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Please help me cure my shoulder!


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Hi everyone,

I'm writing this out of desperation because I have been struggling to shift left shoulder pain for about five years now. In fact pretty much as long as I can remember I've always had pain when I play the violin. I've tried Acupuncture, Physio, Alexander Technique and also done the shoudler rest rounds to say the least!

My problem seems to be that I have sore, irritable muscles on the left side in the form of 'trigger points' which my physio is in the process of curing and doing quite a good job, and my Alexander teacher says I am tensing my shoulder whenever the violin comes near my face (I couldn't even feel it!), and only my right lung expands fully.

I just don't know what to do! I love playing so much, but feel that my body has been ruined by doing it! Part of the reason it feels uncomfortable is because I have a long neck (and I'm a tall skinny guy of 6' 2") I think what I'm after by posting this is shoulder rest advice, survivors' stories and any Alexander hints on equalising my lungs so that the violin feels supported by the body rather than having to tense up to hold it. Also, lastly, if anyone knows of any examples of tall long-necked played who have made it as soloists (other than Joshua Bell) then I'd be interested in seeing what shoulder rest set up they have.

Thanks for your help!

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hello p, sorry to hear about that.

it is important to establish a precise diagnosis first.  from

your post i do not get any idea on that.  in fact, many

physicians are not trained in that area, so you may need to see an

experienced specialized physician in sports medicine or

rehabilitation if whatever treatment you are getting is not

taking care of the problem.

common things are common.  off my head, you need to rule out 3

things if it is your right side.  (left side can be another


1. bicepital tendonitis.  inflammation of the head of tendon

of the biceps muscles in a groove on the front of the shoulder.

 (then again, "front" to me and you can mean very different


2. subacromial bursitis.  inflammation of soft tissue under a

piece of bony area in the midline, top of the shoulder if you look

from the side of the shoulder.

3. rotator cuff strain/tendonitis. groups of 4 muscles

that help to stabilize and rotate the shoulder joint.  one in

particular, the supraspinatus, is often inflammed, or has tears

against bony areas.  a career killer for many sports


of course, there are other things to concern about, such as making

sure there is no underlying bony abnormality.

as much as i would like to give you concrete help, it is impossible

to do that without a thorough history and exam, and possibly

imaging studies.  please consider using the above as a

guideline for you when you consult a specialist.

for now, let me tell you this.

stop playing violin, as in stop driving your car on the highway if

one tire just popped.

take care.

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Good advice from Mr. Lucky. Get to the bottom of your shoulder problems before you start practicing again. This was my teacher's advice twenty-five years ago, and I wish I'd had the guts to stick to it longer. The scar tissue you can get is hideous, and the cleanup surgery available at this time will not give you a new shoulder.

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WOW amputation is a bit extreme...

No, I think I need to clarify a couple of things: the pain is in the LEFT shoulder. and it has improved over the last few years by improving my setup. I have a high chin and shoulder rest and it feels like the set up is generally good because I'm more comfortable. The problem I need help solving is the tensing and pulling down on the violin side that I'm not able to feel myself doing, and to maybe check my musculature around my left shoulder is healthy. A while back I heard about putting a rolled up towel under the left arm while playing and this seems to make it feel relaxed. None of the physios and doctors I've seen have noticed a boney problem.

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Hi Mr. Purlfigz, Sorry that I cannot offer any medical advice but the replys you have received so far have been very good. However I do remember a fine young violinist many years ago who was even taller than you at about 6'4" and had a very long neck. He had both the chin rest and the shoulder rest custom made, as it was the highest chin and shoulder rest that I have ever seen, and it worked for him. If you are able to rule out any medical problems, this might be something you may wish to look in to.

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p, thanks for the clarification.

since i still have no idea exactly what muscles are in trouble or

which part of the shoulder are in pain, i will give you some ideas

so read it as fiction.

it is conceivable that if your neck is too long for the height of

the violin, you will have a tendency to squeeze and hold onto it.

 to grab the violin into our neck area, 2 things may happen at

the same time.  you tilt your neck (bend forward and sideway)

to maintain good contact with the chin rest, which we all do. but

the degree you do it may be much bigger.  you are lucky that

you have not pinched a nerve or two with that posture. so far so


second, something you may do because you are quite flexible that

others do not do: you shrug your right shoulder upward to meet the

bottom of the violin/shoulder rest, to provide the upward thrust of

the grab.  this, to me, sounds like the origin of your


when you shrug, (in your case, shrug only left side), you contract

quite a few muscles: on the front: the pecs, the anterior deltoid;

on the side: the mid deltoid, supraspinatus;  the backside:

post deltoid, other rotator cuffs; the top: trapezius, scalenes,


all these muscles are firing when you play violin.  since the

fit at the neck is not good, all those muscles fire continuously

without a break until you put down the violin.

with time, muscles fatigue, less perfusion, microscopic tears

inside muscles, swelling, inflammation, you name it.

before they have a chance to heal,,,,,you pick up the violin again.

did i hear no pain no gain?  

you have a chronic case already (>6 months), it may take as

long, if not longer to heal.

sounds like you are doing the right thing, if your body is

responding to whatever treatment you are getting.

but here is key: unless you get stronger, the problems will recur


talk to your physio, as you call it (from europe?), ask for a set

of exercises to strength neck and shoulder area.  swimming?

 isometric first and build on it, so not to aggravate it.

then, as every poster touched on already, ABSOLUTELY, SERIOUSLY

examine your need for a custom made chin and shoulder rests.

 maybe people on this board can refer you some people if they

know where you are hiding.  i suspect if you really come

across a perfect fit, your shoulder regions ms will naturally relax

and that will be beginning of true healing.

really, good luck!

oh, for your own reference, ask you physio to give you a list of

the muscles with the trigger points so you know.

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Ditto everything said above, plus:

1)stick with the Alexander to give it time to "take;" it's a

learning process

2) How about doing something for yourself as a musician while

you're not practicing? Fill in the hole with a music theory or

history class at a nearby university, or sing with a choral group?

Or even take voice lessons? One can often make huge strides in

musicianship or theoretical understanding by getting away from the


I'd especially recommend the singing -- you can develop your own

physical voice AND your artistic one, and if you can find a Alex.

Tech-based voice teacher you can continue the balancing and release

work, too. The violin is often described as the instrument closest

to the human voice, and we all know that we're trying to get it to

"sing" - good singers often know things about shaping tone that

many violinists don't, but should...

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Thanks particularly to Mr Lucky. I'll look into the strengthening via my 'physio' (yes- i'm European, or rather British, not necessarily the same thing but hey!) I live in Manchester so if anyone knows anything about experts in custom made shoulder/chin rests in that neck of the woods then do please let me know. I currently do ok with a teka chin rest padded out with cork at the base (by about 1 cm) and a wolf secondo. Any better ideas about commercially available rest combinations for skinny tall types?

Thanks again for the ongoing support! Much needed!

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Stop playing. Do not play through pain.

I had to quit entirely for 6 months once, your mileage may vary. Allow your body to heal before you play again.

And, I know, it is tough, but you have to recover or you risk even greater damage to yourself and then you may never be able to play again. This way, you have a chance of coming out okay and continuing on from there.


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  • 1 month later...

I've had quite the saga of a sore left shoulder, and I've been through all the treatments you've been through and more. It's been 3 years since I've stopped playing because of the pain, but I may be on my way back because of Qi Gong. I finally found an Alexander Technique person in the Boston area who is a violinist who had her own dramatic recovery from an accident. (I had gone to an Alexander practioner who was not a violinist, and it didn't help.) She gave me simple Qi Gong exercises, which I've been doing for 4 months, and I am finally having some improvement! I'll give you more info if you want, just ask.

My problem now is that I feel like I've lost the passion for the instrument over the long years of recovery, and have picked up other interests that take up time I could be fiddling. I used to play all the time, and loved it. Anyone have any good suggestions for renewing my interest?

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I was completeley passionate about the violin. As an older beginner, I had the resources to find great instruction and schedule the time to practice and study.

Then my left shoulder started to hurt. Just a little.

Unfortunately, after years of physical therapy, I decided I was going to have to stop playing. The pain was only getting worse and affected other areas of my life, too. (That is my short version of the story.)

Because I misssed playing strings so much, I took up the cello. Yes, the cello is more natural of a position and seems to not cause the problems. I still have pain in my left shoulder, but it is minimal and not aggravated by cello playing.

Just another thought. I also own a vertical viola (it is actually an alto violin). It is played vertically, has an endpin, and has a nice, loud tone (tuned the same as a viola/cello). Built in the '80's by Hammond Ashley. Friends of mine who have "violin" injuries have tried it, too. Just a thought. Not sure if this is of interest to you, but I can pass along more information if you need it. But it seems to be a better option than having to quit entirely.

The other thing that helps my shoulder is sleeping on a tempupedic mattress vs. a spring mattress. This really provides my shoulder with needed relief.

Hope that helps.


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Have you been assessed using biofeedback to monitor muscle tension? I've recently been to a conference and heard a paper by a physio who was researching pelvic floor exercise effectiveness. No! I'm not suggesting you need that :-) but her point was that by using biofeedback she was able to demonstrate that even experienced physios and related practitioners were unable to tell whether their patients were actually tensing the muscles they thought they were. If tension is your problem, you might find this useful if you haven't already tried it, to work out just what is tensing and when.



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You have already got very good advice. I'd just like to add something about posture:

When you play (which you probably should not for some time)

1) put your weight on the heels - as far backward as possible. This improves the balance between your body and your left arm with the violin

2) Try not to "hold" the violin with shoulder and chin. Instead let your head "fall" left and use it's weight to fix the violin at your shoulder

3) Pay attention to your right shoulder as well - the shoulders are not independent and tension in the right shoulder - which may go without pain because the right arm moves constantly and therefore bloodflow through th muscles is less restricted than in a constantly tensioned motionless muscle - may add to the cause why your left shoulder is tensioned.

An exercise which may help (and indicate where part of the tension comes from):

Sit down in front of a table, put both elbows and forearms and hands (inside down) relaxed at the table. Relax. Relax. As soon as you are sure your shoulders are totally relaxed start trill exercises with second and third or third and fourth finger of your left hand. Do not hammer, just tap slightly, but fast. Keep full attention to your shoulders. If you notice. that your shoulders start to tension and go up (indicating that at least part of the tenson comes from a misguided effort to control your fingers), stop, relax again. Try to lengthen the time before your shoulders go up and to remain conscious of the state of your shoulders and neck. Don't forget to breathe normally!!

Then, as soon as you have control over that for a longer time, go back to the violin and try to reproduce this relaxed feeling when you play.

Just my $0.02

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Originally posted by:

At 6' 2" you are a fairly tall guy. When you play the violin do you feel "cramped" in? If so, I would try out a viola of at least 16 inches, with high ribs and see how that feels.

If violin playing creates any pain, the viola will certainly kill you! Your arm will be stretched even further. There will be more weight to support by the muscles in neck and shoulder... Careful with violas!

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Purl - I use a Comford shoulder rest. It really is high, and might get some getting used to, but I realized the other day (when others were complaining) that I never have any shoulder pain. I play a viola, and although I perhaps have not played long enough at one time to hurt my shoulder (no constant three-hour concerts or such), still, practicing and playing with friends has never caused pain. (To my shoulder - to my teacher's ears is something else.)

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I would say that the viola option sounds like a good one for you. Some people with a large physique immediately feel more comfortable with the size of the viola. Speaking myself, from the perspective of a 5"4 violist playing a 16 3/4 viola for 6 to 12 hours a day without a shoulder rest--i have never had any physical problems I succeeded in eliminating my tension with the elimintaion of the shoulder rest. The clue is not to clamp. Holding without a shoulder rest will make you more free--if done correctly. Flexibility in the shoulder blades will allow you to hold without clamping. Move the instrument back and forth on a horizontal plane as you bow open strings.(to the left on a down bow, to the right on an up bow) You will be amazed at the flexibilty, mobility, and greater tone quality you will instantly achieve. Save your money on all the custom desigend shoulder rests. All they will do is render you completely immobile--which will increse your physical problems. Find someone who can show you the most natural way of holding the instrument--a way that will not cause rigidity in any muscle group. It is too complicated to explain here how to do this, but i suggest you get some help with this and don't attempt on your own.

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there´s been a lot of good posted already here, but i agree with kolovrat that if a violin is bad, a viola is even worse for you. it´s a different instrument, the position is more stretched and intense and there´s also the weight factor on top of it. i wouldn´t do it. it will not do any bad to simply not touch a violin until your body is a lot better. my advice when you want to restart would be not to PLAY before you´re 200% comfortable with holding your fiddle. just HOLD it and do whatever you´d do anyway - walk around, do gymnastics, go on the phone, wash the dishes, write a letter, as said do whatever. that´s the way i learned holding a fiddle when i was little and these days i can hold nearly any fiddle even without chinrest and shoulder rest while making espresso and rolling a cigarette (i´m still doing this exercise whenever i feel just the tiniest uncomfort with an instrument). take your time. start again from scratch. don´t play! it´s a delicate, although effortless balance game that can be trained and achieved very quickly. if you fear your fiddle might fall down and break get something from eBay for 50.- $! by the way i´m just above six feet tall (190 cm - is that above six feet?). wish you good.

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i think the underlying issues must be resolved before further

advice can be given, as some of you correctly state.

there are so many exercises that can be given that many can have

opposing effects if done inappropriately or in the wrong


imagine if i think my violin has a sound post position issue and

everyone tells me to move it around.  some say move left, some

right, some up and some down.  

problem is: it may not be  a sound post problem to start


trust me,,,,you have no idea  how people treat their bodies

out there.  what has happened to you almost certainly does not


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Hi Purlfingz,

at first there are two different approaches to your problem.

Does the problem exist only when you are playing the violin? How does your shoulder react when you are cutting firewood or do other things with your shoulder?

If you have shoulder pains not only whil playing the violin but with other shoulder exercises also, you should follow the advice, Mr. Lucky gave to you and see a shoulder specialist.

If the problem occurs only when you are playing, you have to look for a reason in your anatomy (which you already did) or in your technique. Please let me know, maybe I have some advice than.

Take care

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Purflingz I'm curious about a few things. a) How old are you? :) is your violin and bow an expensive combination? c) Are you pushing yourself to play perfect classical violin ?

Is there any possibility that you're tensing up because you're pushing yourself too hard or have too high an expectation when you play ? If there is any possibility that this is some form of performance anxiety? I'd like to see what happened if you bought a junker violin and bow - set them up yourself and maybe messed around for a few weeks on bluegrass, jazz, oldtime or pop music. Leave them laying out for the cat to jump on - know that if you sit on it and crush the fiddle it's only going to take a few bucks to get another one. Experiment without sheet music in front of you - play to CD's and deviate from their melody.

Violin wasn't fun for me until I put down my father's and grandfather's antiques and bought a Chinese $49 combo that I could bump against door jambs and drop macaronni and cheese down into. I've long since moved up to several benchmade beauties but there's one that has the most professional tone that still tightens me up. But in my case it's the back of my right shoulder from trying to control precise notes. When it gets to me I put it away for a week and grab a wall banger or one of the others and the pain goes away. ----------- just a thought......

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