Tendinitis: Pain, Patience, Recovery

Are violin-playing and lifting weights incompatible? From personal experience, my answer is no — they’re not in conflict. Both activities have long been part of my life.

For working out, my sequence is WALK, STRETCH, LIFT. For violin, it’s WALK, STRETCH, PRACTICE. Get the blood pumping first. Stretching is easier — and safer — when you’re warmed up this way. And, just as I stretch and walk between sets in the gym, I pause fairly often during music practice to bend, stretch arms and neck, and walk the floor.

“Don’t work too hard” and “Don’t kill yourself” are often sarcastic statements, typically aimed at slackers. Well, the two people who aimed these words at me — my fourth violin teacher and my first personal trainer — intended me to take the words literally — not as sarcastic at all. My violin teacher knew I was a practice geek and prone to over-practice. And my trainer knew I was the eager-beaver type and would train too long at a stretch — and too heavily — if he didn’t apply the brakes.

It’s easier than you might think to carry even these worthwhile pursuits, music and fitness, to extremes and get your life — and tendons — out of whack. I learned this the hard way in mid-summer 2013, when I developed a case of tendinitis in my left wrist.

It didn’t take me long to figure out what had brought this on — overdosing on some hard-core technical reviews — Sevcik, Schradieck, Dancla. I strongly believe in these studies. But from the time I was a kid, the geeky side of me always managed to find fun in doing them; and this time, I definitely overdosed on them — before I realized what was happening.

The pain didn’t stop my playing, although I backed off on drills like Dancla’s School of Mechanism, Op. 74, Nos. 8 and 15. Ditto for Kreutzer No. 9.

In gym workouts, I suffered more. Most exercises were still fine, but attempting a biceps curl with the straight bar was too painful. Ditto for forearm wrist curls. I just couldn’t do them.

Before calling a specialist to help me deal with the pain, I decided first to see if changing the grip angle and lightening up on the weights would help. Both steps did help. For the short term, angled bars on a machine allowed me to work the biceps without pain or over-stressing the wrists. Then, too, I was about due for a week off the gym, which I take every 6-8 weeks. That helped still more. The tendinitis decreased, and the problem soon cleared up.

I deliberately held back sharing my experience with anyone till summer 2014 to be sure my recovery held firmly. It did.

Some of the best preventive measures I’ve found are moderation, balance in activities, and attention to posture and proper form. If you feel pain, stop. Pain is nature’s way of telling you something’s wrong. If it persists, get professional help.

Updated from original blog, published October 2, 2014, at violinist.com.

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