Here are some helps I've discovered as I've recently dealt with tendonitis for the first time. If you do these things when this condition comes to you, you'll probably be back to playing in no time!
1) Be sure to get a correct diagnosis. While the treatment for carpal tunnel and tendonitis is mostly very similar, you don't want to go through carpal tunnel surgery if it isn't actually going to help you, and tendonitis gets misdiagnosed as carpal tunnel a LOT; the National Institute of Health claims about 80% of the time (see article) . . . . Doing a little bit of online research will show you that carpal tunnel mostly affects the first three fingers, and the part of the hand below them, and involves numbness and tingling.
2) Realize that not all overuse injuries musicians face are brought on by playing their instrument! You don't have to feel unnecessary angst about that. My injury came about because of gardening and playing Tetris, not playing the violin. Even if you got your injury from being a musician, it's probably just because someone taught you to play that way. They probably didn't know themselves to monitor their tension and take adequate precautions. That being said, once you have it, you have to be careful when playing music, all the same, so it doesn't aggravate your condition. If you haven't experienced tendonitis and you want to be able to prevent it, be careful in any new activity, even lifting your children! Don't assume you'll always be immune. There are risk factors, like being female, being a mom of young children, or being between the ages of 30 and 50 . . . factors you have no control over once you meet them. Even having certain illnesses like diabetes makes you at higher risk for developing tendonitis.
3) Wearing a brace really helps! Enough said. You shouldn't need it for more than a week or two in most cases, wearing it 8-10 hours per day/night. I've even seen players play the violin with a brace on.
4) Other treatments that help may include:
Ask a doctor when in doubt.
- proper pain medication such as ibuprofen
- ice for 20 minutes, 4 times/day
- Epsom salt baths
- getting a massage from a licensed therapist who knows how to work with injuries
- stretching, which lengthens out the affected muscles, as instructed by a doctor
- medicated cream sold over-the-counter
- don't compensate with your non-dominant hand too much or you may fatigue that one . . .
5) Even if you start to feel better relatively soon, recognize healing does take time. Resume regular activities gradually, a little more gradually than you feel inclined.
6) Be patient with yourself and don't expect this condition to go away completely or forever. Expect recurring flare-ups, but try not to be discouraged by them. I talked with a professional studio musician who has dealt with this issue since she was a teenager. She says she plays as often as she wants, often up to 40 hours/week, and then lets her massage therapist and chiropractor fix any damage done.
7) However, the best advice I got, long before this condition attacked me, was, if you're playing your instrument and you start to experience any pain, stop immediately! Don't resume playing until the problem is resolved.
There you have it: Tendonitis for Instrumental Musicians 101. Don't get discouraged! Treatment is effective when handled correctly. Happy trails!
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