I was contacted by Jeanne, a serious student of piano who has developed carpal tunnel symptoms.
She doesn’t want to quit playing her piano but is having problems keeping up with her work because of her carpal tunnel pain. She told me that her teacher was helping her with correct positioning of her arms and hands.
Often, when we have carpal tunnel pain, there is much more going on than most people realize.
Here is my response to Jeanne.
Well, first I’ll address the proper positioning of your arms. Realize that I have absolutely no knowledge of piano playing, only of how a body develops carpal tunnel and other pain symptoms.
To prevent carpal tunnel pain, just like working at a desk, your back should be straight, no hunching allowed. You need to sit with your natural curve at the back of your waist (tummy sticking out a bit.) Your head should be over your shoulders, not in front of your body.
Your elbows should be close to your waist, but I know they will move around a lot. Better to move your body side to side (sway) than stretch with your arms. That way, your large body muscles are being used rather than your smaller arm and hand muscles.
When you play, your wrists should be straight, or flat, not tilted up or down. Hold your elbows at right angles, but slightly open.
Is it possible that your piano bench is not the correct height for you? That is important. Your feet should rest flat on the floor or on a support.
But here are my two biggest suggestions.
1. Since your muscles are already aggravated, having therapeutic massage would be of great benefit. Perhaps you could go for a couple of half hours a week to help settle down your strained arm muscles. Massage helps muscles and soft tissues normalize much, much more quickly than stretching, heat, or other modalities. Massaging the muscles gets in there and gets your blood and other body fluids moving. This relaxes the muscles, breaks up restrictions and gets them on the road to health and balance again.
2. This one is big:
There are muscles in your neck called the scalenes. If you have a forward head posture, and especially if your shoulders are also held forward, rather than at the sides of your body (rounded upper back?) then there is an excellent chance that your scalene muscles are causing your carpal tunnel symptoms.
The scalenes will also cause a “knot” between your shoulder blades and your spine.
A knowledgeable massage therapist or physical therapist can also help you with correcting your postural muscles and can release the scalene muscles, but they don’t all know how to do those things. You have to search out the appropriate therapist.
So, Jeanne, without being able to see you, those are my guesses and thoughts.
I suspect your posture may need some attention, and that your “forward head” is causing symptoms in your arms and hands.
I don’t want you to suffer or have to quit piano, and I do not believe that you will have to do either.
Bodies are truly remarkable. They want to be well and sometimes just need a little help. If you understand why you are having carpal tunnel symptoms (symptoms are caused by something we either do or do not do) then you can take the necessary steps to help your body get well.
Will it take some of your time? Yes.
Will it be worth it for your future happiness? Yes.
Please write to me again and let me know if you have more questions. I want to know how you are doing.
Remember, the more you understand about the causes of your carpal tunnel pain, the more you can correct, and the faster you will heal. If you can, print this out so you can refer to it often as you make your corrections.
I wish you the very best, and please keep in touch. Perhaps one day I will get to hear your beautiful music.