Frequent headaches

March 13, 2005 at 05:56 PM · I went for a massage recently to help relieve the physical stress that we all suffer as violinists. When I mentioned that I get frequent headaches, the therapist decided to do a lot of work on my upper back and neck. I was shocked to discover how much tension I had in my upper neck, right below the head. When she applied pressure to this area, I could literally feel it in my temples...the same place where I get the headaches!

She used something called trigger point therapy on me. This is where pressure is applied to a tender or "trigger" spot and held there until it eventually subsides. It is ouchy at first, but I believe it really helped me.

When I got home, I felt so much better...until the next day when I started practicing the Bach Chaconne. I felt the tension come back within minutes to the back of my neck!

Does anyone else get frequent headaches? What do you think the causes are, and how can I prevent them? (besides getting more massages and quiting the violin) (:

Replies (9)

March 13, 2005 at 06:26 PM · Hi,

I don't get them anymore. I did at one point. Here is my own two cents on the matter... The reason for tension is misuse of the body, and usually some problem with the physical setup with the instrument. With myself, and now with my students, I check the basics first. Proper chinrest and shoulder rest (if used). Those are a must. Then setting them up properly.

That done, the trick is to limit tension by avoiding the usual pitfalls. In other words, not raising the shoulders, keeping the head straight, not squeezing with the neck and not pressing with either the right or left hands.

For me that works. It has solved many issues (though I still discover more)...

Hope this helps!


March 13, 2005 at 06:31 PM · I was reading Carla Leurs' blog yesterday where she writes about leaning against the wall with knees bent at 90 degrees to open up the sound before a concert. This is a freaky practice week for me since my son is off on a gig with my violin and I resorted to "practising violin" on his viola which I've never played before, and the different proportions on the bowing end can throw body balance a bit. Anyhow, on a quick reflex I found myself a wall and not only did a gorgeous sound come out of the viola, but a mass of tension left my shoulders and neck. I was able to maintain that relaxed feeling in the upper body "off wall" as well. I do sometimes lean into a wall when singing and unlean, to release tension with a similar effect.

Setup must have something to do with it as well. My son's shoulder rest is built up more than mine, the viola thickness I'm sure is greater and it is incredibly comfortable to play. By comparison, within minutes of going back to my violin I felt tension build up until I did the usual thing of ignoring I had a shoulder rest and just balancing the violin from my collarbone.

Neck tension does cause head-aches. So can oversensitive ears hearing out of tune music, or eyes straining to see sheet music. I sometimes run tiny notes through a photocopier or scanner to enlarge to avoid eyestrain.

March 13, 2005 at 11:39 PM · Greetings,

Mariam, the other day I posted a link to Hilary Hahn`s website. She has a small section on practicing/tehcncial advice which I think reveals one of the most important and widely ignored aspect of what we do with our instruments.

Basicvally, she puts a huge amount of emphasis on having the body (which would include the mind/senses) functioning in the most integrated and well used conmdion possible before even addressing the violin and repeatedly returning to thios key pset up throughout whatever practice you do. The concomitant condition that goes with this very simple yet profound idea is that we nee dto be actively in the present with our God goiven sens eof awarness of the present functioning.

Yet, if i consider my own case, or people I have taught, or how many players talk (or don`t talk about what they do) this essential precondition for effective practice and of course, performance is virtually off the radar screen. We all love/hate the violin and carry to it huge baggages of memories and emotions that simply do not exist in the present. They are more likely to be things like the future desires of young players thinking about the adualtion they will recibve when they play like Heifetz, or the negative feelings and determinations of the struggle or whatever. And thats just what is going on in the mind part of the mind/body thingy. I would bet quite a lot of money there are certain parts of your body you almost never think about (inside of your thigh muscles, armpits, lower back etc) at any time and especially when you excitedly pull the violin out the case because it is what you lo9ve doing, or miserably becuase you are not in the mood but know that you have to practice because that is the sacrosanct law of the violin written on a twenty kilo stone hanging fronm your neck.

But suppoise you sat down and considerd your left foor from a sense perspective and then your right and then compared the two sensations. Then repeat the procedure systenamtically with the left and right side of the body working up until tyour reach the top of your head and gofurther after that. From there, try to be aware of having two eyes both recieving data and go to the limts of your peripherla vison with out foricvng naything. Then maybe switch to just picking out all the sounds in your environment, also lsitenign for the spac ebetween the sounds.

Another way to do this kind of work is to make a checklist of all the body parts you -never- see without a mirror during some pecualir act which shouldn`t be described here.(back of upper arm, neck, top of head and so on.) Then rub those parts for a few minutes)

All these kind of exercises do is bring your awarnes sinto the present and perhaps allow your body to begin using itself better without you making changers of any kind. After this preparation don`t pick up the violin in the usual way. Open the case a a sensual ikinesthetic experience. EWnjoying the intesity of feeling of the case cover as you are now aware in the present.

When you pick up the isntrument stroke it as though you are mneeting it for the first time. Kepe the sense of using your whole peripherla vision and the violin as part of that huge area of vision.

Working this way ill not only hugely benifit any subsequent practice oyu do, but also high;ight the mental directive that is triggering the physicla action giving you headaches. Trigger point therapy is superb but you can go one stage further in removing the thought or wish behind the triggering.

That`s pretty much what Alexnder Technique is about.



March 16, 2005 at 01:46 PM · Chin tension is eradicated by being able to play wit hinstrument resting on arm or sternum.If the cusp of the matter is not relaxed there ,why should head weight take up the strain?

Mark N

March 16, 2005 at 01:46 PM · Chin tension is eradicated by being able to play wit hinstrument resting on arm or sternum.If the cusp of the matter is not relaxed there ,why should head weight take up the strain?

Mark N

March 16, 2005 at 01:49 PM · I prefer to play with the scroll balanced on my big toe. This allows me to feel more grounded, and play with my entire body.


March 16, 2005 at 09:29 PM · Neck tension might be a cause but also a consequence of case of frequent repetitive headaches, make sure that they are not symptomatic of migraines, myopia or raised intracranial pressure.

March 17, 2005 at 02:18 AM · Hi Mariam,

I too suffer from headaches: they are of the severity of migraines, however I recognise that they're caused by tension in my neck muscles. I have had little success in finding effective treatment because of this, and alternative therapies tend to be expensive and require ongoing treatment. Although my headaches often strike at random, they occur more frequently when I'm particularly stressed - for example a long teaching shift with no breaks, that kind of thing. I don't know if your teaching work requires a similar regime? Maybe something to look at. In my private practice, I don't teach more than three lessons back-to-back.

P.S. Weirdly, I've never developed a headache as a result of playing.

March 17, 2005 at 04:19 AM · I get these headaches especially after a very long class. Its a dull kind of pain in my temples. I ignored it, thinking I was imagining it, but after reading your post Mariam, I got my friend to massage my neck too, and it felt SO good after that. I have a class on Monday, hopefully my teacher will know how to prevent the headaches.

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