Index finger trauma

Edited: November 21, 2017, 1:29 PM · Greetings,

I used to practice 5 hours a day in quite a serious way in my youth, putting in lots of repetitions and being very diligent in following the instructions my teacher was giving me.
I guess I must have been using excessive first finger pressure in the left-hand, because over the years, through repeated trauma exerced on the skin, my first fingertip’s shape has been modified. I have linked a couple pictures so you can see what I’m talking about.

My fingertip’s skin is now permanently hardened, a doctor I have consulted said this was the defense my body hade come up with against a constant repeated attack, in this case practicing the violin, to protect what is underneath, further inside the finger.
The doctor said even if I stop playing, this is likely to stay the same forever.

I never really noticed this problem until my first finger started to occasionally hurt. Especially after I would cut my nails. My reasoning is that the dirt or whatever that comes from the strings and fingerboard would get under the nail and cause an irritation which would in turn make my finger hurt everytime I would press it. When that happened, I would often have a hard time practicing because using my first finger was hurting so much.

Anyway, fast forwards a few years later, and I have greatly reduced the amount of my practice, and got rid of the many tensions I had in my playing as a younger violinist. In the last year or so, I didn’t have any issues with finger pain.
Lastly I’ve committed to practicing seriously again, so the amount and quality of my practice have increased back again.
Today I’ve started to learn the Paganini 24th Caprice. After practicing for an hour, of which about 20 minutes were spent on the octave variation, the finger pain has returned.

I suspect that I am applying too much pressure in the octaves, and that this, along with the continuous shifting one has to do throughout the variation has caused my finger problem to return.

Did any of you ever have a similar experience?
And more generally, what are your thoughts?

Replies (10)

November 21, 2017, 12:50 PM · Hmmmmmm..... what kind of strings do you use, are they medium tension, and what are your string heights above the fingerboard, right where the fingerboard ends (towards the bridge, not the nut).

You may very well need to switch to low-tension strings, despite the obvious drawbacks that they have. I have tried low-tension dominants and they are crazy soft, to the extent that it allowed me to practice for 6 hours rather than 1 hour before my fingers got tired (especially in the case of solo bach where it's just chord after chord).

I suppose the most obvious solution would be to simply use less pressure in the octaves, but I'm assuming that you've already ruled that out as an option, either due to your level of control or because the violin's setup or the violin itself won't allow it. Some violins seem to "fight back" more, and thus need a more proper blocking of the strings, particularly in chords or octaves, to avoid overtones from sneaking under the string, so we need to crush them into submission even when the string action is fairly low.

Also, have you tried Visualization? :)

Hope this helps!

-4th rate teacher Erik

November 21, 2017, 12:54 PM · Could the dirt underneath the nail be causing problems? I've gently stuck one of my fingernails underneath another fingernail and have found dirt there, which I successfully removed by picking it out. Also, could the nut be too high? I agree with Erik by the way.
November 21, 2017, 1:27 PM · Hey guys, thanks for the great tips!


I haven’t found any dirt under my fingernail, but I do think taking extra care to clean that area could help me.
And no, the nut seems to be just fine, string tension in the lower positions is actually pretty low on my violin!


I recently started using wound gut strings. They are definitely softer than the strings I had before, although I do not know how they compare to the low-tension Dominants.

Actually I think I understood what is causing the problem. My bridge is a bit higher than normal, as it improves the sound on my violin. Because of that higher bridge placement, the amount of pressure needed to play normally increases quite a lot as you start going up the fingerboard.
The extra tension starts being noticeable from about the 5th position or so.

So that octave variation in the caprice goes really high in the positions, and on the lower, thicker strings, so I think that’s what caused the problem: stronger string tension in high positions along with lots of practice on the thickest string.

Here are the two obvious solutions that I will apply:
1.Learn to apply only as much finger pressure as necessary to sound a note, because I can feel that I do overpress from time to time.
2.Limit Time spent practicing octaves high on the lower strings, or rather chunk that time up in bits that you throw in between practice of other elements.

And no Erik, I haven’t tried visualization yet :)
But ironically, it could actually be helpful in this case!

November 21, 2017, 2:00 PM · I would definitely get the bridge lowered, then, even if it means sacrificing some projection from the violin.

Something you may not know: when the bridge is lowered, not only does the "Action" of the violin towards the bridge go down, but the overall tension on the bridge goes down as well, since the ends of the strings are pulling towards each other more, rather than pulling DOWN on the bridge. So the sound difference you notice from having a higher bridge may be due to the higher tension pushing down on the bridge.

With that said, you may be able to both get your bridge lowered AND retain the sound quality that's desirable to you by simply having your luthier move the soundpost to a tighter position after he cuts the bridge, which would replicate the higher tension that was achieved with a higher bridge. It won't be precisely the same, but you need to prevent further injury, so it's a good compromise.

With all of that said, can you please describe your specific pain in more detail? Since you mentioned that it's worse after cutting the nails, I'm wondering if you're simply not releasing finger pressure BETWEEN octave changes, which is causing the skin of the finger to pull away from the nailbed and exposing it. So it's not a matter of pressure on the octave itself, as much as you sliding that pressure as you change the octave, and the resulting friction exposing the nailbed. If this were the case, it's very possible that the pain has nothing to do with the repeated trauma injury that you initially noted, and everything to do with your octave technique.

As an example of precisely what I'm talking about, please watch 8:25 - 8:55 on the following video:

Edited: November 21, 2017, 2:54 PM · Actually yes. I tried to play with as little pressure in the left-hand as possible, and it does make me realize how much I was over-pressing.
The altered fingertip shape is caused by the repeated finger action and associated trauma, but you are indeed correct that the pain in the finger comes from over pressing during shifts in the octaves which exposes some of the skin under the nail.
But just being mindful of the degree of pressure I apply throughout my playing in general seems to have solved the issue for me.
Thanks again Eric!
November 21, 2017, 7:09 PM · I'm glad to see my input was useful :) By the way, assuming you are the same Roman Reshetkin as the one on youtube, you're an excellent player! Keep it up!
November 21, 2017, 7:23 PM · The flesh underneath your fingernail is a tender area. I suggest you try to leave it alone as much as possible. Don't pull the flesh back from the nail -- that tears the tenderest part underneath. Don't poke or scrape underneath. As a violinist you need to cut your nails close, but do take extreme care that it is not too close. You can soak your fingertips in warm dish-detergent solution for ten minutes and then gently clean your fingertips with a soft toothbrush or even just a washcloth. Gently I say!

The pictures you show look to me like a callous that was repeatedly picked at or otherwise abused. I'm no doctor but what you have there looks like a scar. I suggest that you go back to your doctor and ask for a referral to a dermatologist or a cosmetic surgeon. These days they can use collagen implants, lasers, liquid nitrogen, and other fun toys to reshape and rebuild you in ways that were previously unimaginable (even unmentionable!), so why not take full advantage of that medical technology if it is available. Just make sure you know all of the risks including infection, possible loss of touch-sensitivity, etc.

Anyone who's keen on practicing away for five hours a day should be considering this thread very seriously. There are risks!

Edited: November 21, 2017, 9:18 PM · Not a doctor myself, but you definitely need a specialist, the 2nd and even the 3rd opinion.
You may also want to pay a visit to an alternative medicine, such as Ayrvedic or traditional Chinese.
A special routine for cleaning and re-plenishing the skin.... possibly also to change your nutrition and hydration.
The hardest thing is to stop playing altogether, but you may have to do it until you see the signs of improvement.
The only possible alternative would be to switch to baroque violin and use pure gut strings - light gauge.
November 21, 2017, 11:28 PM · Also check your nut's not too high.
Edited: November 22, 2017, 12:03 PM · Paul and Rocky,

Thanks for the terrific tips and information you shared!
I’ve been practicing throughout the day today, and the problem hasn’t reappeared.
It was definitely a combination of nail cut too short, over pressing while playing, and not easing the finger pressure in shifts between octaves.

I’m not too concerned about my finger anymore as I think I’ve taken the necessary precautions to avoid any further injuries, but I might indeed look-up the modern medical solution to restore my original finger shape, though not right now, I have bigger concerns in life :)

I shall note that I have a similar kind of callous on the second finger, to a much smaller extent though.

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