Arm Pain

Posted In: How To Play

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    AS112 on #183247


    I’m new on this forum and I’m sure this has probably been answered before but just wondering if any one had any tips/suggestions.

    I started learning the harp when I was about 11 (I’m 28 now). I first developed problems with my wrist (right dominant hand) when I was about 16. I’d been to a harp workshop day and then promptly fell down a slight of stairs and it’s never been the same since 🙁

    When I was at school/university I would have to have a break from playing during exams as it was a case of being able to write or play. But that never really bothered me as it was only for a few weeks at a time.

    Having been told it was common for girls, particularly high achievers and musicians to have pain in their wrists/hand (although there is logic to this as the joints have more laxity), I was diagnosed with tennis elbow about 8 years ago. So I started wearing a tennis elbow clasps when playing and eventually was wearing it most of the time (cleaning, cooking, driving etc).

    I then had a steroid injection which lasted for a few months and decided that I would give the surgery ago. In the meantime I fell off the horse and broke my thumb so again couldn’t play whilst that healed and this also delayed the operation. Unfortunately I haven’t really managed to play since, about 2 years now :'(. I was very good and listen to doctor’s advice and didn’t play for 4 months after the operation to give it the best chance of healing.

    It also turned out I trapped a nerve when I broke my thumb, so had to have another operation to sort that out.

    I’m now waiting for a 3rd operation as I have a wobbly CMC joint in my thumb (which I guess I’ve always had and why my wrist has hurt since I was 16). That’s scheduled on 15th December and I’m on a major countdown to it!!

    I was looking at harp music on the internet the other day and was feeling so sad I’m not allowed to play that I decided I’d have a quick go on my lap harp (my pedal harp is at parent’s to avoid that temptation!). I probably only played for 5 – 10 minutes (including tuning) as it hurt that much, but elbow is now pretty painful. The thumb is no worse than usual as I normally wear a splint that immobilises it.

    I’m just worried that having gone through 3 operations, it’s not going to solve the harp playing problem. I’m so sad I can’t play!! I’ve been recommended not to have any more surgery on my elbow as further steroid injections/physio have not improved it. The surgery odds aren’t great (50% success rate, 20% worse), so I’m not going to pursue that.

    I’m just counting down at the moment: 6 weeks until the operation, 6 weeks in a cast, 3 months of physio and then I can hopefully start playing again (I suspect it might be a bit longer) 🙂

    I’m not sure if anyone else has had similar problems? Any tips or suggestions would be greatly appreciated 🙂


    Gretchen Cover on #183262

    In college, I injured my shoulder in a bicycle/car accident and also injured my hand, which required surgery. A couple years ago I broke a bone in my other hand. From my injuries, I can only advise you to take up yoga so that you stretch your whole body. When you do physio after your upcoming surgery, insist on including physio for your shoulder, too. When you are well enough to play, be sure your bench is up very high. If you are allowed to do any exercise now, I would start on your rehab exercises and/or start yoga. The better shape you are prior to surgery, the better your recovery. We learned that when my husband had a hip replacement.

    My very best to you for a successful outcome and a return to your harp playing.

    unknown-user–2 on #183275

    I currently have tennis elbow. Yours sounds like it came from what they call a “traumatic event” (when you fell down the stairs) but mine is a repetitive stress injury and they call it “chronic.” We’re 99.99% sure I gave it to myself through playing. How, we’re not sure.

    Because my injury is chronic, injections and surgery don’t really make sense. I’ve been on anti-inflammatories, had wrist splints, been to physical therapy, taken Alexander technique lessons. It’s gotten better, but it’s not gone.

    I haven’t been able to play without tightness and soreness for over a year and a half. I used to be an award winning harpist on my way to a professional career. Now I can’t even play a child’s piece without problems. It has hurt me greatly from an emotional standpoint.

    I’ve seen practically every notable teacher in the two major cities I live near, and no one can figure out what is wrong. Most just say “it looks like you’re straining” and that’s that.

    At this point, I’ve almost entirely given up. I’m currently a college student, and will probably end up selling my harp soon after I graduate so that I can pay off my student loans before they accumulate any interest.

    I’m sorry – I can’t offer you anything except solidarity.

    Tacye on #183303

    Have you consulted someone who specialises in musicians’ rehabilitation?

    There is only a little left hand alone harp repertoire I know of – would that frustrate or help?

    anne-sullivan on #183305

    I have had students with varying kinds of arm and wrist problems, some serious, some not so much. I always direct them to sports trainers for physical therapy or even just an opinion on treatment options. If you have access to trainers at a university or even for a professional sports team, these are the people to see. They have a results-oriented treatment focus; they understand that your goal is to get playing again. I have found that their practical approach and their experience with people who use (and sometimes abuse) their bodies for their work is very helpful. And usually they love working with musicians!

    They are also very good at identifying stressors; they can watch you play and help you identify what might be causing your problem or how you might be able to change your playing habits to alleviate your pain. We teachers get fairly good at that, of course, but these people are medical professionals.

    I know that the hardest thing to bear is the frustration when there seems to be no solution. Hang in there and don’t give up!

    unknown-user–2 on #183306

    I don’t mean to hijack the original poster’s thread, but since she’s interested in hearing more about this, I’ll continue to reply.

    I’ve now been to two music medicine doctors as well as two performing arts occupational therapists. I just saw the second doctor this past week, so I can’t say what the results would be, but I was very dissatisfied with the first doctor.

    He was convinced that I had problems playing simply because I was injured; as soon as I healed all my playing problems would be gone. Of course, I was right in this instance. The injury is much better than it was (not gone, mind you) but the problems while I play are worse if not the same. My new doctor works with athletes mostly, and I’m hoping he can give a different perspective.

    My left hand has similar problems playing, too, but it was never injured, probably just because the left hand usually does not play as intensely as the right hand. That is, whatever is going wrong with my right hand is probably going wrong in my left – it’s just that my right is the only arm with an injury.

    The first doctor I saw did watch me play and said that nothing was “ergonomically wrong.” I agree with that. Position is correct, but something is going wrong with the mechanics. At least that’s what I think. I’m hoping my new doctor will work with me to figure out once and for all what’s going wrong.

    AS112 on #183311

    Thank for the replies 🙂

    I will definitely push the physio to include rehab work on my shoulder. I have had physio in the past which didn’t make a lot of difference. But the physio my surgeon works with is a specialist upper limb physio and the only physio he will work so hopefully she will know her job!

    I didn’t know there were specialist musician rehabilitation. Over the years I’ve struggled to find the appropriate consultant to see as they seem to either do hands/wrist, or shoulders and elbows. My current surgeon does elbow, wrists and hands so hopefully he will sort me out. His theory is because I have too much laxity in my thumb joint, this is putting more stress on my elbow and so the operation to fix my thumb should help resolve this.

    If it doesn’t work, I have the option of having the joint fused, which will at least take the pain away. It’s the thumb joint nearest my wrist so the movement I would lose would be touching your thumb to little finger. I’m hoping if it comes to that, I will still manage to play somehow although my technique may suffer a bit.

    I can really sympathise with not being play. I only play for fun so I’m not that great but it’s so frustrating not being able to play as it makes me rather sad! It is in the back of mind that if I can’t play, there’s no point keeping my pedal harp. Minus the fact they aren’t cheap it has a lovely tone and should be played by someone.

    I moved to a new area fairly recently so I’m going to find a new teacher for after the operation/physio to get me going again and make sure my technique isn’t causing any additional problems.

    Tacye – if you could suggest a left handed repertoire that would be really helpful. Hopefully give it ago and it won’t be too frsutrating 🙂

    Gretchen Cover on #183328

    Read Saul’s remark in the Hand Tension thread above this one.

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