How to Prevent and Treat Arthritis in Musicians

arthritis

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.

Osteoarthritis

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

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.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

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.

Osteoporosis

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.

About Cherie Yurco

Cherie Yurco is an editor at Making Music and has worked as a freelance editor and writer for 20 years. She’s written about topics from travel to business, in Asia, Europe, and the US. When she settled near Syracuse, she rediscovered her passion for photography. She especially likes photographing musicians caught lost in their music. Cherie also enjoys exploring, photographing, and writing about music-related destinations around the country. Visit her blog at http://musicalcities.com.

5 comments

I have been suffering from RA for 18 years (im only 22!) and i play several musical instruments. I dont take any conventional medications but i do take many supplements and i try to excersize daily. Having RA affects the fluidity of my playing and sometimes it can be extremely painful to play even the simplest of pieces if my hands and elbows are flaring up. Im just wondering if there is anyone else here that has the same issues? I still play as much as i can. I find it extremely frusterating and im not sure what to do to stop or slow the progression of RA. I sometimes keep my hands under warm water before playing and it kind of helps with the pain and stiffness.

Hang in. It’s just begun bothering me…I’m 76 and am now an ‘overnight sensation’ playing lead with a cumbia group…I always aspired to jazz, and have quite a bit of experience improvising…that’s what I do now…yes, the progressions are simple, and the rhythm figures greatly, and I am having a ball with people under thirty…I practiced and played for over sixty years and the locals find out that I can actually DO something on the guitar…

So the article helped a lot. I have found out that practicing moderately and often HELPS my left hand, which is where the problem is. , and my I use a finger exerciser
plus the usual finger exercises I’ve memorized and the usual scales. Lots of them.
Nothing special, not a lot of weird scale-tones…all the notes are in the simple scales, just use your ear and make the simple, one-note changes…you’ll be fine.

So I take heart, will continue to take tumeric, and there are some pills the VA gives me…and will practice and jam as long as I can.

What the heck, you know the guitar and I have been together a long time, so I will ride this lifetime on out, having music in my life…and so will YOU…

Check out ‘La Maldita Union’…I’m the ugly old bald-headed guy, pushing and getting people out on the floor.The studs and the girls are buds and great-hearted people who accept me in spite of my advanced age and fingers…Keep doing whaqt you love.

ps: if I live past the time I can jam guitar…maybe I’ll play steel, why not?

I am in my 50th year of playing guitar; though I play mainly Folk songs, I play quite actively withgigs all over the globe. I have been battling Psoriatic Arthritis for the past 3+ years. I have used Humira, Stelara, and I am currently using Cosentyx. Is there anyone out there that is less invasive than the medications I have mentioned?

i constantly use ice,yoga,i sugar from arthritis,and joint pain hip from running over forty years,i use now a rowing machine,a pilots machine,i walk cannot run,i had to use a cane but i have used all my strength to get off of it.i do not take drugs for arthritis,keep playing guitar,

i put sugar from arthritis suffer but i j just started to play a g guitar i am 70 years old

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