Samantha George  

Common Health Problems for String Players

Samantha George
October 17, 2019

Editor's Abstract (Click to Hide)

The life of a string player is fraught with all sorts of potential health hazards. In her second article, Samantha George, Associate Concertmaster of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, defines some of the most common maladies afflicting string players: tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, and focal dystonia. She describes common symptoms and offers some advice about treatment, along with links to some helpful websites.

- Ann Drinan

The following information details the most common health problems that string players encounter. Be sure to consult a doctor. Self-diagnosis can be very dangerous, and doctors have seen numerous examples of each of these ailments.

Tendonitis (also spelled tendinitis)

Definition: A tendon is a tough yet flexible band of fibrous tissue that connects your muscles to the bone. Tendons are denser and stiffer than muscles. Although this density makes tendons quite strong, the lack of elasticity and the constant pulling on the attachment to the bone makes tendons susceptible to a low level of tearing at the microscopic level. This tearing produces the inflamation and irritation known as tendonitis. Tendonitis is usually caused from excessive repetitive movement and overuse (e.g., playing a stringed instrument).

Symptoms: Achy pain, stiffness, and in some cases, burning surrounding the joint.

Treatment: Anti-inflammatory medications, icing, time away from the repetitive motions that caused the tendonitis, stretching (in particular, the more pliable muscle around the tendon, NOT the painful, inflamed area itself). Massage and ultrasound treatment are often used to break down the excess scar tissue that forms as the microscopic tears begin to heal on their own.


Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Definition: At the base of the palm there is a tight canal or “tunnel” through which nine tendons and the Median Nerve must pass on their way from the forearm to the hands and fingers. This narrow passage is called the Carpal Tunnel. The Carpal Tunnel is snug and there is just enough room inside for the tendons and nerves that have to pass through. If anything takes up extra room, the nerve in the canal becomes constricted or “pinched.” The condition that results when the Median Nerve is being pinched is called Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS). The most common cause of CTS is inflammation of the tendons within the tunnel, which is usually caused by excessive repetitive motion and overuse (e.g., playing a stringed instrument or typing on a computer keyboard).

Symptoms: Numbness and/or tingling in the hands and/or fingers. Shooting pains in the wrist or the forearm (in severe cases, traveling all the way to the shoulder, neck, chest, or even the foot). Difficulty clenching the fist or grasping small objects.

Treatment: Wrist braces, supports, and splints are often used to stabilize the area. Anti-inflammatory analgesics are also useful. Icing and time away from the instrument are commonly suggested. There is a surgery available for CTS called Carpal Tunnel Release. This is a last-resort option for musicians, because healing from the surgery can take a long time and results are not always satisfactory.


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