Tender Tendons?

Tendonitis is one of those things musicians fear, along with airplanes and clowns, but often don’t know how to prevent. Tendonitis is basically a tender tendon caused by inflammation or microscopic tears in the tendon’s sheath.

Tendonitis is closely related to another fear held by most musicians, that known as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. A nerve called the median nerve passes from the forearm to the hand through the carpal tunnel in the wrist. This median nerve shares that tunnel with 9 tendons. If those tendons become inflamed, it can cause compression of of the median nerve. This leads to a severe weakening of the muscles that can prevent a musician from holding a pick, or fretting an instrument.

These conditions can be caused by overuse and bad posture. And playing music might not be the only culprit, excessive time at the computer with bad posture could be a major factor as well.

I’m not a doctor and my advice is purely amateur. I’ve been dealing with a little fatigue and weakness in my right hand lately. It’s probably caused by to much time at the computer in my case, and I thought I’d share some of what I’ve read on the subject. If you are suffering from any inflammation or other symptoms you should probably see a medical professional.

If you are just concerned about preventing such problems, the best advice seems to be: practice good posture, and take a ten minute break once an hour. Learning a stretching and warm up routine, such as taught by Alan Bibey, might help as well.

  • Phil Leadbetter

    I have dealt with nerve problems in my left hand for about 10 years now. It started out as carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), but has since affected the ulnar nerve which controls all motor function of the little finger and ring finger. I have had 3 surgeries, but to this day I still have no feeling in my little finger or ring finger. It has also progressed into my middle finger asl well. CTS is a “motion injury” which is caused by excessive use. The “carpal tunnel” is actually a donut-shaped cartilage where the nerves leading into the hand pass. With excessive use, this area swells. Most people with CTS will notice the pain most when they are sleeping. CTS affects the thumb, index and middle finger. It usually feels like those finger have “went to sleep”. Many people with CTS will dangle their hands, and strike them against the bedframe to try to wake them up. This usually happens during sleeps because some people will get their hands into strange positions during sleep. If the wrist is bent or flexed, it further cuts off the circulation of the nerve through the carpal tunnel. Many docs will suggest a splint which helps to keep the wrist straight during sleep. With firther progression, they can do steroid injections into the area which will shrink the area to give some space around the nerve. This is only a temporary solution. CTS surgery is a pretty good way to go. The surgeon will cut a section from the cartilage to let the nerve get free. I had both of my hands done 15 years ago with great results. Then this ulnar nerve thing hit me. Totally unrelated, but all caused by overuse. Best suggestion is to take care of your hands. Don’t overuse tools or play and instrument for too long without taking a short break. Stretching exercises are good. Vitamin B6 also is great because it encourages the body to produce cortisone which works on imflammation.

    Just wanted to share a little bit about what I know about this stuff. I was a rehab nurse for several years as well.

    Phil