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Wrists hurting

Discussion in 'Technique' started by skinkken, Jul 2, 2013.

  1. skinkken

    skinkken New Member

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    Hello, I'm 17 year old guy and I have played piano for about 10 years. I have had piano lessons once a week. I also have much school work (high school). After the piano lesson, I usually have a few day break in playing, and after that I play from 20 minutes to 40 minutes a day, depending on the current situation. Sometimes less.

    Then my wrists have started hurting. They have done that every 1 to 3 weeks, the ache lasting from 2 days to 1 week. And this situation has lasted for almost 1 year. When I feel my hands are okay, and I think this whole problem is over, the ache comes back. In fact, just now I feel like my hands have almost recovered, but that's not possible, last ache disappeared only a week ago.

    In my opinion, that is not very high amount of playing, so there is something wrong.

    1. My hands haven't had enough time to recover. Now I'm having summer holidays, (and no piano lessons) so I can play as much as I want. Some week I even played like 2 hours a day. And after that, my wrists... I just can't control it, when I should stop. When my hands feel a little tired, it's already too late, and a day after my wrists hurt.

    2. Something must be wrong in my technique. Especially big 1 octave chords make my wrists hurt. (I don't have small hands, I can get 1 over octave or barely 2 (not playable in a piece). Also a pretty repeating bach prelude (bwv 847). Now I'm playing Bach sinfonia 15 and Ibert white little donkey. They are moderate for my hands. What I have done: I have put chair higher I think it was too low, and harder for my hands. I have put the chair farther away from the piano. I have read that you should keep wrists straight. It's sometimes hard when there are both low and high parts in the pieces (like white little donkey). And now I'm out of ideas.
     
  2. hreichgott

    hreichgott New Member

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    The one thing that jumps out at me is that you're trying to play early-advanced music and large chords at 20-40 minutes a day and taking half the week off every week. If I were your teacher I'd dial you way back to easier music and less physically strenuous challenges if that's all the practice time you were able to commit. You wouldn't expect to run a marathon without injury if you only trained 20-40 minutes a day; don't expect to build the strength and dexterity to handle advanced music without committing the necessary time. Even 20 minutes a day every day is better than 40 minutes only half the time, as at least that way you're maintaining strength and flexibility. And of course if you take off a few days right after your lesson, you're likely to forget most of the helpful (and expensive) advice provided by your teacher.

    However, I am just a random person on the internet who has never seen you play. So some important questions:
    1. Have you discussed this with your teacher? Does your teacher have any helpful suggestions?
    2. Have you been to a doctor?

    You should probably get checked out by a doctor, if you haven't already. Aches in the wrist can be caused by so many different things. And maybe go visit a teacher who specializes in physical issues if your teacher is not helpful in that area -- not that you have to switch, but another set of knowledgeable eyes and ears once in a while can be very helpful.

    Also be vigilant about how you type if you use a computer a lot: make sure you are using your arms to hold up your hands, not resting your wrists on anything, and not lifting your fingers very high.
     
  3. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi skinkken,

    I know a lot about ergonomics having taken seminars in the subject matter. I've also done countless ergo evaluations in the workplace with excellent results. You see, there is a significant similarity--and danger--in any kind of repetitive motion activity such as being at a piano or a PC keyboard. You need to be very careful because recurring pain in the wrists could indicate that you're possibly progressing toward carpel tunnel syndrome which could be serious enough to ultimately result in surgery. So you'll definitely want to avoid that outcome if at all possible by doing some self help as the preliminary step. You're on the right track suspecting a problem with seating.

    Some suggestions:

    1) Knees do not need to be but 1 to 2 inches at most underneath the piano case.

    2) Center the trunk of your body on the bench in front of middle C.

    3) Adjust the bench height such that your forearms are parallel to the floor. Yes, some people sit higher or lower which make their forearms slant upward or downward, but there is more RISK of injury in doing so. Another way of getting the forearms parallel to the floor is to ensure that the tip of the elbow is level with the top surface of the keyboard. If the adjustment is difficult to see (i.e., you cannot see yourself in profile), a long mirror might enable you to observe your forearms. If not, have a family member observe you until the adjustment is made. We call this the neutral and naturally extended forearm whereby there is a fairly flat surface from the forearm over the flat wrist and top surface of the hand. If your arms slant downward from the shoulders, notice what happens to the wrists: they are automatically up-flexing. If you sit low, the wrists are then down-flexing. This up-flexing or down-flexing is not momentary. It's a posture present during hours of practicing. Is it helpful? No, not over time because it has the potential to be harmful. You greatly reduce that risk by having neutral, naturally extended forearms. It means getting them parallel to the floor by sitting at the height which will accomplish that aim.

    4) Know how to keep the playing apparatus (upper arm, forearm, wrist, hand and fingers) relaxed. During practicing, tenseness can cause discomfort or even pain. Some pianists, not all, first notice this when during practicing their shoulders have risen upward such that they feel discomfort in their necks. Others first notice it in their hands. If tension occurs, here are some simple exercises to return to a relaxed state: a. Stand up straight and swing both arms forward and backward together, as if they were two clock pendulums. Do that for 15 seconds or so. b. Swing the arms directly in front of your body so that they criss-cross one another forming an X as they cross. Also 15 seconds. And c. Bend over from the waist and allow both arms to hang loose in front of you. Think of them as being loose ropes in a capricious wind so that they dangle in rapid and chaotic movements INCLUDING rotary motion of the arms as part of the motion, and likewise do this for 15 seconds. At the end of those three exercises you should feel way more relaxed and any discomfort should also be gone. If not, do NOT go back to the piano that day.

    5) Play octaves with a loose, flexible wrist.

    These might sound like minor adjustments, but small and easy remedies like this can work wonders. I see it all the time.

    6) CAUTION: If these simple steps have not given you relief after a week or so of trial, then you should probably be seen by your primary care physician who might even refer you to a hand/wrist specialist.

    Good luck!

    David
     
  4. skinkken

    skinkken New Member

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    Thanks David, that was the kind of information I was looking for. My both parents are doctors, but they haven't commented this much, just said that it's strain injury and shoul be fixed as fast as possible, play the piano less. My piano teacher knows this, but she doesn't seem like knowing much about medical things. I really have to try harder to not stress my hands too much. I can't feel the stress before it's too late. But now I know it and I'm careful of it.
     
  5. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi skinkken,

    The best thing you can do immediately is to level your forearms and avoid up-flexing and down-flexing of your wrists from sitting high or low. Those exercises I gave you will always give you fast relief from tension and pain while working at the piano. If you do these things now and stick with them, I believe you'll be quite surprised with the positive results.

    David
     
  6. musical-md

    musical-md Active Member

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    Hi skinkken,
    I would add concurence to the excellent advice given you above, with one very minor exception: sit centered on the crack between E and F above middle C as it is the center of the keyboard <wink to David>.

    But more importantly, I saw no accounting of what you do to "train." If you think learning pieces in progressive difficulty is training, then I'm affraid you have not been trained with intention very well. Can you give us a history of your piano work apart from pieces? Also, I am impressed (negatively I must add) at how little you practice. You should be dedicating blocks of time daily to different purposes: mechanics (with application of technique as hopefully instructed by your teacher; note my distinction), repertoire (in different styles and categories, but IMO always including JS Bach among them), and etudes (notice that I don't include these under repertoire).

    Regards.
     
  7. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi, skinkken,

    I agree with musicical-md. Aligning yourself with the crack between E and F can work too, where it is the exact center. Many of us still use middle C, as in most music we often need comfortable access to the low bass notes, while the uppermost octave of the treble is used by composers less frequently. There is no right or wrong with this. Perhaps you should try both and see which option feels more natural to you while playing your pieces.

    Medical-md's questions also reminded me of one. Could you please tell us what brand of piano you play and whether it's a grand, upright, or an electronic piano keyboard? The reason I ask is that uprights, for example, tend to have firmer actions, meaning that you must put more arm weight into the playing. Old uprights can even have a stiff action. Similarly, not all electronic keyboards have weighted keys, so they sometimes offer more resistance too depending on the brand. There is a possibility that this could be part of your problem.

    Thanks.

    David
     
  8. techneut

    techneut Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hey Eddy ! Good to see you back !

    Hehe :lol: Is it possible to sit any other way ?
     
  9. hreichgott

    hreichgott New Member

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    Is there really a difference between sitting centered at middle C and at that E/F??? Maybe for a tiny person there would be a difference, but even as a petite 5'2" person I can detect none...

    +1 to David's wrist flexion/extension thing, and to Eddy on practice time.
     
  10. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi hreichgott,

    Glad you liked that response. I'm glad I wrote about the subject of ergonomics and playing the piano. I hope it helps others as well.

    David
     
  11. skinkken

    skinkken New Member

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    At home (where I play the most) we have a Fazer piano, not a grand piano. Comparing to other pianos I have tried, this piano is very light to play.

    I don't know about the levels in other countries, but here in Finland we have basic 1, 2 and 3 courses, then D, C, B, and A (or "big" 1, 2, 3 and 4). I have completed the basic 1, 2, and 3 courses and I'm over the half of D course. But I have always played some pieces from 1 level above too, so I have also played C level pieces. Most of the pieces I play are fast. I and my teacher both like Bach's music, so I play them more than others. I tried to play Mendelsson Spring song, but it was too hard for my wrists. It was about the time my wrist problems started. Also Melartin Screrzo was hard, but I plqyed it. Bigger pieces I work on about half an year, easier just few months. I have 2-4 pieces at the same time. (I don't start 4 right away. When I have almost completed a few pieces, I get few more to start working on.)

    But now is summer holidays, and in the first few weeks I played a lot and learned and almost mastered Bach Sinfonia 15 and Ibert White little donkey.
     
  12. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi skinkken,

    I looked up the Fazer on the internet. They make uprights only and the action is said to be firm, although you perceive it as light. Sometimes pianos within the same brand name vary is some ways, and it might be that you have an unusual Fazer there with a lighter action.

    It sounds as though you are progressing very well through the levels of study. Bach provides an excellent foundation for playing any musical style--Baroque, Viennese Classical, Romantic, Impressionistic and Contemporary. If you study a good amount of his music, you'll be well prepared as a pianist.

    It's probably best to play mostly music at your current level; however, it's also wise to be working on a piece from the next higher level as well, which you are doing. We sometimes call a piece above our level as a "stretch piece" because it stretches our technique and helps us to gain new abilities. Good!

    Although you like mostly to play fast music, try to play slower lyrical music as well. It will make you a better rounded pianist. Plus you might find that it's easier on your wrists.

    Be sure to get those forearms parallel to the floor, and the tip of the elbow level with the top surfaces of the keys.

    David
     
  13. paulwhite743

    paulwhite743 New Member

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    One or two possibilities occur to me, although they may not be what is wrong in your case. One is the way in which arm weight operates. If you sit too close to the piano or lean forwards, the arms will tend to push your hands forwards, which jams the wrist in a awkward position. If you move back slightly and return the back to a vertical position, the arm weight will pull the hands backwards, and this will pull the wrists down into a comfortable low position. When playing like this, it is important to make the fingers "pull at the keys" to some extent, in order to counteract the backward pull of the arm.

    When playing without much arm weight, I like to let the hands hang down loosely. If you hold up the hands deliberately using the muscles on the upper side of the forearm, this will give a stiff feeling to the wrists, and will also result in an uneven touch.

    Sorry this is a very late reply ! I hope the thread is still active !
     
  14. Sean T. Preston

    Sean T. Preston pianoman16

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    Hi all,
    Totally in agreement with what Rachfan contributed. *REMEBER* if your wrists are hurting it means your tense, which also means your posture is bad. Look, I had this issue for years, once I corrected by back (through means of laying on the floor; straightening my back against walls; and most of all, sitting up straight) my wrists didn't hurt any more, and I acquired a lot more wrist and finger flexibility. Hope this helps:)
     
  15. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi Sean,

    Avoid carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) and surgery by observing a few simple ergonomic principles. When you sit at the piano be sure that your forearms, including the elbow tips are parallel to the floor. Ideally you want the top surface of the forearm to be flat. The wrist should also be equally flat as should the back of the hand. If you find that the forearms are noticeably tilting upward toward the body, stop. Look at the hand too. It is showing an upflex which over time is dangerous. It means your bench, stool or chair is too high. Adjust it to regain forearms parallel to the floor. Conversely if the wrists are higher than the the tips of the elbows, stop. Look at your hand. If it is showing a downflex, that can also prove dangerous over time. Your seat is too low and needs adjustment to get the forearms parallel to the floor. This should be the most comfortable height.

    Usually this works very well in avoiding pain at the piano. If your pain persists, you should probably consult a physician.

    David
     
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2016

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