Tennis Elbow

Posted In: How To Play

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    unknown-user–2 on #60309

    Hello everyone,
    I’ve recently been diagnosed with a case of tennis elbow. The damage is not severe, and I’ve been working successfully with a chiropractor in fixing the perpetual tightness in my right forearm that the injury was causing. I expect the symptoms to be cleared in a few weeks.

    This injury is undoubtedly the result of improper right hand technique. I’ll spare everyone the reasons why that’s clear, but it’s really quite evident that this is a technique issue and not something else.

    My best guess is that I began somehow tensing and or using the muscles in the back of my hand and the top of my forearm to pluck strings about three years ago. There’s no way to tell exactly when, since I clearly wasn’t aware that I was doing anything wrong.

    I’ve been trying for months to fix this issue, but have become incredibly frustrated. I took a five week break from the instrument and started playing again about a month ago, but the frustration has returned, and it’s even worse now. I’m really at my wit’s end, and I’m just about ready to give up playing. Two years ago I was playing concert level programs, and now I’m reduced to slowly plucking one string over and over desperately trying to find a way to get rid of the tension. I haven’t played anything resembling music in about two months because I can feel the tennis elbow coming back as I play.

    My teacher has told me that she has no idea how to help me.

    Has anyone heard of improper technique giving a harpist tennis elbow? There’s really no information out there. Any advice or kind words would be appreciated.


    Sylvia on #60310

    What harp method are you using?

    unknown-user–2 on #60311

    Hi Sylvia,
    I’m playing French method, but I don’t really like to put a name on it since there was never a time that I was taught “you are playing French method.” When I was just starting, I learned Salzedo method, but I’ve strayed far from Salzedo elbows and wrists (!), and the problems started long after my technique became more French.

    ellen-beckerman on #60312

    I don’t know if this is helpful, but I had tennis elbow years ago, and the physical therapist was absolutely sure it was from my harp playing. My training has been completely celtic, so I don’t know a “method.” I worked with the physical therapist for many months, and I finally got better, without completely giving up my harp playing. I’ve been fine now for years. I did consider getting a cortisone shot, which was suggested to me, and if I were to do it again, I think i might go that route, because when successful, that can bring the inflammation right down, and you can move ahead. There are also braces you can wear on your fore-arm. I liked the “band-it” brand. You can get it at… just google “Band-IT elbow” and lots of things come up. This allows you to continue to use your hands, but keeps the tendon involved in tennis elbow quiet, so that it is resting and not getting more inflamed. I have played the harp with it on. Not my favorite thing to do, but you do get used to it, and for me, it was better than not playing at all. So those are the things that helped me. The Physical Therapist said he bet lots of harpists have had this problem, but you are the first I’ve heard of. Don’t give up, and don’t give up your harp. I hope you feel better soon.

    unknown-user–2 on #60313

    Thanks, Ellen.
    My chiropractor has told me that there really isn’t very much inflammation in the arm, actually, so I don’t think a cortisone injection is for me. He said instead its mostly just that the muscles are locked in a more contracted state than they should be. He said this is happening because my wrist joint has tightened… and so somehow my technique is tightening my wrist and that’s causing my arm to tighten.

    The treatment right now is proving largely successful. After only three weeks it’s definitely closer to healed than injured. It was a mild case, admittedly. At this point I’m more interested in finding a fix for my technique than a fix for the tennis elbow itself since the latter is going so well. Even if I’m just lightly plucking strings, I can actually feel my arm tightening back up. Needless to say, that’s very frustrating.

    I’ll definitely take a look into the brace, though. I wasn’t sure if those really worked or not. Perhaps it can keep my arm uninjured while I continue to work towards a solution.

    Thanks again!

    unknown-user–2 on #60314

    Hi Alison,
    Thanks for your reply. Large chords are not usually a problem for me – my hands are large (I’m a guy!). Instead, pieces with intricate lines are using the biggest problem. There doesn’t seem to be much correlation between the piece and how badly the injury is affected. As far as I can tell, the tension occurs *during* the pluck, and not in between. That is, I’m literally using the wrong muscles to pluck the strings. My chiropractor has said it’s not bad enough to stop playing entirely, but I’m of course taking things easy.
    Thanks again.

    Tacye on #60315

    I have been told both by a harp teacher and medics that it takes about 6 weeks of care and thought to transfer something into muscle memory. Certainly this has seemed about right to me when trying to change bits of my technique. But it doesn’t help if you haven’t worked out what you want to change it too.

    I would refer you to one of my teachers, Alison Nicholls, who was also qualified in pilates, and apt to tell me I was making the right movements but using the wrong muscles – but I think she is based in Paris now which may be rather far for you?

    unknown-user–2 on #60316

    Hi Tacye,
    YES. That sounds perfect – “the right movements but using the wrong muscles”! Unfortunately I’m based out of New York and Boston, so it would be quite the trek. Anyone know a teacher like that in the states?

    jennifer-buehler on #60317

    If you’re in New York or Boston, you should have an easy time finding someone. You could look for someone specializing in music medicine or Alexander technique (how to use the body).

    Loonatik on #60318

    maybe you just need to get a teacher with a good eye to fix that french technique or return to a proper salzedo technique…?

    not sure if it’s the tension itself that’s causing the problem, to a certain extent you do require a certain amout of tension to get the right tone produced. it could be the ability to release tension after producing the notes…

    if you take a video and post it on youtube, maybe some of the experience harpists/teachers here can take a look and provide some feedback.

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