Wrist tendonitis - playing violin

I haven’t been playing the violin or blogging for quite some time now. :-( This is because I’ve been struggling with wrist tendonitis on my left hand for about 3 months now. It makes me very sad, but I’m obligated to take a break. If I don’t rest I won’t heal.

Before I got my tendonitis I was practicing a lot, especially focusing on shifting and intonation. To improve, I was repeating the same hand/wrist movements a lot and this caused a lot of tension and pain. But since I like playing the violin so much, I didn’t care and I just kept playing my violin… I didn’t feel the pain so much while I was playing but the moment I put down my instrument I used to have a burning pain in my left wrist. I kept going like that for several weeks until I finally understood it wasn’t going to get better by just playing through it. In the end I couldn’t even do simple daily activities without pain. It was just hurting all the time. I did a lot of damage to my tendons and so it’s taking a lot of time to heal.

Recovering from violin related wrist tendonitis

At first I was using a topical NSAID gel to rub on my wrist. It did help with the pain, but after about 3 weeks I started to feel very dizzy as a side-effect. So I stopped with the gel and I noticed that my wrist hadn’t improved at all. The pain was back. So it was no real solution for me. Because of feeling less pain, I kept using my wrist too much instead of giving it time to heal. So I’ve been reading a lot about other treatments. I’ve tried lots of things and here’s what I found to be most useful. I am not saying this is the best treatment, I’m just sharing what felt good for me and helped me recover. I hope some of the ideas might help other violinists who are suffering from wrist tendonitis as well.

Release tight muscles

I learned the real problem is probably not with the tendon itself but with tight muscles in the belly of the forearm. When those muscles are tight, they constantly put stress on the tendons. So by relaxing those muscles, the tendons can relax and heal too.

Gary Crowley, a chronic joint pain specialist, talks about how to do that in this video.

The first time I did this, it felt very weird and I didn’t know so well how to do it. But now I do this daily and it feels great. I think releasing the tension from my muscles is what helping me most to get better. More info on this method can be found on his website.

Ice dipping

ice dipping - tendonitis treatmentThis is also something that feels very good to get rid of wrist tendonitis pain. Because of the cold, the inflammation disappears. Joshua Tucker, a tendonitis expert, explains how to do this ice dipping. Basically you need a bucket of as cold as possible water. Dip your wrist and forearm in the ice cold water for 5 to 10 seconds. After 10 to 15 minutes do this again. Repeat over and over for the duration of 2 hours. This feels amazing. It’s as if your blood starts to stream a whole lot faster. It’s a very relieving sensation!

Vitamins

An inflammation causes your body to use up more vitamins to heal. It’s especially useful to take a supplement of Vitamin B6. Some other recommendation are magnesium, potassium,┬ábromelain and lots more. I don’t think it’s a good idea to start taking a whole lot of supplements, but I do understand that eating healthy is very important, so that our bodies get enough fuel to get better. :yes:

Aloe Vera

aloe vera - tendonitis treatmentI’m applying aloe vera gel twice a day on my wrist. It helps with the pain and it also has an anti-inflammatory effect and stimulates repair. It seems to be a natural remedy with nothing but advantages. I have aloe vera in my garden so that makes it even easier. I can use fresh leaves. :-)

Wrist brace

wrist brace - tendonitis treatmentAt first I used a wrist brace at night and during the day, to let my wrist rest and recover. But now I only use it to sleep. If used during the day it helps to keep going longer without feeling the pain. So I would then be worsening my symptoms. But during the night it helps to wear a brace because it makes sure that I don’t sleep in a position where my wrist is under a lot of tension.

Rehabilitation exercises

Doctor Jaspal Ricky Singh posted some great rehabiliation exercises for wrist tendonitis on his website. Compared to some other stretches and exercises I found, I like these better because he explains to do them slowly and gently. This feels healthier for me than some other exercises I did. I feel that my arm and wrist are gradually getting stronger and healthier. :-)

Other experiences with violin tendonitis

Sadly, many violinists suffer from wrist tendonitis. Here you can read some of their stories:

Lessons for the future

I feel much better now, but I’m still going to give my body some more time to get stronger before I start playing the violin again. I’m just too afraid to start again and feel the pain get worse. So when I feel ready to start again, I will have to take it slowly and I will have to gradually increase my practice time. I’ll also have to listen more to my body. And I will experiment to find a good warming-up schedule before my violin practice. That will help prevent future injuries.

Written by

Hi, I'm an adult violin student, learning the violin independently. Learning the violin is a pleasure and a challenge at the same time. Feel free to explore this website to read more about my violin adventure. :-)

15 thoughts on “Wrist tendonitis and playing the violin

  1. Please take a look at books by Kato Havas (who sadly passed away on 31st December 2018).
    Kato has a New Approach to practising and playing the Violin (or Viola) that seeks to eliminate tensions and anxieties. The approach really does work.

    After my practice I some times use a pair of Chinese Iron Balls. Each has a different ‘sound/ding’ when the pair is very gently rotated in the palm of the hand for less than a minute or so.

    Kato Havas has an international reputation and has helped many professionals.

    1. Hi Stewart, thanks so much for that suggestion. I will look into it! I do need to find out how to play without tension, so I hope her books can help. :-)

      1. Hello Mariko,

        Your are most welcome. But to gain some confidence please visit the Kato Havas web page ie just input Kato Havas. The President is Gloria Bakhshayesh and just mention my name. Good luck and if you mention in which country you reside there may be a representative not too far away. Please keep in touch.

        1. Hi Stewart, I’ve been looking into her books and I also visited the website. I like her ideas and even tried some. But I’m still having pain for now, so I’m taking a bit more rest from the violin until I’m fully recovered. Then for sure I will benefit from her ideas.
          I don’t know if there will be a representative here, I’m in Paraguay and there are not many people here who play the violin. But her books and videos will be very helpful. Thanks again :-)

  2. This was quite helpful as I played the violin for seven years and get sore wrists often even though I don’t play as much anymore, thank you!

    1. Hello Brianne,
      You are welcome and please look up Kato Havas for the Association in her name . Please feel free to contact the President Gloria Bakhshayesh for more help. Just mention my name.

    2. Hi Breanne, I hope your sore wrists get better soon! And that you can enjoy playing the violin. I’m getting much better now but still not back to playing the violin. I want my wrists to be 100% before I start again so that the pain will stay away. :-)

  3. Hello Mariko,
    I’m so sorry to hear about the wrist problems.
    I have followed your progress on and off since near the beginning of your journey and see that especially your right hand technique has come far! This is really good. There are some places as I’m sure your aware of in certain etudes to slow down and isolate these motions so you can refine your bow tracking further, but a lot of it is very good:) Your ideas about limiting practice sessions is very good. A rule of thumb, after every 50min practice follow with 10 min rest!

    I’d like briefly mention my own setback in playing, which occurred just last year..For about 2/3rds of my playing/performing career I played with a Kun shoulder rest. I always felt it was comfortable and made shifting easy..
    However I eventually began quite suddenly to suffer shoulder, jaw and wrist problems because of my setup/placement and after about 23 years of playing give or take I could not play more than about 10min and pain set in! The solution for me was to get rid of my shoulder rest, and refigure how to play without one. (My solution so far is a Strad pad over the chinrest (for comfortability and secure downshifting grip)+a little elevated padding I set on my collarbone under my shirt to provide a bit of buffer. This has helped a lot, also I shifted my head a bit more to right (meaning I moved the instrument slightly more on the shoulder) which allows my playing hand to align better. Double stop thirds had always been a bit of a chore, now they are much more tension free, and even dare I say feel somewhat effortless!

    So, My unsolicited advice to you from 8+years teaching and 25years playing is as follows:
    In addition to Kato Havas (excellent suggestion)

    1) I would experiment with height/style of your shoulder rest, chin rest and head placement on the instrument. You may want to experiment w/ getting the violin farther on your shoulder so your elbow can hang and swing a bit to the right underneath the neck/body of the instrument as necessary which in turn should put your hand more in line with the neck so you don’t have to bend the wrist with strain and so your fingers don’t have to twist as much and your wrist will remain freer especially to hit those G string notes more freely. I think you will find intonation adjustment and Intonation in general easier by doing this as well.

    2) Be real mindful of your left hand thumb pressure and placement on the neck, always look for places where you can release the thumb (especially during open string notes). Never lock the thumb fully to the neck. (Always relax it before shifting etc.)

    3) Be also mindful of how much pressure is needed to get each note to speak clearly. . Start with full pressure, IE finger completely depressed to the fingerboard, then lift slightly and do another bow. Then repeat the process again, then again. Till finger is just barely touching. Then slowly start pressing again incrementally while moving the bow after each increment change. Goal is to find 5 levels of pressure for each of the 4 fingers. Continue going though this process till you have all 5 levels of pressure intensity (full pressure to none) then find where you still have a clear tone but not maxpressure (probably about a 3 or 4) for each finger.
    This will be the approximate most efficient pressure level for each finger on the fingerboard. For most situations.

    4) Finally, etudes are great for bow technique, and you are playing the right ones! However, as per your interest in refining intonation, the one thing it doesn’t appear you are practicing is scales and arpeggios? If you are and just aren’t saying it, then feel free to disregard this advice. Go Slow at first! (I mean 40=each note slow!) Add 1beat rest in between, as this is crucial in letting your ear hear each note ring and in really feeling the correct distances between each finger for each scale!

    Also use this 8-10note at a time technique in small sections of your etudes!!

    I hope this is helpful and that you are able to return to your violin adventure soon!

    If you don’t already know about them, Fiddlerman.com and violinmasterclass.com have some excellently invaluable information:)
    Cheers

    1. Hi Justus, woooow thank you so much for your extensive advice!! I like all your suggestions! I feel that it would be great to experiment with other shoulder rests / pads or without. I understand what you say about placing the violin more on my shoulder, it would indeed take away some pressure from my left arm. I will experiment.

      As for the left thumb, I feel it’s always stuck in one place. I can’t seem to have it relaxed so I will have to work on that as well!

      Ah ans yes, I do practice scales. I did mention it now and then but not too often. I do however practice them every day (not right now, because I’m not playing at all for the moment…) and I like playing them slowly. Actually in my opinion and feeling, the main trigger for my tendonitis was practicing one octave scales in high positions. I think I overdid that with bad left hand posture, resulting in pain. When I’m better I will definitely have to find out how to do that better…

      Thanks again for all this information!! I appreciate it very much! :yes:

      I’m also happy that you were able to get back to playing and that with the necessary adjustments it’s going better! :-)

  4. Hi Mariko!

    I’m glad to be able to help. The violin is an extremely difficult instrument to learn properly, even with a good teacher! And your trying to do it teacherless!!

    I’m glad to hear you practice scales and arpeggios! I know they may not seem fun, but because they are really the building blocks of music (and in some cases basically are the music (I’m looking at you Beethoven, lol!) They are real important.

    When you come back to it, make sure if you are going to upshift, or play in a high position that your thumb will accordingly be comfortably underneath the neck of the instrument or even slid almost all the way towards the right bout of the violin..
    In other words when shifting, feel for the contour of the neck and gently glide the thumb upward along the left side of the neck..once the thumb reaches the top where the neck connects to the left bout, follow that contour underneath and over to the RIGHT side of the neck (this really only needs to happen in extremely high positions in order to reach the highest notes (nearing the end of the fingerboard especially up on the G string. (Sevcik opus 8 ) is the shifting book Bible.

    It is indeed easy to want to hit high notes and accidentally leave the thumb underneath or even still locked on the left side of the instrument (this is a definite no no!!).

    I tell my students ride the elevator when they begin shifting so the thumb remembers to release and travel naturally with the rest of the hand as one unit.
    Especially during smaller shifts.

    Feel free to email me
    If you have any further questions/want extra clarification on what I went over here!

    Take care,
    Justus

    1. Thanks so much Justus for your nice comments and helpful tips. I will pay attention to my thumb!! I’m not completely teacherless. I do have an online teacher via ArtistWorks now. Richard Amoroso is an awesome teacher whom I’m studying with through video exchanges. He is helping me a lot to improve my playing. I’ll ask him next time for more advice about my left thumb as well.

      1. That is fantastic to hear! I’m glad you have someone good to help you with the journey. I think it’s just about invaluable to have good help with this instrument. Have fun, and I look forwards to seeing further future videos. Any idea what pieces you will study next?

  5. Hello Mariko and Brianne,

    Could I recommend that you look at http://www.monicacuneo.com ?
    Monica is a professional violist and teaches according to the beliefs and approaches of Kato Havas.
    She has a very professional web site and is an international performer and teacher. Monica has had experience of the ‘aches and pains’ of playing and has found that Kato Havas’ approach leads to healthy string playing and to be very practical. I promise that you will not be disappointed. Please let me know what you think. Thanks for your interest and I wish you both well with your journey of recovery and discovery.
    Stewart

    1. Hi Stewart, that is exactly the website I found through Google when I was searching for more information about Kato Havas. Very interesting page indeed. Thanks again. :-)

  6. Hi Mariko,
    You are welcome and Monica has thanked me for mentioning her.
    Regarding the left thumb: Kato always got hold of mine to lessen the grip; oh what a very strange feeling indeed. So long as the shoulder rest and chin (jaw) rest combination is secure try letting go of ‘squeezing’ the violin neck. One way is resting the violin scroll against the wall but with a soft sponge between the violin scroll and the wall and then leaving the left thumb away from the violin neck. Then play with the bow on open strings; it does take some time but then there is another very simple exercise that will prove to you that you may be ‘squeezing’ the violin neck; and the result is almost instantaneous and will be a permanent reference for the future that you can return to each time you practice. But you could try the ‘sponge’ idea first. Don’t drop the violin. Good luck Stewart

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