Strange pain in the shoulder...

February 7, 2005 at 10:34 PM · Recently, I've been having pain in my left shoulder from playing the violin. I practice about 2 hours everyday, and having pain is quite an anomaly, since I NEVER usually get pain in my shoulder. I'm also quite certain that my shoulders aren't tensing up. About four months ago, I switched from a Kun shoulder rest to a Bon Musica. I don't know if it's the shoulder rest, but everytime I practice or go to rehearsals, my shoulder starts to ACHE after about 2 hours. It HURTS so badly I can't even bear to hold up my violin. I've been playing for almost 11 years and I haven't had this problem until now. What can be wrong with me? Are my bones growing or something? (I haven't had a growth spurt in like forever.. maybe I'm getting one now?) Is it possibly the shoulder rest?

Ahh! It hurts so much! I just want the pain to GO AWAY!!!! :(

Replies (30)

February 7, 2005 at 10:52 PM · See a physician immediately. You may have rotator cuff tears that could get worse.

February 7, 2005 at 11:31 PM · Why did you switch shoulder rests?

February 7, 2005 at 11:36 PM · Greetings,

I am sorry to see you are having so much trouble. I had the same problem for years. Violin playing just stops being fun....

As recommended, get the medical check up, but not surgery!!!

There are a lot of aspects to this situation which makes it diifcult to help very directly.

First of all, when we do someting habitually it becomes normal and so we asusume it is okay. For this reason violnists are -very- poor at assessing whethe r or not they are tense. Secondly, violin playing utilizes rather a lot of tension. Muscles work in pairs in contradiction so in order to relax something we need to tense elsewhere.

THird, your body is a whole unit, and frustrating as it may sound your problem could have its origins in improper application of tension in any part of the body whatsoever. You might, for example, have accidnetly begun tensing your knees. Check thta out...

Here is another interesting exercise that may make the point about holding tension and even affect the problem you are referring to.

Your objective is to drop your jaw. And I mean let it sink slowly under its own weight. You would think thta is easy, yes?

Not so. We all open our jaws using the muscles designed for that purpose. What this exercise asks for is that you -stop- using those muscles completely so the jaw is free. It sometimes takes days or weeks to learn how to do this instead of the habitual action of using the muscles around the side of the face. Once you can do this when you raise the jaw you might get an astonishing revelation as to how much extra un neceesary muscle strength you were using to keep your jaw in place. I give this example just to highlight how little we undertsand about the way we use our own bodies most of the time.

Sorry if this feels off target. It isn`t. Honest!

However, I thinky you might find it useful to consider the follwoing maxim:

-The instrument adapts to the body. The body doe snot adapt to the instrument.-

the reason this is importnat is that so many players stick the violin up at random in roughly the right place and then move their shoulders and neck around until the violin is locked in. The result- injury and tension in the wrong places. What you need ot do is have the body in its most natural, balanced position so it is free to move any which way but loose.

Only then can one put the violin up safely and the natural positon of the body must not change. Any adjustments form this point shoudl be made in your use/nonuse of shoulder rest and chinrest.

So, stand comfortably and balanced. Hold the violin in the right hand at the bottom right hand corner. Put it up without moving the head at all. (Even some professionals find this hard!) Practice this exericse many times.

Then, put the violin up and turn your hea dto the left a little. Whatever you od, don`t drop the head at all.

When you have this under control addd a third element. You may drop the head a minimal amount onto the chinrest. Considering the weight of the head oyu are probably dropping too far and using too much pressure.

ou may well practice this routine many times each day until it becomes second nature.

For more immediate relief you might try the following three things:

1) roll up a towel and stick it under your arm pit. I mean your -arm pit- Not on your shoulder or as an extra rest or whatever. This will ease the strain somewhat until you can sort out what you are doing.

2) Get a basic book on stretching (Andersen is good) and stretch carefull and religiously everyday. Before you practice or rehearse walk for 2 or three minues, wave our arms aorund and then stretch a litlte. Learn how to stretch in orchestra by rotating the arms or hands in difernet directions to the way they are on the instrument.

3) I never advocate playing without a rest for the sake of it. But, try it. Find a little piece of foam andf stick it under oyur shirt or whaver. The source of pain in the body is often not positon but lack of mobility. That is the danger of a shoulder rest- you think you have a confortable positon )you proabbly do) and you stay in it. the body does not like thta. What you learn from playing without a rest you can then usefully transfer to playing with a rest.

Best of luck,

Buri

February 8, 2005 at 02:46 AM · Everybody and especially Buri, thank you for such comprehensive answers!!

Michael - What are rotator cuffs/rotator cuff tears?

Emily - I switched shoulder rests because my teacher said that the positioning of my violin was inadequate with the Kun, or something like that. Like my violin was too far out to the left, and I couldn't correct it correctly with the Kun because otherwise I would be rotating my shoulder which as bad...

February 8, 2005 at 03:08 AM · You should consider that you are 11 years OLDER than you were when you started and it could be your body telling you to ease up. Lord knows I have all sorts of aches and pains that I never used to have.

February 8, 2005 at 03:35 AM · Hey, Sam

I'm not THAT old, ok? Hahaha I'm only 16.

February 8, 2005 at 03:36 AM · Touche.

February 8, 2005 at 08:22 PM · Hi

I totally agree with Buri and I also teach to stand up and then put your violin up without changing your posture.

But I wanted to add that rotator cuff problems are not the only thing that can cause sudden pain. I had a disc pop in my cervical spine (while I was gardening) after many years of playing. The doctor said that it could have happened picking up a jug of milk from the refrigerator. Was it exacerbated by playing violin? Probably, but no way to tell for sure.

It is always worth going to a good doctor when you are experiencing pain that does not go away!!

Lisa

February 8, 2005 at 11:12 PM · Has anyone heard of "the one-minute bow"?

February 8, 2005 at 11:20 PM · Julie,

Rotator cuff tears are fairly common. It means you did something (even sleeping the wrong way) that damaged your shoulder's socket joint. If corrected early, my friends had good success in turning this around before any of them needed surgery.

Every violinist should be aware of this. See:

http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/fact/thr_report.cfm?Thread_ID=127&topcategory=Shoulder

February 9, 2005 at 03:45 AM · Oh nooo! Is it possible to have such problems at even age 16?! :(

February 9, 2005 at 04:24 AM · It already went away didn't it?

February 10, 2005 at 07:05 AM · The pain didn't go away. I was practicing today and it actually came only after 10 minutes of practicing. I took off my shoulder rest and I used a sponge (put it underneath my shirt) and it FELT BETTER! NO PAIN! ahhh!! COOL

So what was wrong with me in the first place? The Bon Musica possibly?

February 10, 2005 at 08:09 AM · That's why I asked why you switched shoulder rests. A change in setup, followed by pain seems to point to a flaw with the new setup. Hope you can pinpoint what it is, or perhaps someone here might have a guess. Changing your shoulder rest can be a big deal. For me, it changed the way I play completely.

February 16, 2005 at 05:18 PM · I can see where a Bon Musica might wear on a young, thin shoulder. All that metal was designed to be bent to fit the curve of your shoulder.

I have one, too. I like the way it raises the violin; but just looking and holding the thing, it's one heavy, lethal piece of equipment.

The reason I don't have your pain, I'm sure, is because my shoulder is old and fat! Well, let's say it's probably more "padded" than yours.

February 16, 2005 at 11:27 PM · The Bon Musica IS incredibly heavy. After playing without a shoulder rest for a week and coming back to it, I feel like it's added 100 pounds to my shoulder. That was a hyperbole but you get the idea...

March 31, 2005 at 03:23 AM · Hey Julie~

I'm 17 and I have the same problem. It only started recently- a pain right between my right shoulder and neck. wierd, huh?

March 31, 2005 at 03:23 PM · I've never used a shoulder pad or rest, but am still open to the possibility, and eager to learn more about holding the violin after all these years. Coming from the perspective of one who doesn't use a shoulder rest or pad, but experiments with them from time to time, it feels more natural to me to have something attached to my shoulder area, rather than something attached to the violin. In this way the pad moves with me as I make the little movements that go on while playing.

March 31, 2005 at 04:22 AM · I agree, Oliver.

March 31, 2005 at 07:42 AM · Yes, I agree Laura. It is strange! :( I hate the pain.

Hey, everybody. I've also noticed that this pain is much more acute when I'm playing the violin seated. Do you think this has anything to do with my posture when I play sitting down?

March 31, 2005 at 11:14 AM · Greetings,

yes. You might tri putting somethign udner the back legs of the chair or using a special sloping cushion to ensure that your hip jopints are higher than your knees. Level is not good, lower is a disaster but all too common in concert halls with shoddy chairs.

Probably won`t cure the shoulder problem but might help in general,

Cheers,

Buri

March 31, 2005 at 01:31 PM · You know what, I think I may know the exact reason for this pain, because I was experiencing pain just like it recently, and I had a masterclass with a teacher in February who told me it was because my shoulder was hiking up to support the violin. Not tensing up neccissarily, but just creeping up the tinyest bit. So now when I practice and I start to hurt, I think "put your shoulder down," but often I don't think it is up when it actually is. So I put the violin down, put my shoulders down completely, and then put it back onto my shoulder, trying not to move it up at all. It helps tremendously. I would suggest for the next couple days putting a sign on your music stand that says something like "keep shoulder down" and keep reminding yourself during your practice time. If that doesn't help in a week or two, then I'm probably wrong.

March 31, 2005 at 01:53 PM · I would tell your violin teacher, and go back to your old kun rest. He/She should be able to better articulate why she wants you to change your positioning.

Be careful of all the prescriptive business with the violin. There is so much hype and superstition (with violins and many other coached activities, too!), and some people are convinced that there is one One Way to do something. In fact, there are infinite ways, and the results are what you are after.

See if your instructor can explain what results h/she wants from you, rather than what position is requested.

Regards,

Bill

March 31, 2005 at 05:37 PM · I'm sorry to hear that you're having such pains. I completely understand what you're going through.

In 1999, the symphony I belonged to began a relentless rehearsal schedule that was preparing us to perform at Carnegie Hall. I went from practicing an hour and a half a day, to 3-4 hours a day. Our mass rehersals and sectionals became more intense than anything I had ever experienced. I began having this pain in my left shoulder that was like a pinch, an ache, a sharp stab, and a burn all wrapped into one. It became more and more difficult to hold my violin up, despite my continued efforts to relax. I went to the doctor and he informed me that I had an inflammation in my shoulder, and gave me a cortzisone (sp?) shot in my shoulder. That thing felt like peanut butter! It worked for a few weeks, but the pain came right back. The excessive playing and stress caused a constant inflammation of the bursar sac. This website explains more: http://www.shouldersolutions.com/impinge_1.php

Anywho, I was put on anti-inflammatory medication for a year, and received a few more cortizone shots. After playing the concert, I had a time to rest my arm a bit. On some days, I couldn't even lift my arm to brush my hair. I began physical therapy and that helped ALOT! In time, the spasms that were happing in my shoulder actually moved my 1st rib forward 1/4 of an inch.

So please go to the doctor and inform them that you are a violinist, and show them the playing position so they can see what area is becoming inflammed. Shoulder/back stretches are very important to do before long sessions of rehearsing, and should not be skipped. I hope that you can get this resolved before it gets any worse! Good luck!!!

March 31, 2005 at 06:05 PM · Hi,

Julie: In my experience teaching I have noticed something in your post that concerns me and that was addressed in part by Buri. You said that with the KUN and holding the violin to the left you were fine, and that switching to the Bon Musica and holding the violin more in front started the pain. That's it. You have answered your own question. If it is worst in orchestra, that confirms it.

The problem is that with the new setup, you are doing the flaw that Buri mentioned, i.e. adapting the body to the violin. Then, as most violinist, you are probably doing the great evil of not only raising your shoulder, but bringing it inside to meet the violin, instead of leaving the shoulder open. If you are feeling pain, I am sure it is on the muscle between neck and shoulder, and in your back right below the shoulder bone. The Bon Musica is not any better as it probably constricts movements the way Buri expalained and putting strain on the muscles by constricting them. My students sometimes have that problem. The answer. Go back to what you were doing before the pain started. Pain is a warning sign from the body that you have begun doing something dramatically wrong. But, really, I have solved many issues like this with my student. The shoulder should be unraised and out. Watch out for that. And like Buri said, bring the violin to you, not you to the violin.

I have no opinion on the use/nonuse of shoulder rests; that is an individual matter. But, I am against the very common misuse of the shoulder rest, which can indeed create huge pain.

The advice from Bill is good. Talk to your teacher about this and see what comes up.

GOOD LUCK!

Cheers!

March 31, 2005 at 07:04 PM · Buri, your jaw insight is great. I remember thinking about this a couple years ago, thinking about how even though our jaw muscles are supposedly voluntary, it is almost impossible to relax them at will. Just like a free neck, a free jaw could probably do wonders for relieving tension all over the upper body.

April 1, 2005 at 07:24 AM · I have switched back to the Kun and playing is much better. However, I'm not so sure my posture is correct as of now. I'm really short (5 foot 1/2 inch) and my teacher says it's not good for short people to hold their violins out so far to the left. This positioning is also quite detrimental to my bow arm because, as my arms are also quite short), I find that I am frequently now NOT bowing parallel to the bridge because the violin is out so far to the left.

I think the let the violin adjust to you (and not vice versa) is great advice. Thanks, everybody! The problem is I'm not sure how to let my violin adjust to me. If I just stick my violin on my shoulder, my neck has to go down so I can hold my violin. Maybe I should make my shoulder rest higher, but I have discovered that when I do this, I feel more strain in my neck.

I've talked to this with my teacher and she also suggests that my hips be higher than my knees when playing sitting down. This situation is quite confusing. I'm glad that thte pain has somewhat subsided however. :)

April 1, 2005 at 11:32 AM · Hi,

Julie, thanks for your post. About the height thing, I don't know...

However, from the description, it sounds more like you need a different chinrest than a higher shoulder rest. Although the shoulder rest can be a helpful tool, the most fundamental thing is the chinrest. And from your description, it sounds like yours is too low. Maybe you should talk to your teacher about this too, and go and try some out? Just a thought...

Glad that the pain is getting better. That is at least a good sign.

Cheers!

April 2, 2005 at 03:02 PM · Hi Julie, I agree with the previous post about the chin rest..could be that your body has changed shape., and your neck is longer now. this happened to me at 22 yrs old.

April 3, 2005 at 06:09 AM · Actually, my neck is sort of short. Maybe it is the chin rest. I remember there was a thread on chin rests saying that Flesch chin rests were better for short people. I should probably go check one out.

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