Practicing with migraines

September 25, 2006 at 11:15 PM · I have severe migraines at least once a week, mostly twice, which puts me in bed in a dark room. Is there anyone with the same? What do you do? Do you practice twice has much the next day, I often need to practice with a mute because I can not cope with the noise , not that I do not love violin, but when I have a migraine all noises are unbearable. Is that ok? I still do not have a perfect pitch. PLSE HELP!

Replies (18)

September 26, 2006 at 12:49 AM · There is nothing worse than having to play the violin when you have a migraine! The worst I've had to deal with was during a recording session - and once during a concert. Nothing you can do but pretend it isn't there and die afterwards...

As for practicing with one - I've found that if I wait for the glares to go away, and take a nap for an hour or so I can usually get through a rehearsal or practice session. If you're practicing and the sound is unbearable you could try earplugs, or doing work with your left hand only.

But really - if you're getting them twice a week, maybe the question should be put to a doctor? There are lots of newer drugs out there that stop migraines in their tracks, and if they seem to come on with playing, then I'd be looking to your playing position for answers.

I truly sympathize though - people who don't get them simply can't comprehend how awful they can be.

September 26, 2006 at 01:32 AM · Can you be more specific for exercice for the left hand.

By the way I do take med everyday! I used to have them 4 times a week so now it is really much better.

thanks for your understanding, it is true that people how do not have them do not really understand.

Again many thanks!

September 26, 2006 at 05:53 AM · Hi Pascale,

I'm no doctor, for sure, and thanks god, I never had any headache attacks, but if you really want to play violin during an attack: it can't be wrong being your own Saul and David. I had a colleague, she started suffering from heavy migraine attacks, too. She was new from the conservatory, so practising a certain technique-program for some hours was part of her life. The first time, whenever her body signalized an attack, she fell into panic attacks as well. But she did the same as you: she embedded her self into her bed like onto a divan and played with an heavy Tonwolf in the dark. Just some easy melodies. When she couldn't bear any noise anymore, she was just practising double trills - exercises without bow: all you hear there is the "plonk" when the fingers fall on the strings. These exercises are pure gold for the strength and relaxation of the left hand, you have to be very concentrated to practise them VERY SLOWLY (i.e. slower than one note per second). For her it was a perfect distraction to focus her thoughts in the mechanics of an hand. Think of it like an yoga-exercise.

What is said to be useful concerning migraine and music are certain Alexander techniques - there's a guy on this forum writing often about it (I don't remember his name) - maybe he can give you some inspiration with it.

Since migraine seems to be for neurologists the same as tendinitis for orthopedists (the medical term for "I dunno"), it's hard to say, what helped her at least. She accepted the illness as a part of her, she found a doctor with a more refined diagnosis and some prevent pills, she changed her way of life - in fact she turned it upside down with regular sports etc... In a way she acted against it. So concentrating on movements on the violin can't be wrong; if you feel a need to do it during attacks: just do it. If you want me to, I write you some of those double-trills-exercises down and send them as a scan.

And I wish the very best for you and the courage to fight it!

September 26, 2006 at 09:35 AM · I suffer from migraines, too, and I do mean *suffer.* It is true that no one who doesn't have migraines can understand the pain. I offer you a lot of sympathy. I wish I could give you good medical advice. I tried so many medications, physical exercises, and relaxation techniques. Hang in there! Try silent exercises (left hand only, no bow) when you are afflicted, and good luck.

September 26, 2006 at 01:12 PM · I assume you have seen a doctor. If not, do so. There is lots of study and there are new drugs for migraines.

Be sure you are diligent in searching for any triggers for your migraines like certain foods, cheeses or alcohol.

Good luck and learn as much as you can.

September 26, 2006 at 02:06 PM · I can't imagine trying to play violin while having a migraine. Doesn't trying to practice just prolong the headache? When I absolutely have to play with a migraine then I take four advil and try to be as floppy (loose and relaxed) as possible so I don't make it worse. I also will close my eyes when I can...But really, the best way to play violin while having a migraine is not at all.

September 26, 2006 at 05:41 PM · To Mischa S.

Yes plse I would love to have those exercises. Because often I do not have the 3 hrs to 4hrs to practice the next day after a migraine since I am already so much behind in everything.

And thanks for that technique I will look into it.

September 26, 2006 at 06:02 PM · I suffer terrible migraines. The combination of a triptan drug (I use Maxalt) and fiorinal works wonders. It will hold your headache at bay long enough for you to get your practicing in.

September 26, 2006 at 07:06 PM · Hi Pascale,

I gonna scan 3 pages of that study in a shop tomorrow and send you the link. If you feel, they're useful for you, I will copy the rest.

They're similar to some sections of the Flesch "Urstudien", which typically looks like this.

If you don't have them, I can send them, too, but in this case I'd prefer a packet per post.

Give me a clue, whether you're a professional player or not - if not, I'll try to write an explanation of how to practise them (variations, do-not's, cautions etc.). Because they're exercises for double-stop-trillers and tremoli, exercises like this are tough if you have a too fast approach (a real wrist killer). And they're like medicine for your hand and its articulation, if you do it right.

Maybe it works to distract you in times of migraine, too. Please renew your mail-address on the board, btw. - i wanted to send you this as mail, but your mail-provider don't know you... =)

If you're interested in practising-techniques like these generally, consult Stephen Brivati (the Alexander-technique-man). I read some replies of him concerning it on this board, and he definitively knows much more about it than I do.

September 29, 2006 at 04:46 PM · Hi,

Thanks for the page.

No I'm not a professionnal, (I so sad I started as an adult)

I saw that he posted some advices on Alexender techniques. Thanks!

September 29, 2006 at 05:56 PM · Hi Pascale,

check your netscape-account once, I sent them both on Wednesday...

September 29, 2006 at 06:21 PM · As someone who has been dealing with chronic and severe pain, I can try to guess what it is like to try to practice with a migraine. I've never had a full-fledged one, but the smidgeons of headache I've had can give me a bit of an idea. I think the advice might be the same with some variation, though...It has been very taxing and frustrating, not to mention career-paralyzing trying to maneuver the delicate balance of practicing/working/relationships etc etc. and bodily pain. It may be that you have to slim down your overall practice hours in your life and concentrate on getting your pain under control. From my experience, practicing while in pain is not very productive, as the body is struggling with its own issues and not very concerned with the finer details of playing the violin. Another monster is trying to figure out if the pain (or migraine) medication is changing your practice. Or if you are percieving your sound and body and concentration differently than without it. Maybe it is better, maybe worse, maybe the same. It is very difficult to be able to tell.

Forcing yourself to practice long hours while in physical agony is destructive. However, sometimes just getting a few minutes in when you are at your peak of the day can assuage your soul and keep yourself in as much violinistic shape as possible.

Hopefully you find relief from your head pain soon and can get back to your regular schedule. If not, then I hope you can learn a good way to deal with restraints that would drive any violinist crazy! Especially a dedicated one like you sound to be.


Jennifer Warren

October 4, 2006 at 11:27 PM · Very good discussion. People without problems like migraine do not realize how debilitating pain can be. But (and I say this as a psychologist, so please forgive a little bit of professorial talk), pain is a complex phenomenological experience made up of physical, psychological, and social factors. Even if the predominant factor is physical, there are psychological and social factors which - if they are altered even a little - can change the nature of the whole experience.

For example, everyone has had the experience of having a headache that simply disappeared when their attention got involved in something else. Or consider that when we get an ordinary paper cut and don't know we have it, we're walking around all day feeling no pain when in fact we should be (physiologically speaking).

So if there is something you can do to alter the nature of the attention you pay to the pain, it can make a difference. For example, one of my colleagues years ago taught me that when I experience pain, to focus on the aspects of it that were felt as "presssure" rather than "pain." It doesn't always work, but sometimes it does make a significant difference. Pain hurts; pressure is just uncomfortable.

Anyone interested in this way of looking at things, check out the work of Milton Erickson, M.D., especially his original papers (published in 4 volumes).

Cordially, Sandy

October 5, 2006 at 12:20 AM · Greetings,

Erickson`s writing alwys gives me a headache...


(Actually I@m a big fan, but don`t tell my mom)

October 5, 2006 at 12:39 AM · Has a physiologist I do believe that the mind as a great power. But in order that hypnosis work you have to believe in it. If the person does not believe in this technique it will not be very efficient, well not as much as what I would get from traditional medicine. I do believe that you are right that with this kind of pain we better take it as a pressure, but believe me when you have a big migraine, it is VERY difficult to do that.

By the way thanks for all your help!

October 5, 2006 at 12:50 PM · Pascale: I didn't say it's easy; I said it's possible. And it's not necessarily a matter of being in a formal "trance." Anyway, check it out. Hypnotic phenomena are usually considered as a last resort. It should be a first resort. After all, there are no foreign substances ingested or injected into the body, there are no dangers or side effects, and the worst thing that can happen (even if it does nothing for the headache) is that you learn to relax.

Cordially, Sandy

PS. Erickson gave plenty of people headaches. I corresponded with him briefly before he died (hopefully, my correspondence had nothing to do with that). He was really brilliant; an authentic intellectual genius in a field that is more focused on emotion than intellect. Had Erickson known anything about music and put his analytical talents into the area of violin performance and violin teaching, who knows what advances he would have unveiled.

October 5, 2006 at 12:58 PM · I've got a slight bit of medical background and I have NO IDEA how to cope with this problem.

My sympathies go out to those who perservere despite migraines.

October 5, 2006 at 01:38 PM · Some quotes from Erickson are in the book I'm reading. "Hothouse Kids". I was thinking to either add what the book says to one of the threads that have already breifed the subject, but people get way too tense about the topic of kids and what is right and wrong to involve them in, along with their parents cheering them on.

The book is also a little anti-Suzukie, and in my past, I've been positively fried on a stick for voicing my anti-suzuki opinions.

I'd like to read more Erickson, actually.

And I picked up some prunes last nighta t the grocery. Juice-style.



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