Help! Career on the line!

May 21, 2006 at 06:00 AM · I am, for the first time in 43 years of playing, not able to play because of injuries to my hand, shoulder, and neck. After struggling with this for 4 months, I finally too every one’s advice and put the instrument down and saw an orthopedic hand specialist. I now know that I have basal joint arthritis and carpal tunnel. I also feel that the neck and shoulder stuff is surely related, so I want to treat all of it. I have decided to take a long lay off from all practicing and even paying gigs until all this is treated well and I am able to play relatively pain free. What I do not know is where to start because hand specialists will not treat the whole thing (hand, shoulder and neck) and can only offer surgery and rest. I am considering chiropractics, physical therapists, sports medicine, and Eastern medicine. My question is has anyone beaten these types of things, and if so how did you do it? Does anyone know of any specialists in the L.A area who have a track record of helping violinists? To put it in another way, where would Shanahan or Bell go if their careers were in jeopardy like mine is right now? Surely people would have them up and playing in a hurry, but how?

Replies (39)

May 21, 2006 at 11:13 AM · Greetings,

you are right in saying the injuries are related to the neck. This is the clearing house for data about how you are misusing your body (to trigger the carpal etc). If the neck , or rather position of head, neck and back is being abused then your body moveent control is skewed and all manner of horrible over compensations take place.

Take a look at William Conable's website and approach him directly for advice on the Alexander Technique and the kind of help it can give.

For help in reliveiving the athritis (irrespectvie of the other good ideas you have for treatent) then switch to the Candida diet which yuou can easily find with Google. Get all those stiulants and irritants like coffee/alcohol/sugar out of your life immediatley and drop dairy products just for starters.

Best of luck,


May 21, 2006 at 11:36 AM · Buri: It seems that there are a lot of respondents to this website who have all kinds of physical problems (arthritis, tendonitis, carpal tunnel, etc.). I had left elbow tendonitis that was so severe that I literally could not lift my arm. I was operated on about 4 years ago and haven't had a problem since. But, as you know, surgery isn't always the best alternative and doesn't always work.

There has been a lot of advice for violinists on specific methods and practitioners, but does this advice exist anywhere in a comprehensive list that you know of?

Cordially, Sandy Marcus

May 21, 2006 at 12:47 PM · Hi,

Jon, I feel your pain. Apparently the best person to consult in the U.S. is in Boston (recommendation from a friend who plays in the San Francisco Symphony). May sound like an expensive journey, but by all accounts this person is great.

There is also a world-renowned clinic specialzing exclusively in musicians' injuries in Hamilton, Canada (near Toronto) with a great long term track record. That might be worth the trip as well.

These are my recommendations based on musicians' personal experiences.


May 21, 2006 at 12:51 PM · I've got a bit of a Western medical background so I'll offer some rather controversial advice: Check your ergonomics (i.e. playing posture and method).

The best medical treatment in the world will not make the problems that come from playing posture go away. Even if somehow the treatment cures it, the problem will recur if the posture is the cause of it.

One of the reasons I went to Aaron Rosand was because I wanted to learn the Auer method. Many of the violinists who trained in that method had incredible longevity because of the efficiency of their posture and playing habits. Now that I've been trained in that way, I can see exactly how that works. Currently I don't even have a neck "hickey" or any pain anywhere. Aaron Rosand, at the age of 80+, doesn't seem to either.

For all of the criticism leveled against some of the old traditional playing styles, many of them have built-in defenses against the physical ravages of playing the violin.

May 21, 2006 at 01:13 PM · I know a lot of people who swear by the Alexander Technique, but I don't have personal experience.

I think the comments on ergonomics are right on, also.

Personally, I use exercise and physical conditioning to keep injuries at bay. I'm 60, and have a back injury right between my shoulder blades, and three years ago I had arthritis in my knees so badly that I couldn't even jog across a street without a knee giving out. Also had sciatica. Now I can run three miles a day with no pain, and a long as I exercise regularly, my back gives me no problem. If I quit exercising for a couple of weeks, the back gets bad enough that I can't play for more than a few minutes at a time.

In addition to running, I do Tai Chi, and a mix of qigong, yoga, and calisthentics that seem to keep problems at bay. Lack of adequate physical conditioning seems to make all kinds of problems worse. I think this is especially true for string players.

May 21, 2006 at 01:34 PM · The Tai Chi thing is definitely true.

Until very recently, I was a professional kung fu and qigong instructor who had my own studio. I'd use Tai Chi to help people get in shape and get over their problems. However I don't use any of the standard Yang/Sun/Chen/Cheng sets because the "old school" approach to Tai Chi is better for the body and develops far more core strength and reality combat ability. Any of the standard combative kung fu styles (Longfist, Bagua, Hsing I, Animals, Wing Chun, Drunken Style, Shaolin Monk Fist) are really great for improving one's violin ability if they're trained in a combative sense.

And no, the fingers don't get messed up from breaking boards. We Chinese kung fu guys tried that crap centuries ago and don't do it because it doesn't really help you in real fights (Bruce Lee: "Boards don't hit back"). I ran my kung fu school for 3 years doing reality combat sparring against more than one opponent every day and the worst I ever did was jam my thumb when I was careless.

I train myself physically daily, and it really helps my violin playing. The whole body has to be in shape for one to be at his absolute best.

May 21, 2006 at 05:19 PM · I am very sorry to hear about your pain, and I wish I could give you the names of who big-time players would see, unfortunately I do not know who they would see. John I know who you are, even if you do not know me. I saw you play in Krakow years ago, as a soloist with a small chamber orchestra. The three of us who heard you that night (also professional violinists) thought we were hearing the best player on earth. After hearing you play last year in a small quartet at the former Music Center, I knew I had been right years before. I understand that you had been “black-balled” from a lot of the industry because of inconsistent behavior, and that since then you have taken radical steps to correct your character. I applaud you for that and sincerely hope that you find a way to play again; I agree with the many studio players out there, who for years have told me that you play with as much “feel,” as anyone on the planet.

May 21, 2006 at 05:35 PM ·

May 21, 2006 at 08:22 PM · Kevin, interesting comments about Tai Chi. I come from an Okinawan style, and TaiChi makes so much more sense.

What's your experience with other aspects of Qigong, such as medical Qigong, especially as it pertains to violinists?

One other thing that might be worth mentioning: My health (and life) got markedly better when I got over being perpetually angry.

May 21, 2006 at 10:57 PM · Greetings,

Michael, that`s interesting. I have noticed a very strong trait in practitioners of Okinawa-te. The older they get the more they look like they are doing Tai Chi. The former is such a beautiful and efficient art.

It would certainly benifit all violnists to pracitce tai chi and Qi Gung.

I think in general we really messourselves up unless we have greta teachign right from the beginning.That`s why I have become so enamoured of teaching absolute beginnersover the last two years. Used to avoid them like the plague....

Once I really started working on how to have beginners play beautifully from the word go because they have retained or improived their natural body use before they began I realy started asking hard questions about my own playing. The moment I sense the slighest tension in my own playing I immedaitely check my primary control (head/neck/back relationship) and sure enough, just releasing that solves a technicla problem as often as dipping into basics and pracitcing some kind of independent mechanics that will certainly help at one level but may not be integrate dinto the whole.

Sander, yes I think it would be greta if some kind of coordinated set of suggesitons for injury could be on this site. If ther earen`t any takers I will work at it myslef. Probably take about a month



May 22, 2006 at 12:58 AM · Buri,

Interesting comment. Sounds like your students are very fortunate to have you as a teacher.

I'm not a high level player, but I have discovered a lot connections beween violins and Tai Chi. Both demand relaxation, fluidity, balance, and an almost meditative state. In both, stillness is just important as motion, as silence is just as expressive as sound. Some players can play fast as blazes and yet seem to have all the time in the world between notes, and some TaiChi artists can wait for an opponent to move, and yet seemingly effortlessly "get there" before their opponent. Cliches, maybe, but true none the less.

I wish I had started both 30 years earlier. I would have been a lot wiser, sooner, and a happier man altogether. If you can get your students to see just a little of this, you're doing a great job.

May 22, 2006 at 02:40 AM · Greetings,

>Some players can play fast as blazes and yet seem to have all the time in the world between notes, and some TaiChi artists can wait for an opponent to move, and yet seemingly effortlessly "get there" before their opponent. Cliches, maybe, but true none the less.

My Tai Chi teacher was once explaining (?) the menaing of a Tai chi saying that translated roughly to `Move, see red.`He said the meaning was that -the other person moved- and one saw red. it was their blood all over the floor.




my Tai Chi instruc

May 22, 2006 at 03:02 AM · Okinawan "kara te" (original translation: "Chinese hand" and not "empty hand") comes in the form of two offshoots: Shorin Ryu and Shorei (Shuri) Ryu.

"Shorin" refers to the Shaolin temple in Hunan province in China, "Shorei" or "Shuri" refers to the big castle in Okinawa that was a major commerce hub between Okinawa and Fukien Province in Southern China. To make an incredibly long story short, "Shorei Ryu" is the older and more combat oriented style while "Shorin" is an offshoot that was derived from an art called "Yong Chun He Quan" or "Crane Technique from the Village of Wing Chun". These facts were written in "The Bubishi", known to Chinese White Crane practitioners as "The Shaolin Bronze Man Book"

If an Okinawan practitioner is PROPERLY trained, he is supposed to do his movements in a fluid manner from the start. Compare the sets and moves of the Sanchin form (the Kreutzer of Shorin Ryu) to the Fukien White Crane practitioners - you'll see the Chinese masters doing the moves a lot more fluidly. Virtually all of the combative applications have been lost over the generations, but there are a few people left in the world who understand how "karate" actually can be used for grappling, groundfighting, etc. I'm one of those people who was taught the "real" meaning of moves, as I am a closed door acknowledged sifu of the original Chinese form of Shorei Ryu known as "Seng Men".

I have great respects for the achievements of the Okinawan te instructors, but they have not been given the full instruction by ancient Chinese masters. It was common for Chinese masters to not give the full teachings to their own students, let alone Okinawan foreigners who may have turned against them one day. BK Frantzis lamented against this in his internal kung fu book. Frantzis, by the way, was a high level Okinawan karate stylist who ended up studying authentic kung fu from the "real" masters in China.

I was taught that a true closed door master of Chinese kung fu and even Okinawan karate does not truly "have it" unless he has been trained in the healing ways. This was driven home by the movie "The Karate Kid" where "Miyagi" used a technique called "Iron Palm" to heal his disciple's sore shoulder. In real life, the treatment lasts a little longer and bears much in common with acupuncture, reiki, massage therapy, and even certain hands-on American Indian energy healing methods. Most people think "Iron Palm" is for breaking things, but in truth the hand conditioning is done only to increase the sensitivity of the practitioner's hand for healing.

It's too bad I live in Phoenix and not LA. I'd probably utilize Iron Palm and another kung fu technique called "pai da" (a gentle form of slapping to "massage" deep injuries) to help some of jon's injuries. A little meridian rubbing done the right way would also help quite a bit. After all, people who train "real" kung fu are constantly curing their own wear and tear from grappling, particularly in the groundfighting arena. My experience with violinists and other stress related injuries is that quite a few of these respond wonderfully to these centuries-proven kung fu healing techniques when all other treatment modalities fail. But I'm so young looking that only the most desperate of people seek me out for such things. Sometimes the ailments are so far advanced that there's little anybody can do, but I've dealt with my share of gnarly stuff. Plus, I don't have a "black belt" (a true closed door kung fu master NEVER has a black belt) and so people automatically assume that I have no idea what I'm talking about even though I've got about twice the experience of most kung fu teachers two or even three times my age.

There's an internationally reknowned qigong master named "Hong Liu" that was featured on national TV for his qigong exploits. I met him at one of his seminars, thoroughly tested his skills (he didn't even know I was testing him and he SHOULD'VE), and concluded that he's not that skilled because his lineage isn't strong. So if anybody get recommended to him or his disciples, I strongly recommend that you DON'T go to him in order to preserve your health.

By the way, Tai Chi can be very effective in real combat. But Tai Chi doesn't make a person unbeatable. The "see red" thing probably wouldn't work if that teacher had to face somebody like Tito Ortiz (UFC champion) or Rickson Gracie (the best fighter of all the famed Gracie jujitsu family). Thta's not to say Tai Chi doesn't work great in combat, but technique only goes so far in combat. I would know - I've faced both Tai Chi fighters AND modern day UFC style cagefighters and the UFC guys were much tougher because they were conditioned professionals who were gifted athletes to begin with.

May 22, 2006 at 03:32 AM · I thank all of you for your concern. And you are right Raymond, I do not know who you are! I do remember playing in Krakow and I have played in many different quartets, I wish you had come to meet me! And you are right about my past “track record,” but that was over 5 years ago and I have walked the straight and narrow since. Well, be that as it may, I thank you for the compliments, even if I do not believe them myself.

Before these injuries happened I was just happy to play this wonderful instrument, and I was thankful for getting all this studio work, especially the solo and cadenza work that I had been getting. I was even looking into spending a whole lot of cash on a great modern instrument, but now I am very concerned about ever playing again.

I would very much like the number of this person in Boston that Christian mentioned, can anyone get me more information on him, or any other specialists that have had success? I thank all of you for your concern!

May 22, 2006 at 04:14 AM · Greetings,

Kevin, my Tai Chi instructor was the last disciple of Chen Man Ching. He fought anybody, anywhere anytime and raely lost. He taught me if you want to claim to be an instructor you have to put it on the line anywhere anytime. I was with him when he saw some of the UFC guys. He commented that the only way he could -possibly- handle them would be to do soemthing really dirty.



May 22, 2006 at 05:21 AM · One of the best session players in L.A., maybe the world, is having serious problems and some of you turn it into a "kung-fu fighting" conversation!? If it sounds like I have serious problems with this, it is becuase I do!

May 22, 2006 at 05:42 AM · Why not?

Kung fu fighting inflicts physical injury. 43 years of violin playing inflicts physical injury. Why can't a kung fu fighter that has experience with dealing with physical injury offer condolences and unsolicited advice to a violinist also dealing with physical injury, particularly when the kung fu fighter plays the violin himself? Mind you, there are professional kung fu people who heal pro athletes and others for a living in various contexts.

Isn't the whole point of this discussion to figure out how to avoid injury and heal it when it comes? We've got people who clearly do kung fu (Tai Chi is a subset of kung fu) specifically to avoid injury of any sort, including those incurred by violin playing. That's about as on-topic as it possibly gets.

I wasn't that impressed by Cheng's video performances, buri, but I won't dare assume that of his students.

I don't know the physical dimensions of your sifu, nor do I know his background outside of the Cheng school. On the other hand, his comment that he'd have to "do something really dirty" resonates with me because that's what I say about myself when I go against those cagefighter guys. Usually they're way out of my weight class and are used to conforming to whatever rules they are used to, so who "wins" is actually more about who's doing the judging. Clearly your instructor is speaking realistically about the cage issue. You have my admiration for studying a guy with the right kung fu attitude.

Cheng Man Ching disciples have been known for their healing techniques. If I were a hurting violinist, I'd check one out just to see if he could help me.

May 22, 2006 at 05:46 AM · Tai Chi, Qigong, "Gung Fu", and TCM in all its aspects are all different aspects of a whole system that has been around for literally thousands of years. The system has a lot of similarities to Yoga, which is widely accepted for its benefits in the West. You've got three people who practice it at various levels and who attest to its potential effectiveness with this sort of injury. I know for sure that if I told you all the things I had experienced studying it as briefly as I have, you simply wouldn't believe it. We're not saying it's a panacea, but it usually helps a lot. Go back and read the earlier posts; I was virtually crippled with arthritis, sciatica, and back pain, and now run about 20 miles a week, with no medication whatsoever. Kevin is talking about the healing techniques that he routinely uses. Who are you to deny what we have concretely experienced? Ergonomics, Alexander technique, Yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong are all interrelated approaches that simply work very well for people, and stand just as much of a chance of being helpful in these situations as any conventional medicine, in our collective experience. I certainly don't have much in the way of credentials, but Buri and Kevin certainly do. Open your mind a little bit. You might enjoy it, and possibly learn something. We are offering an approach that we have seen to be very successful, and if we get sidetracked a little, its only because we love our art and like to exchange ideas.

May 22, 2006 at 12:12 PM · Jon - Sent you an Email with a recomendation. Hope he can help.

May 22, 2006 at 01:56 PM · sidetracked a little bit?! My problem with what happened in this thread is not the advice to look into the benefits of different types of stretches, etc, found in these disciplines. And I am more than open to this, yoga, Alexander tech., etc... What I cannot understand is how we start talking about who can fight best when the person who started the thread is concerned about ever playing again! And if you look at the conversation you will see that some of you were just taking among each other about "kung-fu fighting," not what would help Jon.

And yes I have heard him play too! And what Raymond wrote is pretty much right on! Many session players in L.A. know this to be true as well. What Jon asked for were names of people who can help him, not how to best protect himself from gangsters.

May 22, 2006 at 02:53 PM · Ok, so it's bad form to digress. What's the harm, other than wasting the time of the poeple who aren't interested? (Granted, that can be a pain.)

Is it any worse than your breaking in to chastise us?

We (I hope I may speak for the other two) made what we feel are good and valid suggestions, based on solid experience, and I offered the name of a person recommended to me by a cellist I know in L A.

What have you done to help?

In case you can't see me, I'm smiling as I write this. I take no offense and hope to give none. Just pointing out some inconsistencies.

As for myself, I'll keep looking and asking for recommendations for anybody out there who is effective with this sort of problem. Having had similar difficulies that forced me to give up a very lucrative career, I'm particularly motivated to help. After the docs gave up on me, Tai Chi and Qigong gave me back my mobilty, and I was free of pain for the first time in over 20 years. To me, that's pretty significant.

May 22, 2006 at 05:20 PM · Jon,

My wife is a former pro athlete with the standard ex athlete injuries including Arthritis. She has some very pointed advice. IF, and she says that it's a big "if," you do have Arthritis and she's not so sure after reading the entire thread, you should run, not walk, to a good Rheumatologist(sp)and Orthopedic specialist. You need further medical tests to find out just what the heck is going on.

My wife is on an infusion drug for Arthritis every 6 weeks that has help tremendously. You probably don't need to go that far, but we agree that with a career on the line you need competent meedical advice. And NOW. Probably an MRI wouldn't hurt either.

Good luck.

May 23, 2006 at 04:02 AM · I thank all of you again. It is hard not playing right now, but I am trying to be positive. I know that I have basal joint arthritis, but I do not know how bad it is. I also know I have Carpal tunnel, but again I do not know to what extent. I also know I have neck and shoulder pain, and I am pretty sure they are connected, but that would depend on what doctor you talk to (the school of medicine they belong to—east, west, etc…).

May 23, 2006 at 04:19 AM · Does anyone know this doctor in Boston who Christian mentioned? Or does anyone know of any doctors who specialize in helping string players, etc...

I again thank you for all your help and will make calls to the numbers that were given to me.

May 23, 2006 at 01:22 PM · Here's another one:

Dr. Richard Norris, MD

14600 Pebble Hill Lane

N. Patomic, MD 20878

He writes and gives lectures on string players' injuries.

I don't know whether this is a correct address or not. It was the address given on an article I read, but may be out of date. The Bethesda phone book gives this info:

Norris Richard MD

(301) 581-8030

6410 Rockledge Dr,

Bethesda, MD 20817

If he's specialized enough to give lectures and write articles on string player's injuries, he should be able to help you or direct you to someone who can, in your area.

I'd try the second address and phone first. It's probably more current.

May 23, 2006 at 01:49 PM · Here's a whole web site with a ton of information on musicians and injuries, including a list of doctors and therapists,a couple of pages into it:musicians and injuries

If you Google "violin injury" you'll get pages and pages of references. If you're not playing or practicing, probably the best thing to do woud be to start checking them out.

May 23, 2006 at 07:23 PM · Here's another one:

Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago

Performing Arts Medicine

315 E Superior

Chicago, IL

312 238 2787

May 23, 2006 at 07:52 PM · I was treated at the Rehab Institute and had my elbow surgery there. The are ranked as the best in the country.

May 24, 2006 at 03:57 PM · Yet another lead. Someone on the faculty, or one of the lecturers might tbe able to help.

The Healthy Musician

I doubt your case is unique. You just need to find someone with a good track record with your kind of problem

May 24, 2006 at 04:44 PM · Jon,

Maybe the person Christian was talking about in Boston was Dr. Michael Charness of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. He comes with the highest recommendations! He usually has patients bring their instruments to the initial consultation, and he observes your playing as well as studying the symptoms etc. Very helpful.

Good luck to you.

May 24, 2006 at 05:21 PM · My daughter went here for some wrist tendonitis. Fortunately, with rest and warming up properly the problem resolved itself. We did not have a lot of interaction with them but what we had was very understanding, supportive and helpful.

They have specialists who work with musicians.

click the National Hand Specialists link

May 24, 2006 at 09:40 PM · A lot of you seem to think Tai chi is good for musicians-- I recomend that you try Aikido. Aikido is a Japanese martial art, realitively young as martial arts go, its only been around for a century or so. Practitioners train in falling skills (ukemi) and actual techniques. I think the falls and the streatching befor and after are both great for musitions in general, but especially violinists because most of the techniques and streaches deal with the wrists and arms. I am not familiare with any dojos in the LA area, I train at Aikido West in Redwood City under Frank Doran and Cindy Hayashi. If you go for it, make sure your dojo is an aikikai aikido dojo, not a yoshinkai aikido dojo. Aikikai is more fluid and less violent than some of the other branches of aikido.

Kelsey W.

May 25, 2006 at 02:34 AM · Aikido is definitely worth learning. I was going to study it before I learned more about TaiChi and Chinese martial arts in general. It turns out everything in Aikido is available in Chinese martial art, plus quite a bit more. It may be significant that O Sensai Ueshiba introduced Aikido after a protracted stay in China.

Aikido is a worthwhile art, and a lot of fun, but it's only a small part of the big picture. It's one of the few martial arts where I saw students laughing out loud while they worked out.

May 25, 2006 at 03:18 AM · I again thank all of you! I am making calls every day and hopefully soon I will know how I want to treat this thing. Again, I thank each and everyone of you!


May 25, 2006 at 06:46 AM · That's really good to know. There has to be an answer in there somewhere (or is it a pony?)

May 25, 2006 at 07:49 AM · Jon,

Hope you fins someone who is able to help soon. You are probably right about all being related. I was in a gym class and developed severe pain-stiffness in the fingers, hand and forearm that wouldn't go away and kept getting worse. I eventually went to our sports medicine centre and after all the tests, I was diagnosed as having worn down by "artrosis" one of my neck vertebrates. The doctor then showed me a model where all the different parts of the body were linked to each of the vertebrae. So the pain was most acute in my fingers but was known to be caused by this specific vertebra in the neck.

The solution in my case was a series of massages in the neck, shoulders and arm by a sports massagist, and to do them on an annual basis. Prevention is not to carry heavy weights.

So it is good if you can go to a musical injuries specialist.

On a slightly side note, a lot of musicians in our city symphony orchestra swear by an Ayurvedic anti-arthritis gel for treatment of all aches, pains and infalmmation. T

May 26, 2006 at 10:49 PM · go in one of these places and speak with anyone from there.

i will pray for you

give a will cost you just one (nice) afternoon...nothing more :)

i will pray for you

2300 W 3rd St, Los Angeles,

2049 Argyle Ave, Los Angeles,

3315 Verdugo Rd, Los Angeles,

650 Micheltorena St, Los Angeles,

900 N Hoover St, Los Angeles

6301 W Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles,

5861 Virginia Ave, Los Angeles,

that`s my believe, and if i am sincere i tell you what i really think that would be helpful - to go to the source of health.

i will pray for you


May 27, 2006 at 04:55 AM · Sorin,

I'm curious. What's there?


May 29, 2006 at 10:31 PM · I don't know if this really help, but I feel your pain. I'm just a student, and while I don't have arthritis, I do have neck and shoulder trouble. Of course, mine resulted in terrible headaches that lasted for days on end. At first, I went to a Doctor, and they told me it was allergies, but by talking to a chiropractor who belonged to my church, we found out it could have been a pinched nerve. Long story short, I was highly miss aligned. It took almost a year of seeing a chiropractor weekly to break myself of bad posture habits and get stong enough to play like I used to.

I know that chiropractors aren't commonly accepted, but it helped me immensely. And I'm not saying that I'm completely cured, it's just something that I'm now aware of. There are some days where I just move wrong and I end up on the floor. But I at least reccomend looking into it, because he was even able to allievate pain from bursitis in my shoulder.

Good luck, and hope you get the correct help.

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