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Playing-related injury? Or not quite injury... hmm

sprstrsprstr 46 replies14 threads Junior Member
edited January 2010 in Music Major
What happens when you just about lose the ability to practice 1-2 months leading up to college auditions? My shoulder and back have been bothering me throughout most of my musical career (I'm a flute player), but I never thought of it as much more than a nuisance up until this year, when I REALLY started practicing. Now my whole back/shoulder area is really painful--all the time and especially while playing.

I've started physical therapy but it's not going to fix everything in time for me to practice as much as I need to go to to the schools I really want to go to. Does anyone have any experiences with this/advice/success stories/anything?

I'm kind of panicking because I've barely accomplished anything while practicing this entire break. And really discouraged. Ahhh!
edited January 2010
21 replies
Post edited by sprstr on
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Replies to: Playing-related injury? Or not quite injury... hmm

  • Mezzo'sMamaMezzo'sMama Forum Champion Music Major 3550 replies84 threads Forum Champion
    You need to figure out what's best for you and what is causing the pain? Is it posture? Are you so nervous about the auditions that you are tensing up? Have you seen an orthopedist to rule out any spinal or shoulder deformities/injuries that would be contributing to the problem? Assuming that everything is alright with you physically, see if you can connect with someone familiar with Alexander Technique or Feldenkreis- both should really be able to help.
    A school will understand if you have an anjury, but they will advise you to seek treatment and take better care of yourself. Depending upon the school, they may make allowances for you based upon your pre-screen submission, or they may not- it's up to them. Flute is very highly competative instrument with many more applicants than there are places, so don't wait. I would bet that this is an alignment issue so the sooner you can get to someone who can work with you on Alexander techinique and teach you how to help yourself, the better.
    If you can't find anyone or don't know where to begin, say so, because there are many on CC who do know practitioners who are familiar with these techinques and I'm sure we could come up with someone in your area.
    Deep breath, relax and good luck!
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  • BassDadBassDad 5330 replies51 threads Senior Member
    Might you consider a gap year to give the physical therapy and either Alexander or Felkdenkreis some time to work while slowly increasing your practice time? It may be a hard thing to think about when most of your friends are headed off to great new schools, but taking a few classes at a community college, working a part-time job and gradually building up to the 3-5 hours of daily practice that will be expected of you as a performance major could be the best way for you to get into one of the schools that interest you.
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  • BeezMomBeezMom 211 replies6 threads Junior Member
    Can I ask which shoulder it is? If it's your left, and you are a smallish person, you might want to consider an offset flute rather than inline. If it is your right - could you temporarily rest your elbow on a table or something when you are practicing to stop the spasms? While you definitely need more longterm help (and have gotten some great suggestions here) but in the short term, you might want to treat this like a sports injury - meaning ice massages and regular anti-inflammatory meds to keep the swelling down. Stretch before AND after you play. Good luck!
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  • lorelei2702lorelei2702 2089 replies36 threads Senior Member
    There are occupational therapists who specialize in musical performance injuries. They observe the patient while playing and diagnose what in the technique is causing problems. Some people find that they cannot build to the level of endurance necessary to master technique on their instrument. It is better to learn this now rather than later. Ask your teacher for guidance about this issue NOW. If he or she cannot analyze the situation and/or make referral for therapeutic help, you need to ask other instrumental teachers and conductors in your area for help. If you let us know where you live, someone here may be able to make a more specific suggestion. Good luck.
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  • sagitersagiter 348 replies10 threads Member
    While I whole heartedly agree that you should seek a professional opinion of your problem, I would personally need a lot of convincing that the problem has been caused by the flute. I can beleive that the flute playing is exacerbating the problem, but the cause ?
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  • musicprntmusicprnt 6216 replies37 threads Senior Member
    I agree, you need to get it checked out, by someone who can diagnose the cause. I don't know the flute well, but it could be your back and shoulder have some other injury, and playing flute irritates it (without knowing the instrument, I can't say it didn't cause the problems). It would be especially good if you could find an orthopedist or chiropractor or osteopath who has experience with musical injuries (just as a side note, I have a tendency to screw up my back, and have good luck with my gp who is an osteopath fixing it, so I am a fan:).

    The other thing that might in the short term help straighten out the situation would be to see an acupuncturist, not as an alternative to getting medical attention, but perhaps as a way to allow you to be able to practice for your auditions. You need to find out what is causing this, but perhaps with acunpuncture it may allow you to be able to still practice (assuming there isn't serious damage where playing would make it worse, of course).

    I agree with others, the other option might be to concentrate on getting your back straightened out and getting back to playing form, and to do so take a gap year. That is not uncommon, I have known several music students who did that for various reasons to give them time to focus on getting themselves to the level where they could get into a program they wanted to, and may be a way to allow you to get better without the pressure of upcoming auditions.
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  • rigaudonrigaudon 187 replies10 threads Junior Member
    After reading Sagiter's somewhat cryptic post, I spent a long time debating about whether to make a comment. Without knowing what Sagiter actually meant, I had a somewhat similar reaction because I remembered reading other threads that Sprstr started on the Music Majors site. I think reading Sprstr's previous posts on this site would raise questions about the possibility of additional issues being related to difficulty with practice.

    Sprstr, in your posts, you gave the impression that you may have felt a lot of pressure from expectations and beliefs of others. In a post written at the end of May, you were wondering about whether conservatory was right for you. You have mentioned having broad interests, including some outside of music, hinted at having difficulty with handling stress, ended up with a list of schools that many here felt possibly "top-heavy" for one of the most competitive instruments. You told us about difficulties with preparing the prescreening recording and now mention the difficulty practicing. Taking all these things together, I think it would be a mistake to view this as a purely physical issue. Not saying there is no pain or physical problem, but I do hope any concerns/worries you may have ranging from anxiety about the audition process or choice of schools or major, etc. are not ignored.

    Sprstr, you sound like a very smart, creative and interesting person. I apologize if I am all wrong about the things I mentioned. Whatever may be causing your difficulty with practice I hope the problem(s) can be resolved. Best wishes to you for future success and happiness!
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  • sprstrsprstr 46 replies14 threads Junior Member
    Does anyone know of specific people to go to for Alexander technique in the Philly/South Jersey area? I'm really interested in trying it now, since my teacher doesn't seem to have any more input on what to do differently and basically pressures me to keep playing through pain or whatever. (Kind of disappointing)

    I'm going to try to get everything back in order in time for my auditions--I guess I could take a gap year but it would be my very last resort since I'm dying to get out of this place.

    Rigaudon--you're right, this isn't just a purely physical issue. I'm trying to work through my own lack of motivation as well, but the shoulder/back problem is complicating everything, too, so I hope I can figure all that out REALLY SOON.
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  • sagitersagiter 348 replies10 threads Member
    Ariel Weiss Holyst, she teaches at Curtiss.
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  • TrumpetDadTrumpetDad 250 replies12 threads Junior Member
    Bought this for my wife, a flutist, for Christmas at the recommendation of her Alexander Technique instructor:

    Body, Breath and Being: A New Guide to the Alexander Technique (Paperback)
    ~ Carolyn Nicholls
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  • thumper1thumper1 78052 replies3501 threads Senior Member
    DS took Alexander Technique courses and also had the above book. Both were excellent.

    DD, OTOH...had a sprain in her right forearm when she was a freshman and was in considerable pain. It turned out that the problem was the span she needed...and the weight of her English horn. Her teacher (very very good) suggested she get a strap AND a rod floor post for the EH (which dispersed the weight). She also sent DD to a sports med physical therapist who worked exclusively with musicians who gave DD some exercises AND a brace to use.

    You need to find out WHY you are having pain issues. It's impossible to treat them and make them permanently go away until you have a reason. It could be anything from posture to an injury. Please find a good person to diagnose the cause of this issue and then find a course of treatment.
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  • lorelei2702lorelei2702 2089 replies36 threads Senior Member
    Just because you are having conflicted thought about your future does not mean that there are not functional problems with your playing posture. Conflict is appropriate at this and many stages of life, use it to process all the variables and get to know yourself better.....it is not a bad thing. Hope you find solutions soon.
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  • musmom2musmom2 471 replies29 threads Member
    TrumpetDad and Thumper: Thanks for the book recommendation. My S, a pianist, is having significant issues with wrist tendonitis. He has had lots of PT/OT and a little Alexander work, so I figured a reference would be good. Just ordered!
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  • binxbinx 4229 replies89 threads Senior Member
    A school will understand if you have an anjury, but they will advise you to seek treatment and take better care of yourself. Depending upon the school, they may make allowances for you based upon your pre-screen submission, or they may not- it's up to them. Flute is very highly competative instrument...

    BECAUSE flute is a highly competitive instrument, I would be careful how many excuses or explanations you give. If a school hears two equally qualified flutists, and one is working through an injury or disability and the other is healthy, guess which they'll pick?

    There are many reasons for not being up to snuff at audition time. Injuries. Family dramas. Illnesses. Too busy to practice..... Unfortunately, none of the excuses will usually get you a pass. At best, it might get you an, "Okay, try again next year." Schools generally don't want to invest in students who seem at risk of being unable to make it for the long haul. Your goal at your audition is to show them you are worth investing in, not to give them excuses not to admit you.

    Get a solid medical evaluation and prognosis, and take it from there. If you need a year to recover, than do it.
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  • lorelei2702lorelei2702 2089 replies36 threads Senior Member
    String players are advised not to let anyone know during the audition process that there may be a lurking injury. A singer might get a delayed audition for laryngitis, or not, depends on whether this can be accommodated by the school. Top notch schools get too many singers, string players and flautists to worry about any one applicant. Best to solve the problems and then audition.....better than doing a less than excellent audition, for ANY reason.
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  • Mezzo'sMamaMezzo'sMama Forum Champion Music Major 3550 replies84 threads Forum Champion
    Binx, I wasn't suggesting that the OP make excuses DURING an audition. Flute being as competitive as it is, that would be akin to being shown the door, BUT if she (he?) has a legit injury and is truly unable to audition at the scheduled time, a number of schools will be willing to work from the pre-screen CD or a recorded audition (in fact, I know of a flutist who was accepted from her recorded audition this past year because she was unable to physically be present on the audition dates). It has been common advice to suggest that students carry a recording along with them should anything happen which would prevent them from performing ( singers, in particular). If the OP did all of the work, applications, pre-screens,etc and had been granted auditions, then an injury should not prevent her from being considered for admission. Yes, flute is a tough admission as are strings- all of the majors within this forum are difficult admits and the kids know it; they all work hard but things happen which are not within their control. If this is truly the case with sprstr, I'd far rather see her get the help she needs to be able to perform healthy for the rest of her career than play "through an injury" which could end her playing career before she even begins.
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  • lorelei2702lorelei2702 2089 replies36 threads Senior Member
    Having a conflict with an audition date, especially if it involves another performance opportunity, is totally different than offering a CD because one is not at optimum performance level. Injury and health issues are best left unmentioned. Auditions are impersonal, no investment by the faculty in giving a break to an individual. It is what it is, and they hear what they hear, or not. Singers should do a high quality back-up CD/DVD, but they will be disadvantaged.....nothing takes the place of the kind of impression which can be made in person.
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  • compmomcompmom 11569 replies81 threads Senior Member
    Finding a good physical and/or occupational therapist who specializes in helping musicians, should be a good first step. "Alternatives" such as chiropractic, acupuncture, even hypnosis can be helpful, depending on the cause.

    Using those gel packs that go in the freezer, and can be used to cover shoulders, can help. We strongly recommend frozen peas as well! For warmth, we used to use the plug-in pads but switched to those felt-covered pads that are filled with beads or with herbs, and can be heated in the microwave. We also like Ben Gay or Tiger Balm. Heat and stretch before practice, then ice pack after, might help a little. But others are right in saying the cause is important: these suggestions just deal with symptoms. But they can help with prevention once you have made progress on the cause.

    Just wanted to add to beware of any therapists who tell you to find another vocation. Our daughter is a dancer, and heard this from one physical therapist. Thank heavens, she didn't listen. Once she found a physical therapist who specialized in dance, the difference was remarkable.

    I am assuming that by now, you have sent applications in to all of your schools. Did you apply to any schools that are not conservatories, as a music major for a BA rather than BM? Just curious.
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  • sprstrsprstr 46 replies14 threads Junior Member
    Compmom-- I applied for BM/performance at every school. Actually Rutgers lets you put three major options, so I put Performance at Mason Gross as my first choice and then Undeclared at New Brunswick / Camden as my other two. I guess I can do that if my shoulder/back completely fail me. I've been accepted for performance to one school already, though, so unless I literally can't play anymore, I can still major in flute next year :]

    I saw a chiropractor, but I'm still not sure if he made it better or worse...

    Saying anything about my injury kind of worries me, so I'm trying to avoid it. Actually, I'm having a pre-audition trial lesson at my top choice school this month... Would it be bad to mention it there, from an "it's an issue I'm working on" angle?
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  • binxbinx 4229 replies89 threads Senior Member
    I personally do not believe you should mention it. You might want to ask, though, if they teach Alexander Technique or other body awareness programs. And you could specifically ask the teacher if he/she notices any posture or tension issues.
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