Heal thyself

To survive playing beautiful music, one has to accept pain. What does this mean exactly? My interpretation is that you have to accept that you’re in pain and not ignore it. It definitely does not mean that experiencing pain is intrinsic to violin playing. During the process of healing from injury, it is important to not re-injure yourself. For string players this means not allowing yourself to play through the pain and putting aside slogans such as “no pain, no gain.” It can take as long as a year to recover from injury whether due to overuse or as a result of something not related to music such as a fall, sports injury, car accident or cancer.

I have never broken bones but I have known musicians who have and then have gone onto recover and resume their playing. Many years ago I experienced pain and some loss of range of motion in my shoulders. It took my body basically screaming at me in pain to finally do something about it. I saw an orthopedist, had x-rays, and did physical therapy for several months. During my time in physical therapy, I took a break from some of my more intense performing. I was still in pain but even more crucial, I didn’t want to backtrack in my recovery. Even after physical therapy, it took many months before I felt back to normal. I continue to do the exercises given at discharge all these years later.

The next level of healing was integrating into my violin playing what I had learned about my body and my relationship to the violin that brought me to physical therapy in the first place. I have written in previous posts about the work I did with occupational therapist, Heather Mogielnicki, back in 2020. During my time working with Heather, I learned how my emotional relationship to my violin playing, including anxiety, was playing a role in how I was moving my body. Emotions present yet another facet of pain. Once again, I think it is important to recognize emotional pain and not deny it. Music itself can bring up painful feelings but these feelings are transient. I am referring here to emotions associated with issues such as perfectionism and the imposter syndrome.

In terms of the physical symptoms of anxiety, one may experience light-headedness caused by holding one’s breath. There is muscle and tendon tension due to overuse. There may also be bone and joint damage caused by neck and spine misalignment. I have already written about these issues in previous posts. This post is about the healing process; the necessity of allowing your body to call the shots and be on its own timetable. It can be really hard to convince yourself to take a break from playing. You may have exciting and career-boosting performances planned for the coming year. You may also fear the loss of income. It is especially challenging if you are a younger player and this is the first time you have experienced an injury that couldn’t be willed away by taking off a day, icing, and taking NSAIDs. 

Please read my August 30, 2021 post for my thoughts about perfectionism. My understanding of the imposter syndrome is that to some extent, everyone experiences this issue at some point in life. It is the feeling of not deserving to be in a position of authority, usually from a perceived lack of competence. You have been given an opportunity or appointed to a position that feels like it should have gone to someone better prepared or more appropriate. When I have experienced this in my own career, I have chosen to deal with it by practicing, studying and preparing extra hard. Unfortunately, this is an extreme reaction which can create new problems and otherwise doesn’t resolve the original uneasiness. I would encourage you to accept this feeling as universal. Check it out with a trusted colleague or peer and remind yourself to have faith in your abilities. It is really affirming to pay-it-forward by humbly sharing with those around you your authenticity and, of course, your wealth of knowledge.

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