Arm injuries due to piano playing (I’m gonna need someone really knowledgeable)?

Here is the situation: I have pain when I play piano, also sometimes when I don’t. Sometimes I get pain from doing absolutely nothing stressful to my arms. It often seems that when it happens for no reason I am sitting down, although resting my arms in my lap, usually they don’t hurt when I am standing up. The pain is locating on both L and R forearms, the underside upper half by the elbow, but not quite to the elbow. The exact location of the pain is hard to pinpoint. Sometimes it is shoots through for a few seconds, sometimes a dull ache for a few hours.

I’ve tried the following treatments with no relief whatsoever: Chiropractics, icing, rest, active release therapy, meds, stretching, exercise, accupuncture, and etc.

It’s not a pinched nerved, carpel tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, tendinosis, thoracic outlet syndrome, MS, tennis elbow, or focal dystonia. Anybody have any ideas? Don’t say something just to get points please, thanks a lot!

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  1. Noon Star, 28 January, 2010

    I had this problem about 5 years ago – same type of pain on the upper half of the lower arm by the elbow – and after a lot of searching – going to a physical therapist, acupuncturist and whatnot, I’ve discovered that the core of the problem could not simply be cured by external treatment. It was something that had to be achieved actively instead of passively.

    I noticed that whenever it gets cold, my body is more prone to ache when I play. Soaking your arms in hot water for 10-15 minutes every day (I don’t know how effective Epsom salt is, but I’m sure it doesn’t hurt – I’ve only used it once), helps blood circulation. It’s not a problem solver – it’s just a good step forward.

    How long do you play the piano without stopping? Being aware of your body’s exertion is so important. I would definitely warm up very slowly and softly – be mindful of every finger you put down. Keep the wrists and the thumbs extremely loose. Any time you put it down and those parts tighten, make a conscious effort to tell them to release. This goes as well for the neck. The spine extends up to the ear, actually, and the more compressed it is, the less flexible the rest of your body. So be aware of where your head is – make sure it doesn’t come forward or go backwards. Make sure your shoulders are down. Don’t forget to breathe with every phrase. Help your fingers play phrases with your wrist and elbows. Sit on the bench – extend your spine, and let go of your thighs. (I wasn’t aware I was doing that for a while).

    Most importantly – as soon as there is any kind of discomfort in any part of your body – stop! Go over the passage slowly. I would actually rework any piece you’re playing that’s giving you trouble by moving slowly and figuring out what exactly is going on in your body that is inhibiting what you want to express/what part of the body you’re holding tension when you’re playing a particular section. Keep reminding yourself to keep your shoulders down, wrists, thumbs, and neck loose, and any other part of your body that is tense – you’ll revert to old habits once in a while, so keep reminding yourself.

    By the way, it is natural for the arm below your elbow to tense up whenever your hand is extended, so whenever you can, relax your hand when you’re not playing something with your hand extended. Also, you can breathe within any phrase… both literally and with your limbs. It’s a momentary release while you’re playing that relieves tension at that moment and helps you to continue.

    Anyway, email me if you’d like, if you have any other questions.

  2. Pokemaster, 28 January, 2010

    Get plenty of sleep and rest. Sleeping on the sofa is a good idea get like a leather black single chair put your arms on the chair arms while you sleep. Put pillow on both side so that you don’t bend your neck or else you will get a big neck pain when you wake up.

  3. i. jones, 28 January, 2010

    It sounds like your piano seat is not at the proper height for the keyboard. If you have a normal piano the bench should be about 20" high. Adjustable is better, three or four inches of travel is enormous. Adjusting from 18" to 22" would show you just how much the seating position is important. If you’ve got a "keyboard" make sure that it is at the proper height.

    You need to sit erect with your head up; no slouching.

    … aside from all that, have a teacher evaluate your body position while playing.

  4. tammee, 28 January, 2010

    I think you picked up some poor practice habits. I used to practice with excruciating pain like you suggested. I finally told my professor of the "GREAT" pain I was in and he told me I was practicing badly and injuring my muscles.
    Now, when you play, you play using your upper arms. For wrists and fingers should use as little muscle as possible.
    Actually, you need to go to some piano pedogogy courses… will really help.
    I no longer have pain and when I do, I quit playing.
    When you play large chords, you should actually be able to jump up from the piano.

  5. Nemesis, 28 January, 2010

    I would engage with this in great detail but for the single thing you said which indicates that if I argue and analyse only as a pianist I could be dreadfully wrong.

    > I have pain when I play piano, also sometimes when I don’t

    Please, first go to your doctor as regards "when you don’t" and put the problem on his desk so he/she can eliminate everything that is not potentially of a pianistic origin to start off with.

    If that does not provide relief, then, and only then would it be sensible to start investigating potential pianism-related aspects to your discomfort.

    (Feel free to rattle my cage via Y!A Mail in the meantime if you think I might be able to help by listening to your experiences and see what I can make of them.)

    All the best,

  6. Evas, 28 January, 2010

    Maybe this site can give you some clues. If you are not taking lessons from a nationally certified teacher, that is the source of the problem. Self taught pianists always use force not finesse when playing. Best wishes for a solution and recovery.

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