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Repetitive Strain Injuries
Or, How to take better care of your body

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This Online Lesson is (c) , Ryan Fraser. All right reserved. NO COMMERCIAL DISTRIBUTION.

You only have one body.  Best you take care of it well.

   Every so often, one of my students works a little too hard, and begins to feel pain in their hands, fingers, arms or shoulders. I take these warning signs very, very seriously. Many of these students may be on a short, hard road to a variety of injuries such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS), Tendonitis, or other over-use syndromes. These injuries are classified under the term "Repetitive Strain Injuries" by medical professionals.

   Trust me, you don't EVER want to go through with this. I'd like you to hear Natalka, a former student of mine, explain her experience with RSI. Natalka's problems began once she started university. The root of the problem lay in years of playing with poor posture and body awareness. Here's the story in Natalka's own words:

    "When I was in my first and second year in Music, I heard a lot about repetitive strain injuries such as tendinitis and carpal tunnel. I even knew some people who had them. But I never really took it seriously. I didn't think it would happen to me, and if it did, I didn't think it was a big deal.

    Well, in my second year, my wrist started hurting every once in a while. I would lose some of my mobility in my wrist whenever this happened. I didn't think it was that big of a deal, and I continued playing. Well....guess what? Within a few months, BOTH my wrists were acting up badly. I had tendinitis in both of them. I started seeing a chiropractor (who also did physio with me). I had to go see this chiropractor 3 times a week. Each time took 2 hours. Besides that, I had to ice both my wrists every day, which took an hour, and do a million strengthening exercises, which took about half an hour. As you can imagine, this took up a great deal of my time, so my marks in second year weren't that great (especially for my lessons).
Stress kills your ability to play!.

    I had to stop playing for a YEAR AND A HALF.

    My wrists kept getting worse. It hurt to write, type, drive a car, and cut vegetables. I couldn't even take my garbage out. I couldn't waterski in the summer, or lift anything even remotely heavy. I couldn't and still cannot do any push-ups. I had to wear wrist braces on my wrists, sometimes for months at a time.

    During my third year, I finally got an appointment with Dr. Chong at the Musicians' Clinic He figured out what my problem was (poor technique, a great deal of tension while I'm playing, and not enough muscle to hold up the instrument). I started swimming three times a week. I started taking lessons with Ryan (my previous saxophone teacher left Western), and we started rebuilding my technique FROM SCRATCH. I had to switch to the soprano saxophone because of my lack of muscle. I wasn't allowed to play the tenor or bari (or alto, but I did once in a while anyway). My wrist problem started becoming more controlled. I started playing again. It was extremely frustrating because I had to rebuild my technique from scratch (I was pretty much doing everything wrong), and I had lost so much time that I had to relearn things that came easily to me before. My wrists would still act up occasionally, so I would often have to take one or two weeks off my playing. This was really frustrating because it seemed that every time I learned something on the instrument, I had to take time off, and then I would lose the ability to do this new thing because of the time off. My self esteem on the instrument was really low because of this, and because students two years below me were playing much better than I was. I had to switch to the soprano saxophone because of thelack of muscle in my shoulders and back.

Natalka was in double arm braces for a while.  Take her word for it - you don't want to have the same thing happen to you..

    Well, right now my wrist problem is still more controlled, but it hasn't gone away. I still have to take time off my playing once in a while. I'm still seeing Dr. Chong about once a month. I still can't play the tenor or bari. Every time I practice regularly for about 2 hours a day, or am under a lot of stress, my wrists act up.

    I guess the message I'm trying to send you is BE CAREFUL! You do not want to have what I do. If something starts hurting, or if you get tingling or numbness anywhere, STOP PLAYING! If a muscle is sore, stretch it. Try to eliminate any tension from your muscles while you are playing. Have a look at how you're holding the instrument to make sure that you're not placing any unnecessary stress on your joints. Practice in short segments. Take lots of breaks. Make sure you let your teacher know what is going on. Exercise. Swimming is especially beneficial, as it strengthens muscles and relieves tension (I find that I cannot do weightlifting, as it is too straining on my muscles). Use a harness instead of a neckstrap if you find your neck sore after playing. There are nerves in the neck/shoulder area that can be pinched off (possibly by using a neckstrap with heavy saxophones!). These nerves, when pinched off, can lead to problems with breathing, finger dexterity,and can cause pain in the wrists.

    Scary isn't it? Because of many years of poor posture while playing, which was never caught by previous teachers, Natalka paid a hefty price. Don't let it happen to you. For some simple ideas on how to avoid these problems, read the articles on Posture and Practice.


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