and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
issues with serious consequences
You are an athlete. Yeah, I
know, you havent done a squat-thrust or
jumping jack since high school and the Knicks are
definitely not beating your door down to sign
with them. However, you are still an athlete and
governed by the same physical limitations and
regulations as any Olympian is. Once youve
realize that music isnt merely a mental
workout, but is most definitely an athletic
regimen, you are on the high road to avoiding
sports-related injuries. And that, my friends, is
exactly what many of us suffer from. In my case,
I thought Well, you are getting
and excused the burning in my
elbow, the numbness in my thumb and the shooting
pains in my fingers a few years ago.
No pain, No
gain! Yup. Its said all the time,
right along with Feel the burn!
Supposed to be a good thing, but these are
actually the harbingers of a ruined career.
Dont be fooled, pushing through the pain is
not in your best interest.
In my case, I figured my
symptoms were somehow related to age and maybe a
touch of arthritis. I was 46 when I first noticed
the symptoms I've described above. I tried Tylenol and
then Aleve (both awesome medications for
arthritis and inflammation) but these only masked the
problem as I used them. If Id rested a bit, they would
have helped to fix the damage, but no, I
wasnt going to give anything I chance, I
was going to be a man and play through the
Aside from playing guitar,
believe it or not, the following activities can
exacerbate the tendon/carpal tunnel damage:
and squeezing. Hey, they told you
about that in Catholic school anyway.
on a desk edge with the wrists, palms, or
elbows. Sit up like your mother told you
a phone with your shoulder. It looks
stupid anyway, so cut it out.
a shoulder bag. We all did that in
school. Get a brief case, it looks more
posture. (And how many of us have
copped that bad-boy slouch
from time to time?)
Take it from me, typing at a
computer for a great portion of my waking hours
is another activity that raises a red flag on the road to trouble. A
man I know who has lost use of his hands has
a program that allows him to dictate to his
computerno manual keystrokes necessary.
This might be a boon to guitarists and other
musicians who use their fingers in their art.
As you move your fingers,
the tendon flexes and moves within its sheath.
This generates a certain level of friction that
eventually leads to inflammation. If the
inflammation is ignored and further aggravated,
scar tissue will build around the tendon. In the
case of carpal tunnel syndrome, this scar tissue
builds up on the tendon where it passes through
the carpal tunnel. There isnt a lot of room
in their folks. There are also nerves and blood
vessels sharing the space and as the tendon
swells, it cuts off blood supply to the muscles
of the hand and pinches the nerves. These muscles
and nerves need the blood and without it, they
will die. This is more or less permanent.
Musicians take these foibles
and elevate them to an art form by the awkward
stuff we do with our hands. We bend our wrists
into strange, tendon/nerve/blood vessel choking
angles and then move those fingers and arms
rapidly for hours at a stretch without coming up
for air. Add to this the fact that we do this
under great emotional stress at timestry
sitting a college-level jury some timeand
what I said about air is literal, as we often
hold our breath through strenuous passages.
Its a formula for trouble.
Now I (of all people)
understand the need for thorough practice. Heck,
I write these exercise and stamina building
pieces all the time. Thats why I feel it is
my duty to let you know not just what to do to
work those muscles, but how to do it safely. I
was listening to a guitar player discussing his
health issue just recently. He said
Ive been having a lot of surgery
lately, fixing the vertebrae in my neckI
play too much guitar. Give the guy the
buzzer. Yeah, he may have played too much but
more likely, he played to much INCORRECTLY.
Okay, so how does one play
correctly, not burn out those tendons, nerves and
FIRST: Stretch out
and warm up like any athlete. Grasp you hands
together in front of you. Apply light isometric
pressure and lift you arms up over your head.
Bring your clasped hands down behind your head.
Return them to a position in front of your torso.
Stretch out to the left, then the right keeping
those hands pressed gently but firmly together.
If you are a classical guitarist or one who sits
extensively when practicing and performing,
stretch out your legs. I know you wouldnt
be able to do floor stretches in a suit or gown
if about to perform a recital, but you can always
warm up a bit earlier.
jump right in and play your speed metal licks,
your Joe Satrianni tribute piece, a Bach violin
partita or Scarlatti harpsichord transcription.
Use those silly chromatic exercises Ive
shown you and some slow scales
THIRD: Dont do
what I did to almost burn up a tendon. If you
practice for a solid hour, take a twenty minute
rest. Hey, if you were at a gig, youd get a
beer and leak break. Treat yourself as well as a
demon club owner would! In the real world, you
would never play three hours straight. Why should
we practice that way?
Oh, so you havent been
doing these things like warming up or giving your
arm and fingers a break? So youve felt pins
and needles in your fingers at night
hand goes numb when you play
You get sharp
stabbing pains in your muscles
cant feel the guitar neck
already in trouble. Okay. There is hope.
You will need to stop what you are doing
immediately. Yes, that means guitar playing as
well. Find a sports-medicine doctor and/or a
physical therapist. Some GPs will recommend
splints, cortisone injections, and maybe a
surgical procedure. I know guys who have had the
surgery. I also know some guys who will never
play again. Dont play games with your art.
If youve pushed through to these symptoms,
you will not be playing for a few months.
Thats at best. Do some research online
about Repetitive Stress Injuries. Dont be a
manly-man and wind up on the bench permanently.
Life is short, but it will become very long
Harry Pellegrin performs weddings and gallery openings in the Capital Area!
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