So happy now after last night. I played bass for a ninety minute rehearsal and a full church service at All Souls Langham Place. Feeling good..very thankful for all the advice, help, encouragement and prayers I’ve received! Full report at https://philwbass.wordpress.com/2010/08/30/im-back-first-public-performance-since-my-wrist-injury/
About to make my comeback. I’m playing with no ill effects. Still wearing the splints to sleep. Now I need to find some gigs again to test the wrists out – not as easy as you’d think….full update at https://philwbass.wordpress.com/2010/08/24/phil-wain-the-comeback/
I’m playing normally again. Swimming every day has helped and the splints and physio have made a huge difference. This episode has really helped me see music as a blessing and focussed me on playing great music for pleasure. The doctor wants me to return to a full gigging schedule in September/October but that’s easier said than done! When most of your gigs are as a sideman it’s not easy to step right back into a scene when you’ve been out of it for seven months. Well, normally I’d be looking for paid gigs and getting hired but right now I just want to play some great music so get in touch if you want to do something.
I’m trying to get involved in some jazz gigs in September/October, but also playing in church, looking for gigs for the acoustic Luna Kalamata (maybe some charity gigs or house concerts), looking forward to a long planned collaboration with Matt Stevens and hooking up with old friends and great musicians. Put the word out for me guys, I need some gigs! The they’ll gauge my recovery based on how the gigs go.
I have a few people interested to play some cafe gigs some any of you coffeehouse owners reading this, we will draw a following – how about letting us play one night as a duo. Maybe you could open late.
Well, by now you know it’s two hands, right? I went to see the Carpal Tunnel specialist at UCH London today and have a more positive outlook. After the last physio appointment I’d worried that maybe I’d never get back to proper gigging again but this another story. The doctor asked about symptoms but the truth is I haven’t had many recently, the physio has worked well, the wrist splints at night have made a difference and, significantly, I’ve hardly played or done any heavy lifting.
The doctor wants me to work back towards playing full-tilt by November. I have to slowly ramp up the practising day by day, then start with small gigs in August/September, then back to full on playing by November. Of course I’ll have to carry on warning up, warming down, doing the exercises, modifying my technique and lightening my touch. She also said that my relative unfitness (compared to a couple of years ago I do a lot less exercise) might also make a difference. Most of my exercise is intensive walking but she recommends more aerobic and upper body intensive exercise. I don’t have time to go down to a gym so this has to be something we can do as a family or, at least, together with my son. Ideas on a postcard please!
So I’m much more optimistic after today. Thing is, they want to test out how my symptoms will be with a normal schedule and also determine how much is carpal tunnel and how much might be other factors. If the carpal tunnel gets worse in November they will consider operating. Another outcome of this is that I will have to have a bass when I am away in LA this summer. I will need to practise daily so that will mean hiring or borrowing something or maybe taking my acoustic bass guitar as carry-on.
There remains the question of actually finding the gigs now I have been off the scene for so long but I think that will be fine. I plan on playing in church sometimes ans playing a few small scale gigs as well as the paid one if I can get them. I also need to get some lessons focussed specifically on my left and right band ergonomic technique. I know Steve Lawson has offered and I hope to see Todd Johnson sometime.
It was a tough day today. Haven’t gigged now for 7 months and I’ve never missed music more. I had a physio appointment and everything is basically going to plan but it seems to be taking longer and longer and I’m worried the whole thing might be derailing a little. I am to be discharged in September because the physiotherapy department in the hospital is being closed down. The therapist said that I was basically doing all I could anyway and to continue with the exercises. She gave me some good advice on warm-ups and warm-downs. If my condition gets worse I will need to be re-referred by my GP (but that took four months last time).
I had been hoping to do a short gig in August but she was basically discouraging that. She said September as the earliest. I am determined to safely push the schedule and to pick up my playing, increasing by 2 minutes at a time, starting with my current 12 minutes. Eventually I’ll set up an imitation gig schedule at home to practise with the timings and intensity: a lighter touch is always good anyway. Then I’ll set up a short gig for late August and be aware that a duo gig could turn into a solo gig very rapidly. Another idea would be to join in a few jam sessions, there’s one at Round Midnight down the street.
I am seeing the specialist again next week. Whatever I do I can’t let them discharge me too as I couldn’t wait 4 months again.
Another physio appointment. All is going pretty well: I’m sleeping in the splints and only getting occasional numbness. I’m doing the physio stretching and strengthening exercises twice a day and I’m playing up to about 7 minutes at a time. I’ve even played a little upright bass but my hands are not as strong as they were last year and I need to build up slowly. I am a bit keen to get back to playing gigs but the physiotherapist wisely warned me against rushing my comeback; she said there will be a lot more strengthening and slow rehabilitation before then.
I had hoped to do a short gig sometime in July but it now looks like that’ll be August at the earliest and it may be some time before I am doing 4 hour jazz gigs again – but I’m hoping it’ll be before winter. I am going to try to arrange a short gig in August. I’m keeping up with the exercises and building them up slowly and I’m playing bass most days – I have taught a couple of bass lessons too. I see the physio again at the end of June so I’m hoping to be up to playing longer sessions with shorter rests in between by then. I’ve never been so conscious of wrists angles!
Second physiotherapy appointment went very well. I have been doing my wrist strengthening and other physio exercises very thoroughly. I’ve built up playing bass to around 4 minutes at a time with short rests in between playing. I am going to take things slow, I know that rushing things might put my whole progress back. Wearing wrist splints at night has definitely made a difference – I very rarely wake with numb fingers. I can see myself perhaps doing a short gig by July and returning to gigging in perhaps August.
I am having to think seriously about wrist angles and playing technique every time I play. I’m only playing sitting down and about to buy a more ergonomic strap and perhaps an octaver to avoid twisting my wrist on 15 minute low register riffs. One of the hardest things is being careful to avoid lifting things. It’s all good and My progress is slow and steady. Next physio appointment in three weeks.
Had my first physiotherapy appointment today. It went very well. I am able to do things with bending my wrist that I was unable to do a month ago. There were some interesting issues. I have a sunken left shoulder and a lot of tenderness/tightness and my left shoulder/neck. This is undoubtedly from playing bass standing up (with a thin strap) for long hours – bassists take note! Humping around gear probably didn’t help.
She also said that my CTS might have been caused by a lack of physio after I broke my left wrist four years ago (story here). She gave me a pretty thorough examination and a range of activities to do several times a day. Next appointment is in two weeks. I am aiming on playing for three minutes at a time continuously this week and building up from there – nowhere near 4 hour sets yet! I am so much more conscious of left hand wrist angles.
I am going to try to have a lesson with Steve Lawson (who has offered) to look at minimising wrist strain and a video lesson with Todd Johnson might be in order. I am playing a little upright bass which doesn’t stress my wrist as much but requires me to rebuild my left hand strength. Today I taught a bass lesson too which meant playing (a little at a time) for an hour and that went well.
Fingers crossed – all going well at the moment!
April 21st 2010
I finally got my appointment at the University College London Hospital Carpal Tunnel clinic. I was impressed with the efficiency, friendliness and knowledge of the staff their and the clean, airy, light clinics at what is still a fairly new hospital building. My doctor was very knowledgeable: she knew exactly how playing bass guitar might cause or worsen Carpal Tunnel. I had hours of tests including nerve conductivity tests which necessitated a large number of electric shocks!
The outcome was confirmation of moderate carpal tunnel in my left hand and mild carpal tunnel in my right. I am starting a course of physiotherapy next week at the hospital and have been given new wrist splints to sleep in. I can resume occasional, light bass playing (hooray!) as I slowly recuperate. I have a further appointment with the specialist in July when she will assess my progress.
It seems the wrist angles of playing the electric bass in the upper and lower ends of the fingerboard contributed to the problem but my headlong approach to playing upright might have contributed. Carpal Tunnel is also sometimes a hereditary condition. OK, time to play – but take it easy.
Not being able to play has been a blessing in some ways. I’ve realised I can live without playing bass. I have enjoyed using the time I normally play music and listening to music without trying to transcribe/play it. I’ve put time into writing reviews, family activities, reading and blogging. But now, returning to bass, I am so, so much more grateful for every moment I get to spend playing music from now on.
February 19th 2010
Went to the doctors today. It looks very much like carpal tunnel, especially with the numbness in thumb and first two fingers in both hands – often when waking. Now little pain but more numbness and discomfort – dull aching. Most advice on the net seems to be to stop playing completely for a few months, the doctors I saw really don’t know. I’m sleeping with wrist splints, avoiding lifting and keeping my wrist straight while typing. Nick Donnelly suggested some dietary supplements, Siggidori gave me some great advice on diet, physio, lifestyle etc, Don continues to be a great source of medical information. My wife, Lisa and my parents are a great support. The prayers and kind words from Greg, Mark and others mean a lot too!
The doctor asked if I had private health insurance as that might speed things up – I don’t – you have to wait with the National Health Service but I’m glad we have it. The next available appointment with the Carpal Tunnel Specialists at University College London is not until the end of April. I’m still waiting to hear from the physiotherapist. It’s going to be a long slow road to recovery. Right now I’m thinking I might resume gigging in the Summer at the earliest. Time to spend on other things and time to maybe learn to sing or work on my keyboard playing or something?
February 14th 2010
Latest news not so good. I am playing a few minutes at a time now while wearing wrist splints but playing a three hour gig this month is not looking too likely. I am waking with pins and needles in thumb, index and middle fingers in both hands sometimes which is a symptom of carpal tunnel. I have switched to a modified Simandl technique as most of the pain on playing occurs in my ring finger. My hands tire of playing after a while though.
A good friend, Don, on the String Network Forum gave me some advice regarding this:
I am going back to the doctor this week and getting myself referred to a specialist armed with the various advice here and elsewhere. I’m still on the waiting list for physiotherapy.
Steve Lawson recommended using a slide on bass, playing with the neck at more of a 45 degree angle and wearing wrist splints. The splints have made a difference. Hopefully better news after a visit to the doctors this week!
January 29th 2010
It’s been frustrating – I haven’t played bass now since I wrote this. Generally the pain declined but there have been some remaining issues: tingling in my middle fingers, waking with numb hands, aching left shoulder, pain when pressing down with left ring finger, left hand feeling colder and quite painful in cold weather.
I passed on a chance to do rock climbing for fear of straining my hand but spent a week doing swimming daily which felt like it helped. Today, though, the left shoulder pain was much worse so I dropped into a Chinese traditional doctors near work. It was recommended that I get a blood teat from my GP for arthritis (which is a little scary) and I had a whole hour of massage on my back, neck, arms and hands. Some of the pressure points hurt a lot and the masseuse pulled my fingers until they clicked. She showed me some movements to do daily with my hands and shoulders.
I have provisionally put a gig date in my diary for 26th February. I plan on trying to return to playing a few minutes a day by the 6th and see if that is realistic – any pain and I’ll be straight back to my doctors. I’m still waiting for the physio referral. Since the gig involves three one hour sets I will have to be sure. Thanks so much for everyone’s help, advice and prayers.
January 15th 2010
Thanks for all the good wishes, advice, support and prayers I have received. The doctor gave me a thorough examination and it was unclear what the cause of the injury might have been. She has recommended I don’t play bass for a few weeks to let everything heal up and referred me to the physiotherapist. She also recommended pilates for strengthening the muscle core.
She said it could be a combination of things including possibly: the beginnings of tendonitis, a swelling somewhere which was causing the nerves in my middle fingers to tingle and a back/neck/left shoulder problem. The physio should be able to tell me more.
Right now I am miserable about not being able to play but at the same time grateful that I don’t rely on bass playing for a living to feed my family; that the pain is not severe; that it seems a warning that, if I play it right, will hopefully not result in permanent damage; and that tomorrow’s gig already has a replacement bassist.
I guess I’ll have more time for reading and I might borrow a keyboard from school, do a bit of ear training or even try to sing.
I hope to have more information later on. My left shoulder is very stiff today and the tingling in my middle fingers has come back with a vengeance. Maybe I’ll never find out what caused this – but if I’m sensible enough I should be back gigging soon enough!
January 14th 2010
I’m coming over to the idea that playing Saturday is a bad idea. It’s not a well paid gig and I often use a dep on this regular gig anyway. I’m going to take at least a week off the bass and see how it goes.
I played for 5 minutes or so tonight and that was fine but it’s not the same as three hours.
January 13th 2010
Thanks to the many people who have advised me, prayed for me and even scolded me for not going to the doctor sooner. I have sought advice about the hand problems I have had since the last gig on a bass forum, twitter, facebook and by email and have received a lot of help. I am still not able to play bass without considerable discomfort but I’m slowly using stretches and ideas people have shown me and looking into buying a more ergonomic strap and considering playing sitting down.
I have a doctor’s appointment on Friday. Like most GPs, she has little knowledge of bass playing related injuries and thought it appropriate that I was consulting widely with other bassists. I’m now feeling that Saturday’s gig might come too soon.
Ah…..any advice/comments would be gladly welcomed!
I am attempting the following stretches:
I had no gigs in December but practised like normal..
Last Saturday (2nd) I had a gig. They are 4 hour affairs and we play 3 hours and have 2 30 minute breaks. During the middle set I noticed a little mild pain in the tip of my middle right hand finger – as if it had a thorn or a splinter in it. I just carried on. In the third set I had similar twinges in the middle fingertip on my left hand.
All week I had tenderness in those two fingertips but it didn’t stop me playing. It was very cold out – lots of ice and snow. My hands did get painful with the cold a couple of times
So this Friday (8th) I had another gig (as the 2nd I played exclusively electric bass). Another three three hour sets. Particularly during some of the bass solos I winced a little at an unusual pain when I pivoted off the third finger of my left hand. Other than that I had no problems except for a little cramping on a 15 minute ostinato on Stratus/Safe from Harm.
After the gig my left hand ached quite a bit – I figured maybe I should warm up more, especially in these sub-zero temperatures.
Since then I’ve had tenderness in most of my fingertips, a dull ache in my left hand fingers (particularly middle, ring, pinky) and (for the first day or so) intermittent pins and needles in my left hand fingers. Someone on Twitter thinks it might be related to upper back problems. A guitarist friend thinks it’s related to woodshedding a lot on upright but I haven’t really played that since the end of November.
So that’s it. I’ve not had any pain after playing before and I’ve done a lot of long gigs. Even 3 hour gigs on upright have not caused me problems. I’m still hoping it’s either cold weather or something else minor. The joint on my left ring finger still hurts when I put pressure on it so I’m not playing bass: I don’t want to make it worse.