Lower Back and Hamstring Pain

Edited: August 3, 2017, 1:34 AM · I am interested to know if any of my fellow violinists, especially those over 40 years old, have had problems with pain in the left side of the lower back coupled with tightness and pain in the left hamstring. I am an amateur violinist that began playing at 5 years of age, and I'm now 47.

I HAVE experienced an ongoing problem with this, but I have no way of knowing if the violin playing caused it, hence the question. After I've heard a few responses I'll explain in more detail and also go into some of the things I've been doing to heal myself. Thanks!

Replies (23)

Edited: August 3, 2017, 1:26 AM · Do you play standing up? Poor posture and form while holding the violin can create a lot of tension on the left side of the body. This could have developed recently or been a slow development over time.

I'm not over 40, but I do have very tight hamstrings and lower back muscles (can't touch my toes without bending my knees nearly 90 degrees!).

August 3, 2017, 1:38 AM · Not trying to get a diagnosis, just seeing if other players have had the same problem. My posture has always been textbook (my teachers were VERY strict about posture and technique). I practiced standing and seated, but when I was a kid, mostly standing.
August 3, 2017, 5:20 AM · Except for solo performances I have played the violin only sitting in chairs since I suffered a herniated lumbar disk in a tennis accident 56 years ago. Six months after the accident muscles spasmed and suddenly the pain became excruciating and I was hospitalized in traction and under heavy sedation for 10 days. Since then 2 additional disks have herniated and I had one back surgery (double laminectomy) 12 years after the original accident. There were periods of virtual immobility during those 12 years. There were also periods when I "lived on" a combination of aspirin & Parafon Forte (a muscle relaxant). I gradually learned what my limitations are and how to live within them.

If it hurts to play the violin standing up, don't do it! Thats my advice!

Now I'm in my 80s and I would not risk falling on my violin by playing it standing up.

August 3, 2017, 9:04 AM · Wow! It's amazing that you are still able to play. Do you think playing contributed to the additional herniated disks, or did they just herniate due to weakness from the original injury? I've never had an injury to my back from an accident, but I did injure my left foot pretty badly a number of years ago in a running accident years ago, and that damage is pretty permanent.

I don't really notice specific pain when playing. I just have chronic tightness and soreness in my back and hamstring, and since it's on the left side, I'm trying to figure out if playing for so many years may have caused it. Thanks for posting!

Edited: August 3, 2017, 2:27 PM · Ben,I'm 53 and can relate to your problem very much.I've been having a very painful lower back and yes, like you extreme tightness in my hip and hamstring.I've been playing violin for 46 years and don't think I can contribute my problems to playing.I now work out 3 to 4 times a week at the gym with emphasis on stretching during and after the workout.Have you looked into going to an RMT? They're excellent and can give great advice on how to stretch individual muscle groups.My family doctor emphasized wearing indoor running shoes when in the house,especially with hardwood floors.
So sorry to hear about your back Andrew.That sounds harrowing....
August 3, 2017, 1:53 PM · Count down before someone mentions cure-all restless playing.....3,2,1
August 5, 2017, 2:48 PM · So are you going to" explain in more detail" Ben?
August 5, 2017, 4:11 PM · Benjamin I did have subsequent pain problems for another 23 years after the initial herniation and two additional herniations. One was due to carrying a sheet rock panel upstairs and the final one occurred when I was doing some back exercises I found in a "back book!" I did my final back exercises as prescribed by my neurologist around 32 years ago - it cured my pain and I've never done another back exercise. The nerve damage that resulted from my herniated disks - especially the 2nd one has been permanent, but limited one side of one foot and not critical.

Playing music did not contribute to subsequent disk herniations, but it caused enough discomfort that I stopped doing it standing up except for solos. I find that in old age playing cello is easier on the body parts than violin or viola - and you have to sit!

August 5, 2017, 4:23 PM · I think you should first rule out the obvious, e.g., undiagnosed medical conditions that cause the pain. With these out of the way,
check out if there is a teacher of Alexander Technique in your area.
Edited: August 7, 2017, 6:53 AM · deleted. I have no time to play online games.
August 6, 2017, 10:14 AM · I practice sitting down. Still, posture is important there too. I notice pain in my hamstrings pretty much only when I am getting pretty damned stressed out about some passage not improving, etc. That is probably when my posture suffers and my general level of tension is highest.
August 6, 2017, 3:09 PM · Rocky Milankov,

I'm not asking for your help. I'm perfectly capable of helping myself. If you will actually READ the post, you will understand what I am asking for.

August 6, 2017, 3:31 PM · To try answer your question correctly from a non medical uneducated view.

Yes, we can get muscle problems, because of back muscles becoming 'unbalanced' in mass and strength. In the long term we have the potential to get all types of neck and back pain and chronic deceases. It is a great idea for musicians to have a light weight lifting routine to help prevent these types of unbalance problems.

I use to have chronic back pain, and it returns if I stop exercising for weeks. Another thing is most also don't walk correctly, stand or sit correctly, breath correctly or eat well; these bad habits will contribute too.

Edited: August 6, 2017, 3:58 PM · Benjamin Eby wrote:
After I've heard a few responses I'll explain in more detail and also go into some of the things I've been doing to heal myself.

Now that a few people have given your responses, Benjamin, I'm curious what is your advice for them about the cause and cure you've found to heal yourself.

I'm over 45 and I had and sometimes still have the issues you raised. Daily yoga seems to work for me to make the discomfort go away or greatly reduced. In terms of the cause, I wouldn't blame violin playing exclusively. Even when taking a bread from violin for awhile, sitting long hours or walking for hours can all lead to back pain and hamstring tightness on my left side. I'm right-handed and it's likely that I brace myself on the left side of my body.

August 6, 2017, 7:32 PM · Benjamin these threads take on lives of their own. "Answers" extend well beyond the original question. Have you not noticed this about violinist.com already?
August 6, 2017, 10:13 PM · Yes, Paul, I've noticed. Yixi, what I've been doing, and has worked wonders, is a strength program called Convict Conditioning, together with a related stretching routine called the Trifecta. Convict Conditioning is really based upon the analysis of strength that powerlifters use, i.e. understanding how groups of muscles work together to move the body. But Convict Conditioning uses bodyweight calisthenic exercises instead of weights. The Trifecta is a set of three active stretches that target the posterior chain, the anterior chain, and the lateral chain (see powerlifting). If you do Yoga, these stretches will look familiar. An excellent book to look up in regard to this type of analysis is "Becoming a Supple Leopard." The three Convict Conditioning books are also great, if you don't mind the silly hook (working out like a convict).

The most valuable thing I've learned from my research in this area is that if you are experiencing problems with one area of your body, most likely the problem is being caused by weaknesses or lack of flexibility somewhere up or down the "chain." By strengthening the entire chain, we can eliminate muscle imbalances that will evetually cause injury.

Edited: August 6, 2017, 10:21 PM · Yes, Charles, I agree. See my above post.
August 7, 2017, 1:28 PM · An overall fitness program is a must when playing the violin.I just started swimming lengths again which,along with my old TaeKwonDo stretching routine has brought me back to feeling "normal".
August 7, 2017, 1:57 PM · I second the idea of yoga, if there aren't any other underlying conditions that would require medical attention.
August 7, 2017, 4:19 PM · Yoga can be good. I have Iyengar's book, and use it as a reference. I also have Menuhin's violin lessons book, and do some of the exercises he recommends. But I have found the strength training approach, if used in moderation (I don't feel the need to bench 300 lbs. or squat 500 lbs.) to be the most direct. I wouldn't advocate a violinist pushing heavy weights. But the calisthenics approach has worked wonders in a short period of time. At my worst point, I would literally double over in pain during orchestra rehearsals. Now I'm 90% pain free, and I'm certain that in a couple of months it will be 100% Regarding weights, if someone DOES want to use them (again, I would suggest going for higher reps and less weight), a great resource is the book "Starting Strength" by Mark Rippetoe. He is a true expert about how to execute power lifts correctly to avoid injury. You can check out videos about all these books and approaches on YouTube, by the way.
Edited: August 7, 2017, 5:15 PM · Instead of weights use a rowing machine to increase tone and improve endurance.I don't like bulking up either with heavy weights.
Edited: August 7, 2017, 6:33 PM · Benjamin, the Trifecta exercises look similar to my yoga and pilates routine. Your advice on convict conditioning (strength training) also is consistent with what my physiotherapist (also happens to be a national competitive triathlete) advised a few years ago when she successfully treated my right shoulder tendonitis. Thank you!
August 7, 2017, 11:01 PM · You're welcome, Yixi!

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