Injury Free

December 30, 2009

A big piece of my martial arts experience was learning how to execute a punch or kick correctly so as not to injure myself. For example, with a roundhouse kick (mawashi geri) you must turn the base foot so that it points to opposite direction as you are aiming the kick. This allows the hips to release and prevents your base leg knee or ankle from being torn apart by the torque of the kick.

Sibylle is very careful in her piano studio to teach her students an natural technique that is aimed at preventing injuries. Tension, improper hand shape, and hundreds of repetitions can (and unfortunately do) lead to tendonitis, stress fractures, and other preventable injuries.

In my cello practice I am trying to be very aware of places of tension, or awkwardness in my playing. My teacher has already corrected a couple of things I was doing, both for ease of playing and to prevent injuries as a result of long-term improper technique.

The one area I am struggling with this week is the thumb on my left hand. Ideally the tip of the left-hand thumb should be placed against the neck of the cello, not the pad of the last joint. In trying to firmly stop the strings I am playing I have tended to allow my thumb to slide away from the tip and onto the pad. This creates a backward arch to the thumb, and puts considerable strain on the musculature on the inside of the thumb. In a word, I wake up with a sore thumb after practicing with my hand held wrong.

This injury is telling me that I am not holding my hand correctly, or, if I am holding it correctly, that I am using too much force trying to stop the strings. Concentrating on proper thumb placement makes all the difference in the world. Not only does my hand not hurt later on, the notes sound better.

The other area I notice physically is my upper back. It is easy to crouch over the cello with poor posture, which makes my upper back sore and tense. Since I have a desk job and sit all day, I'm well aware of the warning signs of poor posture. Getting a "hot spot" under one of my shoulder blades is a clear sign that I'm not sitting correctly - whether I'm playing cello or using my laptop to write about playing on my website.

Playing attention to physical cues is as important as playing attention to the aural cues that let me know that I am sharp of flat.

Unfortunately, there isn't much I can do for the tenderness in my fingertips, especially after an hour of playing. They have developed some callus, but they are still toughening up to the task at hand.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.