Sunday, October 20, 2019

drumming and hand injuries: an experience

For several weeks leading up to the High Holy Days, my left hand was giving me more and more trouble. I developed a locking action in my middle finger that made it difficult -- and increasingly painful -- to uncurl my hand from a fist. My thumb was also sore in the joint connecting it to my hand. I powered through guitar playing all the way through a few days after Yom Kippur, but last Monday morning I hit a wall and could not move my left hand without pain.

That evening, after calling my doctor, I was squeezed into the schedule at my local urgent care center to get a cortisone shot for what had been diagnosed as "trigger finger" in my middle finger. The shot itself was incredibly painful -- levels of sharp and dull pain alternating in waves across my hand that made me yowl in reaction -- not once, but twice.

After the shot, my hard hurt quite a lot for two days, during which I alternated icing and resting at room temperature. I also purchased some compression gloves, recommended by my sister; she told me they make a difference in living with arthritis. I found them to be surprisingly constricting at first, but with subsequent wearings they loosened and softened up a little and I found them to be helpful if I wore them for periods of time.

Today, six days after the shot, I tentatively tried some slow double strokes on a rubber pad to see how it felt. As long as I did not push, and focused on keeping things as slow and relaxed as possible, I could play without pain.  I was thrilled.

I recorded myself so I could look at my hands.

While transitioning from one tempo to a slightly faster one, things got a little rough; but overall I was able to stay relaxed and grounded. Encouraged, I shared my video with friends on the Marching Percussion 101 Facebook group, and their response was very positive.

What did I learn from this experience? A few things.

First, injuries happen. Sometimes they're caused by an impact, other times they're the result of wear and tear and/or overuse. I have osteoarthritis, so I know that I walk a fuzzy line between staying active enough and using my hands too much. Still, I play multiple instruments professionally and I practice almost daily, so overuse is a real risk for me. So is living in a climate where winters are cold and very damp. Still, I make the most of what I have and try to pace myself as much as I can.

I also try to listen to my body, so that when the first signs of "something's not right" appear, I can take time, pay attention and try to tell the difference between a mere strain or bad hand position and something more intense like overuse. When something's truly not right, I can stop and seek help.

After treatment, I listen to my doctor and follow her instructions. In this case, that meant rest. Rest meant a total cessation of activities, including making the bed or washing pots and pans along with playing any of my instruments. And while it was challenging, I did it. And it made a difference.

I'm happy to say that I'm feeling much better, and hope not to repeat the experience of a cortisone shot anytime soon.

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