Summer is here, which for me means more outdoor gigs, more busking (street performing) outside of the Celtic Shop where I work, and just more playing in general. I used to stretch or do little exercises to warm up my muscles much more regularly, especially when I felt that I had overplayed. However, over this past winter I got pretty lax about stretching, and now it’s coming back to bite me. Word to the wise, start these stretches BEFORE you feel any pain with playing, just to be on the safe side! It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner at fiddling or a pro spending multiple hours a day playing. Be proactive about taking care of your body.
Some of you non-musicians reading this may be a bit skeptical about the whole idea that fiddling is a workout, but it really is. We may only be exercising certain parts of our bodies (unless you’re one of those really talented Canadian fiddlers who can step dance with ease whilst sawing away at their instrument), but finger dexterity and arm/shoulder muscles are all constantly at play here. Eventually those muscles are going to need a break, and you want to be in control of when those breaks are. For me, I’ve lately been noticing a lot of tension and a bit of swelling in my wrists whenever I play too hard for too long. And yes, it’s hard for me to tell myself to stop. My heart says I could go on playing all night, but my body retaliates with a vengeance and a desperate cry of, “enough already!!” So what do I need to do? Playing less isn’t really an option I care to go with. So… I’ve got to stretch.
I had a bit of a wake up call a few days ago after one particular busking session that had me running to the fridge for a water bottle to use as a makeshift icepack. One of our customers kept giving me this concerned look, and at first I thought she was judging my, uh, resourcefulness, but it turns out that she was actually a massage therapist! While I was helping her at the counter, she asked what sort of pain I was having. When I told her that my wrists were sore (it was the left one that day, but it can happen to both), she then proceeded to ask if I stretched (to which I replied with a sheepish “not anymore”) and she asked if she could show me a couple basic stretches to help loosen the muscles in my wrist. Of course I agreed. Three minutes later? No more pain.
In fact, I was so moved by her kindness and by her helpfulness, that I decided I would share these tips with you all in a blog post in case any of you, musician or not, are experiencing wrist pain. If you are a professional musician, or play music regularly, I cannot stress how highly I recommend finding a good stretch routine that works for you. I know that on my end, I get excited about stretching and taking care of myself at first, and then I gradually lose the routine and talk myself out of it because it’s just “too much time” or “I don’t really need it.” No. Time to stop kidding myself. Take care of your bodies y’all, and they’ll take care of you.
Just to clarify, I’m speaking from personal experience and am in no way licensed to professionally help anyone get rid of muscle pain. These are techniques that I’ve adapted into my routine and they are very effective for me. If you are experiencing serious recurring pain from playing your instrument, you should absolutely consult with your doctor, physical therapist, or another licensed professional to find a treatment that works best for you. Okay. Ethical training induced side note over.
So here are just three basic stretches you can do in a really short span of time. If you have more time, I suggest finding a longer routine that stretches more muscles and really gets you warmed up. Descriptions are included below, or you can just watch the video!
- Before you play, hold your arm out in front of you with your palm facing up. Slowly stroke your forearm starting at your wrist and moving towards your heart, using a firm but not too aggressive pressure. This helps to open up those muscles and release tension. You can also do this after you are finished playing. I do anywhere from 10-20 strokes usually.
- After playing or any time you notice pain in your wrist, hold your arm up and keep it straight in front of you, palm side facing the floor. Let your wrist relax, fingers pointing perpendicular to the floor. Using your free hand, gently apply pressure to the back of your hand and hold this position for four seconds. Release. Tilt your hand to the right, still keeping your arm straight and facing down, and repeat with four seconds of gentle pressure. Now tilt your hand to the left. You should notice a bit more tension in this position, so be careful not to overdo it! Very gently apply pressure again for four seconds and release.
- After step 2, keep your arm out straight, but make a fist. Rotate your arm, so now your palm is facing upwards. Release your fist and let your palm relax. Repeat the four seconds of gentle pressure and release. Tilt your hand to the left. Repeat. And then carefully tilt your hand to the right. This should feel the least natural, so again be careful! Same deal with the four seconds here.
Voila! Those are three basic stretches to open up tight or swelling muscles in your wrist. While I’ve used other methods before, these have by far been the quickest pain relief, and they’re easy enough to regularly incorporate into a routine. Hopefully most of you already have stretching methods that work for you, in which case I hope this provides some fresh ideas for you! If you don’t though, these will get you started. Additionally, if any of you have your own stretching methods or tips that work for you, I’d love to hear them! Feel free to leave a comment below or send me an email! Thanks so much for reading, and I hope this was useful to y’all!