It’s not “the summer of ’69” anymore and playing ’til your fingers bleed isn’t the greatest idea, no matter how sentimental it sounds. Taking care of your hands and wrists is important to get the most out of your music. Any musician who practices regularly can attest that overuse of the hand muscles can cause pain. Being aware of the risk for carpal tunnel syndrome, whether you play the piano, guitar, drums, or a wind instrument, is essential for developing safe practice habits.
This most common nerve entrapment disorder comes from excessive stress and strain placed on the hand and wrist from repetitive or static movement—such as pressingdown strings against a fretboard or tickling the ivories on a grand piano. Some early signs may include numbness, loss of feeling, and tingling, says Dr. John T. Knight, medical director of the Hand & Wrist Institute at D.I.S.C. Spor ts and Spine Center in Marina del Rey, California, who has treated many musicians.
“People may wake up at night and feel like they slepton their arm and wrist,” says Knight. “It feels worse at night because when we sleep, we tend to flex the wrist, which increases pressure on any irritability from playing the instrument during the day.”
Carpal tunnel syndrome is more likely to occur in classically trained musicians or professionals, since they spend more time playing. Knight suggests that every musician, amateur or professional, should develop good habits to prevent and treat carpal tunnel syndrome.
<h2>Take a Break</h2>
Knight says that regular rest from playing is the most obvious thing musicians should do to avoid carpal tunnel syndrome. For every hour played, the musician should take a 15-minute break. Instead of playing the drums for a straight four-hour session, try splitting the playing time into several shorter sessions. The more one can break up the time played, the better off he or she is, says Knight.
<h2>Rev Up Your Muscles</h2>
“One thing that is often hard to convey to musicians is that it’s important for them to replicate what athletes do,” says Knight. “Don’t run two miles without stretching.” He suggests stretching all of your muscles before a practice session, paying special attention to the neck and arms. Making sure your body is properly warmed up to play is important to avoid injury. Check out some suggested stretches at the website: <a href=”http://www.musicianshealth.com/stretches” target=”_blank”>www.musicianshealth.com/stretches</a>.
Besides seeing a doctor, if you think you have carpal tunnel syndrome, there are some at-home remedies to try. If you experience pain in your wrists and hands, Knight recommends taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines like Advil or Aleve. Also, wearing a basic drug-store wrist brace while you sleep can help alleviate some of the discomfort by keeping your wrist in a safe position.
Before you begin any treatment or new exercise regimen to alleviate or prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, consult your doctor. If the problem is severe, your physician can refer you to an orthopedic specialist. Cortisone shots and minimally invasive surgery are last resorts. “It’s always good to see a doctor if you think you have carpal tunnel syndrome,” says Knight. “Increased rest should make it feel better.”
This article is from our <a title=”Nov-Dec 2009″ href=”http://www.makingmusic.wpengine.com/novdec-2009/”>November-December 2009 issue</a>. Click to order!