Successful international violinist Fenella Barton first noticed symptoms of arthritis in 2004, but initially attributed them to other causes–playing too long, wearing the wrong shoes, or overdoing an exercise routine. But, over the next two years the 44-year-old musician’s symptoms got worse.
“I remember that before one concert I could not lift my arm,” says Barton in a BBC News article. “I thought that I may not be able to play in the future.”
One out of five Americans suffers from some sort of arthritis, or chronic joint pain, so it is not surprising that there are many musicians affected. Though repetitive movements related to playing an instrument and hauling heavy musical equipment may cause arthritis flare-ups, you shouldn’t give up your hobby.
Studies have proven that the finger movements and exercise related to playing can actually help arthritis sufferers. In fact, arthritis sufferers who began to play an instrument improved the dexterity and strength in their fingers and other muscles. Instead of stopping, practice for shorter periods of time and be sure to stretch and warm-up every time you pick up your instrument.
There are more than 100 types of arthritis that can strike at any age. Among the most common are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and osteoporosis. Though there is no cure, in many instances, there are things you can do to slow or stop its progression, help ease some of the symptoms, or even prevent its development altogether.
Talk to your doctor about your risk of developing arthritis and discuss preventative measures. If you show symptoms of one or more of these diseases, don’t put off a visit. Timely diagnosis and treatment will keep you making music.
“I would urge people who have any symptoms not to procrastinate like I did,” says Barton, who went back to playing violin following treatment. Today she keeps her arthritis in check through diet and other remedies. “I have been incredibly lucky,” she adds.
For most people, a diagnosis of arthritis does not mean they will have to stop making music. Work with your doctor to learn all you can about your particular type of arthritis. The Arthritis Foundation (www.arthritis.org) provides a wealth of information.
Sometimes called degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis. It is characterized by the breakdown of the joint’s cartilage, which cushions the ends of the bones for easy joint movement. When cartilage breaks down, bones rub together causing pain, stiffness, and loss of movement. OA is common in the hands and weight-bearing joints like the hips, knees, and spine.
Symptoms of OA include pain and stiffness in joints after a period of inactivity or excessive use, such as a long practice session; a grating or catching sensation during joint movement; and bony growths on the margins of joints. In the early stages of OA, there is no swelling. Risk of developing OA is increased by repetitive movements, joint overuse, genetic predisposition, excess weight, injury, inactivity, and aging.
Usually doctors diagnose OA with a physical examination and a review of medical history. X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or blood work may be used to rule out other conditions and determine how much damage has occurred.
Treatment includes various medications, occupational or physical therapy, and exercise. Heat can be applied to reduce pain and stiffness, but cold should be applied if the joint is inflamed. Arthroscopic surgery may be used to clean out cartilage debris, and joint replacements are usually a last resort.
Fibromyalgia causes widespread muscle pain and certain areas of the body become sensitive to pressure. Other symptoms are difficulty sleeping, fatigue, depression, anxiety, cognitive difficulties, headaches, irritable bladder or bowel, jaw problems, and painful menstruation. Less common than OA and RA, fibromyalgia affects 3% to 6% of the population, mostly women aged 40 to 75.
The disease is more common in people who suffer from RA, though researchers are not sure what causes fibromyalgia and it is difficult to diagnose. There is no lab test for it and its effects on the body are invisible. Usually fibromyalgia patients have widespread pain and at least 11 of 18 sites of deep muscle tenderness.
There is no cure, but the goal of treatment is to manage the pain and other symptoms. Heat can be used for temporary pain relief. Other than prescribing various medications, a doctor may advise patients to begin an exercise regimen.
The body’s immune system attacks healthy joints in rheumatoid arthritis (RA), causing inflammation of the lining (or synovium) of joints. This can lead to long-term joint damage, chronic pain, and loss of function. Anyone can get RA, but the most common onset is between the ages of 25 and 50. It is important to diagnose RA early, as 75% of its damage may occur in the first five years.
The disease progresses in three stages, each with its own symptoms: swelling of the synovial lining causes pain, warmth, stiffness, redness, and swelling around the joint; division and growth of cells causes the synovium to thicken; and then inflamed cells release enzymes that may digest bone and cartilage, causing the painful joints to lose shape and alignment.
RA can start gradually or with sudden flu-like symptoms, which vary from person to person. You may feel weak and tired, have a fever, or lose weight, but joint pain will be the main problem. Affected joints usually follow a symmetrical pattern. For example, if the knuckles on the right hand are inflamed, the knuckles on the left hand are also inflamed.
There is no cure. Treatment includes various medicines, exercise, and therapies to manage symptoms. Early diagnosis is critical to limiting joint damage and maintaining your full ability to make music.
With osteoporosis, bones become fragile and prone to breakage. Most commonly, fractures occur in the hip, spine, or wrist, though a break could occur in any bone. Osteoporosis occurs as bones start to age and cells die at a more rapid rate than new ones can be produced, around age 40.
You may have osteoporosis for years before noticing symptoms. Many people first notice a sharp pain in the lower back or break a bone during a minor bump. Some factors contributing to the development of osteoporosis are: aging, genetic predisposition, lack of exercise, hormone changes, and a diet poor in calcium and vitamin D.
Preventing osteoporosis is much easier than curing it. The most important aspect of prevention is maintaining a diet that builds strong bones, particularly between 10 and 30 years of age. A doctor can confirm diagnosis with bone density tests, as well as with X-rays and blood or urine tests. Treatment focuses on reducing the rate of bone loss and building new bone through medications, hormones, diet, and exercise.
This article is from the September/October 2010 issue.