I am thrilled to begin #playingwithoutpain student success stories with the feature of my dear friend, Adulfulyne (Lyne) Padmore! Lyne has been playing the flute for 15 years, and has completed degrees in music performance at Bowling Green State University (MM) and Susquehanna University (BM). She has been diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome at an early age, and below is her story of how she is working to overcome this performance-based injury through treatment:
"I first began experiencing pain in my wrists during my sophomore year of high school. I did not have an instrument of my own yet due to financial difficulties, so I was playing on one of the school’s old flutes, which was in poor condition. The pads did not seal properly, so I used extra force via squeezing the keys in order to get them to seal. This pattern of squeezing my keys happened for 3-4 hours daily and led to inflammation in my wrists from repetitive and unhealthy hand behavior. When I first began experiencing pain, I attributed it to the popular saying- “No pain, no gain.” I heard the sayings “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” or, “Power through the pain,” so I believed that my response should be to just continue on like I had been.
My outlook stayed the same for the next year and a half until I attended an orchestra and band camp and took a yoga class. The instructor noticed that I was struggling to do some of the basic stances and mentioned that I might have tendonitis. When the camp was over, I went home to tell my parents and asked to see a doctor because I had never even heard of tendonitis before. When I went to the doctor, I performed some strength tests with my hands and the doctor concluded that I had developed carpal tunnel syndrome. The severity of the situation did not hit me right away; instead, I asked the doctor how I could make this go away. I had never heard of musicians suffering from long-term injuries like this before, and I assumed this was something I could treat easily and resume playing like normal. The doctor suggested that I should wear wrist braces while sleeping and while playing the flute, if I could. That was not a productive treatment as wrist braces impede flute playing, so it is not practical to wear them while practicing.
Wearing the wrist braces while sleeping helped me in the beginning, but the benefit wore off over time. I began studying music at the collegiate level and had to find new ways to deal with my injury given the increased playing demands. I tried altering my practice schedule to accommodate the pain, taking anti-inflammatories, icing my wrists, using heat treatments, doing wrist stretches, some Alexander technique work, and periodic active rest. These helped to varying extents, but I found myself frustrated with how my peers seemed to be able to practice for hours longer than I was. However, I noticed that many of them were also “Powering through the pain” in an unhealthy manner, some of them taking more intense pain killers or receiving Cortizone shots. The most helpful thing I have found for coping with my carpal tunnel syndrome is to alter my actual playing technique. I do this by actively reducing the amount of tension in my wrists and hands while playing. However, tension does not always come from physical causes, and attempting to reduce tension while studying music in a collegiate setting is not always feasible.
I wish I was able to begin altering my technique to reduce tension earlier, that I had known the negative impact my playing behavior would have on my future life. Correct playing techniques, posture, and pain management should be taught from the moment students pick up their instruments for the first time so they can avoid developing repetitive injuries. After all, as a college student, it is often too late to make much of a difference, especially while dealing with all of the stressload of being a student. My one piece of advice to current students who may be struggling with pain is to take advantage of academic breaks to enforce more positive physical techniques to reduce pain while playing.
With a combination of the above-mentioned techniques (namely, by learning how my body works) I have reached a manageable state with my carpal tunnel syndrome. For example, I have noticed that when I play sitting down, I squeeze the muscles in my legs, which permeates into my upper body. In reaction, I have learned to free the tension in my legs first, which in turn relaxes my upper body and my hands. Slow practice has also been extremely useful; here, slow does not just mean decreasing the tempo. Slow sometimes means one note per beat at 40 BPM. This was frustrating at first, but has led to not only pain reduction, but also to more effortless movement and overall improvement in finger efficiency. With my toolkit filled with tension and stress-reducing techniques, I was able to complete my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in music and work on building a studio in a new city. Pain management is a constant effort, but well worth the commitment."
Do you have a success story to share? I would love to feature you! Visit the contact page of this website to share your story with me.