#AskVidasAndAusra 89: I've recently been diagnosed with an ulnar compression which is affecting the sensation and dexterity of my ring finger and little finger on my left hand
Vidas: Let’s start Episode 89 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. Today’s question was sent by Anne, and she writes:
“Hi, I really enjoy watching your videos and have found them very instructive. I am an organist/pianist/violinist. However, I've recently been diagnosed with an ulnar compression which is affecting the sensation and dexterity of my ring finger and little finger on my left hand. It is also causing me issues in using the pedals because I am finding that, when playing the organ, I cannot move or sit in an optimum position. I have been told by my physio that this is from wear and tear from playing and practicing, and I was wondering if you know of other musicians who have had a similar problem?
Although I am doing exercises to try and relieve the compressed nerve I have been told that to resolve it I will probably require surgery. The only other choice would be to stop playing, which obviously I cannot do. Do you have any suggestions? I'd be very grateful to hear your thoughts. Thank you, best regards, Anne.”
So: nerves, sensation in her ring finger and little finger in her left hand, affecting her dexterity of the fingers. This might be a serious problem, right?
Vidas: Have you ever had problems with fingers and wrists, and things like that? Maybe ankles?
Ausra: Yes, with wrist I have had problems, way back in the Academy of Music when I was playing very much, and doing hard music such as Reger.
Vidas: And...did you go to a doctor?
Vidas: And what did he recommend?
Ausra: Well, there were discussions between doctors: one advised me to do surgery, and one did not. So I did not do that surgery--wrist surgery. And I’m still playing! I’m still feeling all my fingers.
Vidas: Uh-huh. So basically you had to somehow adjust your practice procedures.
Ausra: Well, yes; and I realized that for me, swimming is very beneficial to relax all my muscles.
Vidas: Do you think that Anne could also try swimming?
Ausra: Could be; or some other physical therapy exercises. But everything is individual for each person.
Vidas: She has to try out a lot of things and then discover what works for her, basically.
Ausra: Yes. But if that’s a problem of nerves, she might have to have real surgery.
Vidas: Depending on how far advanced this ailment is.
Vidas: I see. In high school, I also had problems with my little finger--I think with the right hand--because of playing Scriabin etudes, I think. So at this time, my teacher gave me to play left hand etudes, and I didn’t practice with my right hand for three months, maybe. And after that, of course, the pain stopped. But I had to be much more careful with my playing.
Ausra: And I often tell my students at Čiurlionis Art School, that the most important class for them is actually physical exercise class. And they laugh at me! They just think, “Oh, she’s crazy haha, she tells us in a school of music that the most important class is physical exercise.” But I seriously mean it. Because if you don’t exercise enough, you will not strengthen your muscles, and just practice for long hours. And Anne told us that she plays three different instruments.
Ausra: Including violin. It means that your body has to adjust to all these instruments. And if you don’t exercise enough, in time you might encounter various health problems.
Vidas: You’re absolutely right, Ausra.
Ausra: Because even while living healthy and exercising enough, it’s hard to prevent your body from damages. That’s what happens when you practice for long hours.
Vidas: When was the time when you first understood that physical training is important for musicians?
Ausra: Actually, it was in America.
Vidas: Me too. I had all kinds of exercise equipment in my home, but I never really took advantage of those. And I never really developed a habit of exercising. Maybe I could do some sporadic exercises; but it didn’t count, basically. But what you’re saying is I think very common for musicians--
Vidas: Because all they want to do all day long, really, is play!
Ausra: Yes, yes. And I mentioned swimming, earlier; I think it’s very beneficial for a musician to swim; because, well, you cannot hurt yourself while swimming. It really makes your body relax and release all the tension, and you will not hurt your fingers while swimming.
Vidas: Even people with older age, with joint problems, knee problems…
Ausra: Yes, and maybe not to swim, but do some exercises in the water. That’s very beneficial, too. Of course, you have to consult a professional, in order to learn those exercises.
Vidas: And as I was saying, even people with joint problems or knee problems, they cannot really take a walk or run, or do other kinds of exercises that other people can, but they normally can swim.
Ausra: Yes, and our host family--the mom of our host family--she had knee issues, way back in Michigan (we were living with an elderly couple for 2 years). And she had both her knees replaced. And actually, at quite an early age; she was still young when she had that surgery. And after that, she never felt good in her life. And she could hardly walk. She would be walking, but it would give her a lot of pain; so she could not take long walks, or run, or do other exercises. But she could swim; and that’s what she did every day.
Vidas: True. I hope that people in our Secrets of Organ Playing community--they are from all backgrounds, not only professional musicians; and a lot of them are from different professions--
Vidas: And hopefully they do understand the importance of moving.
Vidas: And stretching, and things like that.
Ausra: And as for a physician, it would be definitely good to find a physician who specializes in people with special needs--people like musicians. Because when I consulted doctors, way back when I was young, they could not help me much, because they just kept complaining that, “Oh, you musicians, you have everything developed so strangely in your arms…”
Ausra: So...they are like a different world. But if you live in a larger country, you have more physicians, and more choices. So try to search for a good one, for somebody who specializes…
Vidas: To sum up, of course, our recommendation: not only do you have to consult a physician, and of course do some exercises that they recommend, but you have to practice in a different way now. So look at your feeling…
Ausra: Listen to your body, basically.
Vidas: Yeah. Do you really feel pain all the time, or just when practicing for a longer period of time? If that’s the case, then maybe you could stop practicing before the pain arrives.
Ausra: Yes. Because what Anne wrote about...I think it might be because of the violin.
Vidas: Left hand, you’re right.
Ausra: Yes, I get that feeling, that it’s because of playing violin.
Vidas: You might be onto something here. So maybe violin is not very healthy for her in the way that she’s currently practicing. Maybe she can practice for shorter amounts of time and take longer breaks, relaxing her arm.
Ausra: I remember I once had a student who was a violinist, and she had to graduate in a couple years. And she started to have hand problems; and she went to doctors, and she was diagnosed with--overuse syndrome, sort of she already overused her arms.
Vidas: So that’s what Anne is talking about--wear and tear.
Ausra: And actually, she had to switch her major, and I think she graduated as a composer from our school.
Vidas: I see.
Ausra: And I think she didn’t go to the Academy of Music later on.
Vidas: She didn’t pursue a professional musician career?
Ausra: Yes. Yes yes yes, because of that.
Vidas: I see. Well, as Ausra says, listen to your body and consult your physician. That’s the best we can advise, right? Excellent. Please, guys, send more of your questions; we love helping you grow in any way we can. We don’t always know all the answers; but we maybe help you understand some of the problems, and maybe direct you to real professional help. Excellent. This was Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
Vidas: And remember, when you practice…
Ausra: Miracles happen.
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Drs. Vidas Pinkevicius and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene
Organists of Vilnius University , creators of Secrets of Organ Playing.
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