bow: contrary to popular belief, the hand doesn't move the bow, the forearm does. The hand connects the arm to the bow, but the arm moves the bow. For many, thinking in this way reduces tension by half.

8- Direction in which the bow moves: The bow moves sideways, not up and down. This unfortunate choice of words in English leads many to lead with a raising shoulder on an up-bow because they think up and the body reacts up. Changing this to thinking of opening and closing the arm laterally, will eliminate this tendency.

9 - The bow is balanced on the violin - you don't hold it up: the bow actually sits on the violin like a bowl on a table. The arm then sits on the bow which is still resting on the violin. The bow is then slide across the strings. Mentally, and therefore physically by preventing things from going up and stressing the back and shoulders.

10- Weight vs pressure: simply puts weight sits - pressure = fingers pressing in. Pressing with the fingers is the biggest source of tension and the biggest cause of injury and the one that needs to be avoided. One may feel a downward pressure of the fingers as the hand rests on the bow and the fingers react against the wood of the bow, but that is different. In order to avoid pressing in, it is best to think of the one thing that prevents it = never pushing in with the thumbs in either hand. This is something that I learnt a long time ago from Joseph Silverstein. The muscle past the root of the thumb is the one that contracts the whole hand. It is actually impossible to press the other fingers without the thumb. Therefore, keeping a released thumb at all times, will avoid pressing. One can and should have a heavy hand, and arm to allow the full weight to sit, but that is different from pressure.

WOW - what a long post! In essence, addressing these issues will help most anyone. I recently used it in a masterclass for a Master's degree level student and for an adult beginner privately and it solved a huge amount of their issues. There are other elements with concepts of shifting, but since you are a beginner, I did not mention them.

Lastly, bodybuilding should not affect much. It may create stress on the muscles causing a trembling of the bow, but that is it and it should not extend past a few hours after a hard workout. I used to be a martial artist and should that some of the body training did cause that, but, I find that most problems on the violin are caused by the approach to the violin.

Good luck! Hope this helps you solve your issues.

Cheers!

October 29, 2015 at 12:10 PM · Christian little kids play the violin, it has nothing to do with muscles and everything with staying relaxed. So check out the list of issues mentioned by Christian and make sure with a teacher that you start out with the violin in the right, relaxed manner.

October 29, 2015 at 12:37 PM · Fantastic advice from Christian. He really knows what he's talking about, so you should take it to heart.

When I started out, an old school friend who has become a distinguished performer and teacher advised me to spend the first few years focusing strongly on developing ease and freedom. In his experience, most of the advanced students he works with in major European conservatories have developed habits of tension that restrict their playing and leave them at risk of injury. He says that this is very difficult to remedy once established so should be a priority from the outset.

As a beginner, two resources I found very helpful are:

http://www.violinistinbalance.nl, a university based project to help students play pain-free and easefully. There's a lot of info here if you dig into the site.

A Breakthrough in Natural Cello Artistry: http://www.cello.org/newsletter/articles/natural.htm - the insights of a wonderful cello teacher who spent a lifetime exploring the roots of ease and freedom in string playing.

Finally, a tip that Simon Fischer passes on from his Alexander teacher - when placing the jaw on the chinrest, turn the head first in its normal upright position, then nod it down gently onto the chin rest. If you turn and nod in the same movement you create an unnatural torsion that can lead to neck and shoulder issues.

October 29, 2015 at 12:40 PM · Christian

Could you kindly expand a bit on what you mean by "up" and "forward" in Point 5?

I'm not sure I'm understanding you...

October 29, 2015 at 02:39 PM · Yeah, It's mostly the left shoulder, I injured it before and it's better now but, it's not at %100.

I have a teacher and she is talking about the important being relaxed especially in the shoulders.

I'm gonna read over the thread in detail and see what happens. Thanks.

October 29, 2015 at 02:43 PM · A lot of good advice is above.

The most common reason for sore shoulders is that they are tense and "hunched up" while playing. Long term, this is a risk factor for muscle and tendon injury. Short term, the tension reduces the ability to play in-tune, fast, and expressively.

The violin should be played with both shoulders down and relaxed - at all times. It is possible to play with the head and chin up -- not touching the chin rest, except for a few moments when down shifting. Relaxed muscles improves performance.

I lift weights 3 times a week, and play violin 6 days a week. I pay attention to the difference in posture and muscle action for each activity, and have no issues with either.

November 9, 2015 at 05:11 PM · I have occasional pain in my left shoulder when I play, from a broken collar bone eleven years ago. I have to play less frequently, breaking my practice sessions into smaller chunks. If I don't, then I start shifting the weight of my violin away from the shoulder/chin and toward the left hand. When you become more advanced, holding the violin up with your left hand messes with shifting and vibrato. Plus, it makes your hand and wrist hurt in addition to your shoulder. As a beginner, your practice sessions shouldn't be very long, anyway, but I think you should seriously consider breaking them into two separate sessions each day. When you reach a level where you are playing scales and etudes (if you're not already there), you really need to start each of those sessions with a slow warmup. Pushing through pain is not beneficial to a violinist. Fatigue causes you to do things incorrectly, which messes with your muscle memory and overall technique. If you are hurting, sore, tired, or sick, go easy on yourself.

I am not a weight lifter, but I have read that for a violinist it makes your muscles tighter and more compact, so when you pair violin playing and weight lifting both result in more soreness than if you were doing one or the other. Basically, your body starts to confuse tension with strength, so you are tense all the time. Supposedly, the solution is to add something to your exercise routine that is low impact and involves fluid movements, like swimming, yoga, or pilates. Again, I don't have first-hand experience in that area, but what I can tell you is that I feel like I play better after a swim or a yoga class.

November 9, 2015 at 05:59 PM · It might be worth reading through this article about correctly holding the violin. Please note how the left hand IS used to support the violin. Don't just ram the violin under your chin and hold it there by squeezing it between the chin and shoulder !

http://www.violinist.com/violin/how-to-hold-a-violin/

November 9, 2015 at 07:13 PM · Consider checking out some Alexander Technique lessons. I lift weights, and you may just be carrying tension, rather than having underpowered supporting muscles. I find that I can deadlift pretty heavy early in the day, and it doesn't seem to affect my violin sessions in the least.

December 7, 2015 at 02:53 AM · What was said above is right. One more thing to point out: maybe changing the shoulder rest and/or chinrest might help.

December 7, 2015 at 07:13 AM · I would like to interject that it is much better to fill the space between your chin and shoulder via a tall chinrest, not necessarily a tall shoulder rest. After experiencing similar pains after a few years of playing I realized lengthening the legs of my shoulder rest was actually forcing me to raise my bow arm into some unnatural angles, further straining my back/arms. Instead, I've found a quite tall (center mount) chin rest, and I keep my shoulder rest relatively low/short. Comfortable and secure.

December 7, 2015 at 10:35 AM · Assuming that one wants contact with the collarbone (a sore point, literally..) chinrest height depends on the space between collarbone and jaw, while shoulder rest height (and presence!) depends on the space between the underside of the fiddle and the relaxed shoulder.

Both accessories can be adapted and combine to provide the tilt required by short fingers.

I have a long neck and sloping shoulders, but many of my friends and students do not.

A new activity can produce discomfort, but pain is out !

December 7, 2015 at 06:06 PM · OP, I'm having the same pains as you with my left shoulder as my body gets used to the twist of having my elbow tucked under the violin. It's not inside the joint, just the muscle trying to adapt, but it puts a real strain on it to the point of pain. I've been practicing a lot lately too, much more than normal in preparation for Christmas, which likely is what exacerbated things. I took yesterday off (lol very reluctantly) and from now on am going to limit myself to only 30 minutes (timed) a day in short bursts. I've heard some horror stories from people who over practiced and had to stop violin for months to heal up, and don't want that! So maybe just take some time and let your body heal itself, going slowly at first and building up to longer practices.

December 7, 2015 at 11:32 PM · Hmm, very interesting points.

December 8, 2015 at 12:46 AM · Jenny, no the elbow joint only moves two directions (or essentially 180* on a single axis). It's the shoulder joint that allows the arm to move in circles. The hand can rotate because of the twin bones in the forearm (radius moves around ulna) but those move separately from the elbow (although they are joined). Once you get further up the arm past the elbow (humorous bone), it's the shoulder doing the moving. So when I'm tucking my elbow more or less perpendicular to the ground, it's the ball-in-socket shoulder joint that's doing the movement, controlled by the muscles around it. Specifically, it's my deltoid that I think is giving me problems, as if I've been doing arm extensions like when working out.

December 8, 2015 at 07:39 PM · Jolly difficult to describe anatomy in words!

December 8, 2015 at 09:17 PM · Right?! :-P

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