What does arthritis feel like?

What does arthritis feel like?

Obviously this is not a question for the young whippersnappers on the board…

I’ve been tweaking my left hand position on the fiddle so that my wrist is straighter and not pancaked, and now I find that I need to bend my middle finger more on the E string and it’s started stiffening up and the middle knuckle hurts. No problem with the other fingers. I might not even be doing the right thing and will see my teacher tonight so I can check it, but I’m feeling a bit hypochondriachal at the moment and I’m wondering if I might be encountering a physical limitation that will affect my playing. If so, I’ll deal with it, Siobhan Peoples plays two-fingered, after all, but I was wondering if anyone here has experience with this kind of thing and can advise. Does anyone have problems with stiff fingers? All thoughts appreciated!

Re: What does arthritis feel like?

Could be RSI. Sorry, repetitive stress injury, or maybe you do not practice enough and your fingers are not up to the exercise. You need to hold those down until your fingers bleed……….

Re: What does arthritis feel like?

The best advice I’ve been given about this kind of thing is to not press down too hard with the left hand fingers on the strings. The notes still sound with less pressure, and you may find the fingers stop hurting. Good luck anyway, hope you find a solution.

Re: What does arthritis feel like?

Kennedy, you know what you need to do - go to a doctor. Talking to your teacher will be helpful, but what you need first of all is a diagnosis. The wrong kind of treatment can be worse than no treatment at all.

In the meantime, ice your stiff fingers between short practice sessions. That’s what I’ve been doing with my wrists (RSI, not arthritis).

Re: What does arthritis feel like?

Or I could always switch to the bodhran, ha! That would solve the problem! I want my teacher to look and see if I’m even holding my hand the right way—-I might be trying to make my finger bend in a way it’s not supposed to bend. Or it could be that I am doing it right and I just need it to stretch more. I already have carpal tunnel in my wrists, so I know what that feels like, and this ain’t it. This is a definite stiffness—-the finger won’t move as fast and I’m having a tough time with cuts and rolls. I wish my grandmother were still around—-she had to stop playing piano from arthritis and she could tell me what it feels like. I’m probably just being paranoid…

Re: What does arthritis feel like?

I had the exact same problem as this, also caused by trying to improve my hand position. I had previously been playing over 10 years with no problem at all. It got so painful I couldn’t play, and the joint was red and swollen. The doctor said it was arthritis brought on by straining the joint. He recommended glucosamine and chondroitin tablets. This did work eventually but it took 3-4 months. I have gone back to my sloppy old hand position!

Re: What does arthritis feel like?

See the doc. Looking on the bright side it’s just one finger and it’s one you’re putting extra strain on, so arthritis is probably not the issue. I have it in my hands and it didn’t start with one finger I can tell you! :-( But see the doc.

Re: What does arthritis feel like?

My left pointy finger has been killing me in that joint since I took up the mandolin. I, too, am not sure what is going on. I suspected that maybe my wife was trying to break my fingers while I was asleep. But, I am not a whippersnapper so maybe I should suspect some elder-malady.

I did wake up a couple of mornings with vice-grips hanging from my fingers, tho.

Re: What does arthritis feel like?

Due to a genetic condition, I’ve struggled with sore, stiff fingers all of my life. Really was a problem on fiddle, especially fingers bending in on themselves as much as they have to to reach those low notes (f nat, f#, g) on the e string. My problem is hemochromatosis—iron overload—and the resulting joint damage from calcium phosphotase crystals that form in the capillaries and tendons. Finding a good doctor and getting proper treatment has helped no end. But I also learned over the years how to minimize trouble with some fiddle technique.

First off, it helps to have the palm of your left hand turned slightly to face down the fingerboard toward you, rather than facing into the neck itself. Your fingernails should aim toward your face, rather than perpendicular to the strings. This is very different from playing a guitar, mandolin, or banjo. You can also let your hand back away from the neck slightly when playing on the e string so your fingers don’t have to bend so sharply.

Second, as Rob says above, don’t use too much pressure—just enough to get clear tone. Bliss is exactly wrong on this point (not surprising, since he doesn’t play fiddle)—your fingertips shouldn’t even get particularly sore from playing, even for hours. Ask your teacher to check your string action—it may be higher than necessary. A decent luthier can lower the action by filing the grooves in the nut, or by replacing the nut if needed. Neither is an expensive job.

Third, learn to relax your fingers instantaneously whenever they’re not holding a note. These micro-rests prevent fatigue and improve circulation. Remember—you have no muscles in the fingers. Their motion is controlled by musicles in the forearm which pull on tendons that connect to the fingers. The blood supply to tendons isn’t as generous as it is in muscles, so they take longer to warm up, and longer to recover from use. It helps me to wear rubber gloves and wash the dishes or soak my hands in warm water before playing to maximize circulation and range of motion.

Hope this helps. Lots of conditions besides arthritis can cause stiff sore fingers—if this persists, talk to a doctor.

Posted .

Re: What does arthritis feel like?

"Obviously this is not a question for the young whippersnappers on the board…"

Not necessarily, I’m 34 but I have advanced osteoarthritis due to a rare inherited disease (metaphyseal chondrodysplasia, Schmidt type). All of my joints are affected, but it’s mainly hips, wrists, and fingers.

Osteoarthritis does not come on suddenly, it happens gradually, usually over many years unless you have a problem with your cartilage like I do.

If the middle knuckle is the one that’s hurting, that doesn’t sound like arthritis. Normally it would be the knuckles at the base of the fingers that hurt. You’d also expect all fingers to be affected, but since fiddling puts more stress on the middle finger it’s possible it would show up there first.

In any case, arthritis is a problem for playing but it has to be pretty severe to stop you. I have to rest after about 15-20 mins of playing to avoid inflammation, but I really don’t notice the pain and stiffness at all while I’m playing. I only feel it when I stop. It’s annoying, but you can fiddle with arthritis, at least up to a point. I’ll have to quit at some point but I probably have at least a decade.

Re: What does arthritis feel like?

By all means use a "sloppy" hand position if it doesn’t hurt. Look at Martin Hayes—he plays well enough with his wrist collapsed against the neck much of the time.

Posted .

Re: What does arthritis feel like?

Stick to the fiddle, Kennedy, it has much less need of hand control than a bodhran. Do you think bodhrans are stuck onto the player’s knee? No, you are holding the drum with one hand, but that same hand is regulating the sound.

Not as easy as it looks, as many on this site will attest. And a constant strain on wrist and fingers.

So, listen to an expert, stick to the fiddle. It’s not as if they have long necks, requiring a bit of stretch.

Re: What does arthritis feel like?

After re-reading your post, the fact that you’re adjusting your wrist position and having to bend your finger uncomfortably on the E string caught my eye.

It could be that you are too focused on bending your wrist and not letting your body adjust naturally. You shouldn’t have to bend your middle finger to any uncomfortable degree on the E string.

Of couse it depends a bit on how you hold the fiddle, but it may very well be that focusing on your wrist position is causing you to put your fingers in an unnatural position…playing on the E string should be pretty stress-free.

Are you moving your arm as you cross strings? Your elbow should move to your left a bit as you move to the E string, and your fingers should be in a pretty natural position.

I’m thinking you have an ergonomic problem brought on by using a wrist posture that you’re not familiar with. Keep things loose and relaxed, don’t just rigidly hold your wrist where you think it should be and force everything else to compensate…listen to your body and find a way to play that feels natural. If you’re straining to bend your fingers on the E string, something is out of whack.

Re: What does arthritis feel like?

"It’s not as if they have long necks, requiring a bit of stretch."

Actually, that neck can result in quite a stretch, especially on the G string between the 3rd and 4th fingers. It may not seem like much compared to a cello or double bass, but those guys aren’t playing with their wrists twisted around…

Re: What does arthritis feel like?

I always wondered who invented an instrument you had to play with a twisted wrist.

Re: What does arthritis feel like?

I have never been able to hold the harmonica in the standard manner with my left thumb under the lower cover. It just hurts too much. You find your own way. But see the doc.

Re: What does arthritis feel like?

Such good input from everyone, thank you all very much. Screetch and Will, that’s amazing that you both manage to play in spite of the pain that you can have!

Lynn nailed it—-I was straining the joint, like a sprinter athlete with an over-extended knee. Ouch! My teacher explained why it was happening, though (and you guessed it, Will)—-I wasn’t keeping my hand rounded as I played on the E string, so the inside of the top of my palm was jammed up against the fiddle neck, and then my middle finger had to round down onto the string with no clearance, so there wasn’t enough room and it couldn’t bend that far. So now I have to focus on relaxing and keeping my hand and fingers rounded—-my palm had been almost convex and there were fingers sticking up in the air and there was altogether too much tension, it’s surprising I was able to play anything at all like that.

Anyway, that seems to be the explanation. I have a lot of work to do now. Thanks again for all the advice!

Re: What does arthritis feel like?

I’m a fiddler with arthritis and I agree with many of the comments. See a doctor/physiotherapist, there are heaps of things that you can take and do that will help and it’s better to not wait until it gets bad. And technique, technique! there are good ergonomic reasons behind the classical technique which helps to look after your wrist, hands, neck and shoulders, but my experience is that the most important thing is to get the tension out of your body which can be achieved with a number of simple exercises which your teacher should be able to helplyou with. good luck with it

Re: What does arthritis feel like?

Kennedy, Rob raised the point about not pressing down too hard on the strings with the fingers. First of all, a low action really helps, as someone else pointed out. It not only makes it easier on the fingers but also helps the strings to last longer (a poorly set-up cheap fiddle is a reason why some beginners find it too tough to learn, and give up before they’ve had a chance). If the fiddle is properly set-up (as yours doubtlessly is) you need surprisingly little effort to press a string down so that it articulates the sound. A useful exercise to determine this is to draw a long slow steady bow over the string (also a most useful exercise in its own right!), touch the string gently on a note - say the C on the A-string with the 2nd finger - and gradually increase the finger pressure until you get a clear note. That is the pressure you need, and any more doesn’t add anything and is a waste of energy.
It’s a gentle action, almost like stroking the string, and should be very relaxed. If you watch a professional doing a fast trill - a really fast trill - you’ll notice that the finger movement, whether it’s the 2nd, 3rd or 4th (pinky), is a fluttering motion, like a butterfly’s wings. It’s not a "hammering" motion at all and is so relaxed it can be kept going indefinitely.
When I learnt the cello in my youth I was specifically told by my teacher not to hammer my fingers down onto the strings, because too much of that could cause joint problems in later life. Cello strings of course feel a lot heavier with a higher tension than fiddle strings so this was essential advice for a young cellist.

Re: What does arthritis feel like?

Interesting. I have always considered the minimum pressure required to be the aim. However recently i had a lesson with a viola teacher from one of the worlds most prestigious academies.
He suggests a very hard pressure down,followed by instant relaxation etc. This goes against all i have learnt over 30yrs.
So how do i reconcile this ?
I recently contacted my doctor re painful finger joints.
he suggested anti-inflammatory and after a month from finishing the course my fingers are better.
I hope this continues, as i earn my living as a musician and dread the thought of losing my ability.Well at least for another 20yrs. As we will all lose it in the end
I took up the tin whistle many years ago after seeing the old fellas still playing in there 80s.
good luck. have fun

Re: What does arthritis feel like?

Jig, the only reason I think of to explain that viola tutor’s advice is that viola strings are slightly slower to speak than fiddle strings. But then, bowing technique should take care of that.
It seems strange advice - a double action (hard down and then a slight relaxation) which must take some mastering.
Perhaps our resident professional violist Biggus Dave could say something about this?

Re: What does arthritis feel like?

Perhaps the pain has nothing to do with your playing style. I have problems with the first joint of my left index finger, my doctor says it is probably the result of having jammed my finger a few times playing baseball as a kid—he says old injuries can lead to problems later in life. Believe it or not, I started paying attention to tasks that I did which made my finger hurt, and found that being more careful in putting my shoe on (I had been using the finger as a shoehorn) helped mitigate the problem and made playing easier.

Re: What does arthritis feel like?

Hey lazy, that sounds good, i mean, he,the teacher is a master, top European academy.international performer and all round great guy. really, no messing. and sure it would be hard to do.But he does it, and helps top players who wish to improve. I will keep at his advice and next year maybe i will have started to get it. He demonstrated using the weight of the arm on both sides. left with finger pressure,and right bow weight.which has definately helped me in producing more volume and clarity. So i will continue.
thanks