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#2185428 - 11/19/13 11:07 PM Severe backpain, and pain when playing slowly
Igneous01 Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 11/16/13
Posts: 2
Hi all, I just recently registered to these forums when I realized that google will not answer my questions.

For many years now, I have had some pretty excruciating lower back pain, that would leave me unable to play or stand or walk for a good 10-20 minutes.

I think it started when I took up violin - I had a really great teacher that carefully taught me posture and relaxed playing, but 6 months in I started noticing very bad pain after an hour of practicing. Long story short, I quit playing violin after 1.5 years, and some great progress. I was just unable to handle playing without lower back pain which eventually caused my whole body to tense up and frustrate me.

Now 2 years since playing piano, I am getting almost the exact same symptoms - 15 minutes in I cant play anymore without back pain. My teacher told me it was an issue with my center of gravity when sitting, so I shifted my center towards my upper thighs as she suggested: it helped my lower back a lot, but because of this now my upper back starts killing me after 15 minutes. I haven't been able to play relaxed for so long now, that it really hurts my technique and sense of touch. Practicing slowly is an absolute nightmare on my entire body.

Also experience pain standing, sometimes sitting and walking

- I went to a physiotherapist for 2 months, the pain went away when he had to physically alter my posture. But an hour after leaving the session I would forget how to relax my spine and shoulders.
- I am 6 foot 2.5 inches, so pretty tall
- relatively thin and bony body
- Xrays showed no problems with my spine

I started doing some abdomen exercises, so I really hope this will alleviate my problem. But if all else fails, is there anything else I can do, playing or otherwise, to be able to improve my playing? I'm actually quite desperate for solutions.

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#2185439 - 11/19/13 11:48 PM Re: Severe backpain, and pain when playing slowly [Re: Igneous01]
BDB Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/07/03
Posts: 21287
Loc: Oakland
Originally Posted By: Igneous01
- I went to a physiotherapist for 2 months, the pain went away when he had to physically alter my posture. But an hour after leaving the session I would forget how to relax my spine and shoulders.
...
I started doing some abdomen exercises, so I really hope this will alleviate my problem. But if all else fails, is there anything else I can do, playing or otherwise, to be able to improve my playing? I'm actually quite desperate for solutions.



It sounds like you may have your answer. Learn better! Do not forget!
_________________________
Semipro Tech

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#2185497 - 11/20/13 04:32 AM Re: Severe backpain, and pain when playing slowly [Re: Igneous01]
chopin_r_us Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/17/10
Posts: 874
Loc: UK
If you have upper back pain solely when reading from sheet music then you're pulling your head back. Work out how to extend your neck while allowing your head to flex naturally - it's what F M Alexander meant by the misleading head forward and up instruction.

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#2185532 - 11/20/13 07:44 AM Re: Severe backpain, and pain when playing slowly [Re: Igneous01]
Dave Horne Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/07/04
Posts: 5276
Loc: Vught, The Netherlands
I'm 63 and my back has gone out many times over the last 30+ years. The last time it happened I swore it would be the last (since the pain was so bad).

I eventually saw a physical therapist and now religiously do the stretching exercises every morning as well as specific exercises at the gym using weights.

My back is now pain free and I can lift a fair amount of weight as well.

Make an appointment with a physical therapist, especially one who has recently graduated as they are probably up to date with the latest studies and techniques.
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#2185578 - 11/20/13 09:39 AM Re: Severe backpain, and pain when playing slowly [Re: Igneous01]
Jeff Clef Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/05/08
Posts: 4414
Loc: San Jose, CA
"...the pain went away when he had to physically alter my posture. But an hour after leaving the session I would forget..."

It is a kind of h.e.l.l. on earth to have this kind of back pain, that interferes with your normal activities. So I am sorry this has happened to you. You are far from alone, because 30% of people have back pain at some time in their lives--- that is a lot of millions of people. One reason is, that what many people think is good posture, is not at all good or natural. This time, when you go back to the doc (who will probably refer you to a physical therapist, though that may not be the whole and only solution), make lots of notes. You will have to oppose the momentum of habit with an equal or greater momentum of education about how to help yourself and carry yourself, in order to have lasting relief and improvement. All too easy to say! But this is treatable.

This time, save your notes and consult them from time to time to refresh your memory. And, you may have to go back for further education later--- a lot is being learned about how to help with this. You may as well take advantage of the latest knowledge.

Don't think for a minute that it can't get worse! You can't afford to be so forgetful this time.

Good luck to you.
_________________________
Clef


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#2185632 - 11/20/13 11:02 AM Re: Severe backpain, and pain when playing slowly [Re: Igneous01]
boo1234 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/06/09
Posts: 504
I suggest you get an MRI done on your back. X-ray alone is not sufficient to diagnose your problem. You might have a disc herniation that won't show on an X-ray or some other problem that will be visible on the MRI but not the Xray... of course the problem with MRI is that it can show a lot of "things" that could be trouble that aren't necessarily the root of your current pain and they're expensive.


Edited by boo1234 (11/20/13 11:09 AM)

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#2185770 - 11/20/13 02:44 PM Re: Severe backpain, and pain when playing slowly [Re: chopin_r_us]
Igneous01 Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 11/16/13
Posts: 2
Originally Posted By: chopin_r_us
If you have upper back pain solely when reading from sheet music then you're pulling your head back. Work out how to extend your neck while allowing your head to flex naturally - it's what F M Alexander meant by the misleading head forward and up instruction.


No its not from reading sheet music, just shifting my center forward puts the strain on the upper back, shifting it the other way puts strain on the lower back. Problem is I just cant seem to find a comfortable position to sit in. Moving the chair further away puts strain on my arms, while moving it closer puts strain on my legs. Sometimes I feel enormous pressure in my thighs as well.

It seems that no matter where I seat myself, something is put under stress. And then I have to constantly fight my shoulders from going upward. I never thought relaxing the body would be so difficult!

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#2185825 - 11/20/13 04:25 PM Re: Severe backpain, and pain when playing slowly [Re: Igneous01]
Jeff Clef Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/05/08
Posts: 4414
Loc: San Jose, CA
"...It seems that no matter where I seat myself, something is put under stress. And then I have to constantly fight my shoulders from going upward. I never thought relaxing the body would be so difficult!..."

Sitting is one of my bad positions, too. On the other hand, I can walk comfortably--- my buddy can sit, but not walk without pain. We have different problems. The exercises and stretches really do help; also, the techniques they teach so that you can be on guard when you're doing ordinary, everyday things that can mess up the back. That alone did not help me enough; I take a pretty fair dose of morphine every day, and the doc does an MRI every couple of years. But the narcotics alone are not enough either. It's the whole range of things, taken together, that lets me keep going--- or helps me know when to stop, before I make the problem worse.

All the beneficial things can also be harmful if done the wrong way, at the wrong time, or in the wrong amount. It's why I say that, if the ordinary first-aid measures don't work, or if the problem persists (rule of thumb, longer than a few weeks or a month), you really need a doctor's help. And my doc has sent me to a sports medicine specialist, a physical therapist and a pain specialist, and he keeps an eye on things.

It's why I say that you really can be helped. Unfortunately, it's not so easy to figure out just how, and I doubt you can be helped much by advice on a website. It may not be possible to take the back pain out of your life altogether, but you can keep it in check, and keep it from making you abandon the things you love to do.
_________________________
Clef


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#2186060 - 11/21/13 02:10 AM Re: Severe backpain, and pain when playing slowly [Re: Igneous01]
chopin_r_us Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/17/10
Posts: 874
Loc: UK
Have you tried blocking up the back legs of your stool by an inch or two? This helps put more weight on your feet and also allows the lumbar spine its natural curve.

Also feel the shoulder blades pulling together - that'll result in the arms hanging down the back rather than the front. It's a feeling of your breast bone pointing up.

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#2186156 - 11/21/13 08:06 AM Re: Severe backpain, and pain when playing slowly [Re: Igneous01]
wr Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 7767
Originally Posted By: Igneous01

I started doing some abdomen exercises, so I really hope this will alleviate my problem. But if all else fails, is there anything else I can do, playing or otherwise, to be able to improve my playing? I'm actually quite desperate for solutions.


I used to have lots of back problems, to the point that I had trouble getting around at times.

Then I started doing a core muscle exercise (the "plank") and things improved (although I had to be careful about pushing myself too hard). I also started doing some daily yoga around the same time, and I think that helped a lot, too.

And earlier this year I added some very basic beginning Tai Chi into my daily exercise mix, and that has made a big change for the better because it got me to focus on body awareness in a useful way I hadn't done before. I'm using a book called "The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi", by Peter M. Wayne, which I would recommend to anybody interested in getting started with this stuff without having a teacher or going to a class. Just today I was practicing and thinking about how the Tai Chi was changing my sense of my posture at the piano for the better.

It all helps. To me, the main thing seems to be to keep coming back to becoming more physically aware. It's funny, but playing classical music sometimes seems to work against that kind of awareness - it's like the music itself is trying to take you away to some non-physical kind of awareness, rather than making you more physically aware.

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