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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: The Unseen Enemy of Musicians

Apr 16, 2024
Core Spirit member since Aug 24, 2023
Reading time 9 min.

Everyone is aware that moving the hands and fingers is necessary when playing music, but what happens if the musician's hand posture is unstable, causing his fingers to tremble and position him awkwardly? This condition could be carpal tunnel syndrome, which is a common condition that most people have but are unaware of.

Indeed, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is not limited to musicians. Many persons who do repetitive hand and wrist motions are susceptible to CTS, but musicians are particularly vulnerable due to the prolonged motions needed to play an instrument.

Between 4% and 5% of people globally are thought to have CTS, with older adults between the ages of 40 and 60 being the most vulnerable. Women are more likely than men to experience CTS. Studies reveal that Musculoskeletal Conditions, such as CTS, affect 26–93% of musicians. Flamenco and classical guitarists are particularly prone to overuse illnesses, such as CTS.

Several well-known musicians, including Jerry Garcia, Anushka Shankar, Leonard Cohen, John Mayer, Bela Fleck, Keith Emerson, and others, are known to have CTS.

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?,

The disorder known as carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is characterized by compression of the median nerve. The thumb, index, and middle fingers are all supplied with feeling by this medium nerve. These fingers become painful, numb, and feeble due to compression of this nerve. Any musician who is unable to use these fingers will, as you might assume, be unable to play an instrument.

Within the wrist joint, in a narrow region known as the "carpal tunnel," the flexor tendons swell. The median nerve and the tendons travel through this constricted, small passage. One of the major nerves in the hand is the median nerve.

Regrettably, the swelling may exert pressure on the nearby median nerve, gradually crushing it. Being a primary nerve in the hand, compression causes a severe reaction. All of the uncomfortable symptoms associated with carpal tunnel syndrome are the outcome.

With 2% to 4% of the population affected, it is a rather prevalent condition. Carpal tunnel syndrome can be brought on by pregnancy, work-related stress, repetitive motions, or wrist damage. It often manifests gradually.

Anyone who spends a lot of time using a keyboard or mouse runs the major danger of developing carpal tunnel syndrome. This includes musicians, computer-related professionals, and gamers.

In severe circumstances, untreated CTS can result in incapacitating symptoms and consequences. As the illness worsens, the hand and wrist may experience numbness, weakness, and chronic discomfort that would interfere with everyday tasks and lower quality of life.

Experts in carpal tunnel syndrome have noticed that patients who do not receive treatment eventually develop difficulty gripping objects or executing complex actions. To maintain hand function, prompt intervention with conservative therapies or surgical options is required.

Signs and symptoms of CTS,

Tingling and a "pins and needles" sensation in the hands are among the symptoms of CTS, which are followed by a loss in the capacity to pinch or squeeze objects. It's possible for the discomfort to get so bad at night that it keeps you from falling asleep. Numbness sets in as the illness worsens and the tingling gets more intense.

Persistent pressure on the median nerve can cause permanent loss of strength or sensation in the affected hand, as well as damage to the muscles. Muscle atrophy, or the fading away of the muscles, can happen in later stages. Extended Persistent nerve compression can cause irreversible nerve injury, which would permanently affect hand function.

Even though their hands appear normal, some carpal tunnel syndrome sufferers report feeling as though they had swollen hands. Actual muscle loss as a result of a lack of nerve supply to the muscle is another recent discovery. The muscle near the palm weakens and loses its strength. Some people who experience nerve function loss also experience loss of sweat function in their hands and fingers, trouble coordinating their finger movements to the extent that they desire, and nighttime cramping pain as they sleep (restless sleep). The symptoms could appear suddenly or acutely, which would be extremely painful and permanent, or they could develop gradually over time and become noticeable only when the hand is used extensively. (Excessive Utilization).

The thumb, index finger, middle finger, and occasionally half of the ring finger are among the precise regions that are impacted by true carpal tunnel syndrome. Due to strain on a nerve in your arm, the most typical symptom is numbness and tingling in the fingers and thumb. You may have the following symptoms in your hand and fingers, particularly in the thumb: discomfort (moderate or crushing, dull or persistent, shooting electric shocks). Numbness ( typically felt in the fingers), feeling of burning and swelling (despite the regular appearance of the skin), sensation (or needles and pins).

Why does CTS specifically impact musicians?,

Because repetitive strain injuries from overuse can induce inflammation and swelling in the wrist area, musicians are more susceptible to CTS than other people. This is especially true for those who play instruments that require quick and repetitive finger movements for extended periods of time each day. It can affect young musicians who are just starting off with their instrument practice and performance. Keep in mind that musicians playing a variety of instruments and genres can be impacted by CTS. Due to the strain on their hands and wrists, musicians who play instruments such as guitars, pianos, violins, and others may get CTS.

There are a few possible causes for why carpal tunnel syndrome is more common in musicians:

Repetitive Motions: When playing an instrument, many musicians make repetitive motions with their hands, fingers, and wrists. These repetitive motions may cause inflammation and compression of the median nerve by placing stress on the tendons and tissues of the wrist.

Uncomfortable Hand Positions: Playing some instruments requires players to hold strange or uncomfortable hand positions for extended periods of time. For instance, holding one's wrists extended or flexed while playing an instrument might put more strain on the median nerve and raise the risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.

Forceful Exertion: Finger movements on some instruments, like the piano or drums, may need to be forceful and repeated. Force and repetition together have the potential to exacerbate wrist stress and hasten the onset of CTS.

Strong vibration instruments, like brass or percussion instruments, have the ability to transfer vibrations to a musician's hands and wrists. Carrying out these vibrations for an extended period of time could aggravate carpal tunnel syndrome.

Extended Practice Sessions: Performers, particularly those in training or getting ready for a show, frequently participate in extended practice sessions that entail nonstop playing. Playing for extended periods of time without pauses can raise your risk of acquiring CTS.

Pressure on the Median Nerve: The median nerve, nine tendons, and blood vessels are all located in the carpal tunnel. The thumb, index, and middle fingers can experience numbness, tingling, and weakening as a result of the median nerve being crushed by a restricted tunnel.

Particular Difficulties for Each Instrument: Piano players When they play, their palms are facing downward, which puts more pressure on the median nerve.

Other instruments: Flutes, trombones, and trumpets require raised arms and hands, potentially exacerbating CTS.

**CTS's detrimental consequences on musicians' careers,
Impaired Hand Function: The ailment may result in weakness, tingling, and numbness in the afflicted hand. Because of this, it may be challenging for musicians to continue making the exact hand motions required to perform an instrument.

Repetitive strain injuries can result from musicians practicing for extended periods of time each day without taking proper rests. These wounds may result in wrist edema and inflammation, which can trigger CTS.

Sleep Disruption: Another side effect of CTS is discomfort, which keeps musicians awake at night. Fatigue and a decline in performance may follow. Long-term health problems may result from CTS if it is not appropriately treated. The bulk of musculoskeletal issues observed in musicians can be attributed to chronic injuries resulting from abuse or overuse.

In addition, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) can result in diminished dexterity and make performing an instrument challenging. Pain, numbness, and tingling are some of the symptoms that musicians may find difficult to control their hands and grasp objects with. As the illness worsens, even little deficits in motor function could result in a substantial loss of playing ability. Many musicians have lost their jobs as a result of CTS, which in severe cases has caused permanent agony and impairment.

Avoidance and Control,

Ignoring CTS's early symptoms, which include tingling, numbness, or pain in the hand or fingers, might cause the illness to get worse over time. The following are some methods that musicians can employ to avoid or treat CTS:

Take Regular Breaks: You run the risk of developing these issues if you practice your instrument for extended periods of time each day without taking a break. It's crucial to stop frequently when playing.
Stretch Frequently: Perform hand and wrist stretches on a regular basis. Your hands and wrists may feel less strained as a result of this.
Maintain Neutral Wrist Position: Attempting to keep the wrist as neutral as possible helps lower your chance of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.
Ergonomic Modifications: Make ergonomic changes to your equipment or playing style.
Alternative Playing Methods: Look into alternate playing methods that might not strain your wrists and hands as much.
Accept Technology: There are resources and solutions available through technology to help manage and avoid CTS.
Keep Your Hands Warm: Carpal tunnel syndrome is more likely to develop in hands that are cold.
Recognize Your Posture: Poor posture can cause your shoulders to drift forward, shortening the muscles in your shoulders and neck and compressing the nerves in your neck. This may result in issues with your wrists, fingers, and hands. Musicians should take breaks and pay attention to where their hands are placed during rehearsal. Wearing a wrist brace while you sleep can assist keep your wrists in alignment and reduce pressure on your median nerve. Resting the wrist causes the swollen tendons to lessen. Anti-inflammatory medications and cortisone injections may be beneficial. If conservative methods fail, surgery to release pressure on the median nerve may be necessary.

Change It Up: Make an effort to refrain from repeatedly using the same hand and finger movements.
The following are some typical therapies available to those with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome:
Self-Care Techniques: Self-care techniques are generally effective in treating mild occurrences of CTS. This entails taking regular pauses, resting the hand, applying an ice pack to the wrist to reduce discomfort, and softly flexing the hand in warm water.
Medication: Ibuprofen and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) can be used to treat pain. Corticosteroids, such as Cortisone, are used to treat inflammation and pain in order to lessen pressure on the median nerve.
Physical Therapy: Stretching exercises are one type of physical therapy that can aid with function.
Surgery: In extreme situations, surgery can be required. For CTS, there are primarily two kinds of surgery:
Endoscopic Surgery: Using an endoscope, a tube-shaped instrument, as a guide, the surgeon slices through the ligament.
Open Palm Surgery: To cut through the ligament and release the nerve, an incision is made above the carpal tunnel in the palm of the hand.
Wrist Splinting: Especially at night, wrist splints can assist keep your wrist in a neutral posture, which can help ease the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Diet: Eating a diet high in vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids, and anti-inflammatory foods can help control CTS. One should abstain from alcohol.

Remember that despite the unique challenges musicians face, music is still an important and satisfying part of their lives. Continue to play your instrument as before, but prioritize preventative care and hand health to minimize complications from CTS. Seeking medical advice is usually a smart idea if you’re experiencing symptoms of CTS. Potential therapies for it also include physical therapy, acupuncture, ultrasound therapy, and chiropractic adjustments.

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