What do you do as a string player when raising your right arm causes searing pain from the shoulder to the elbow after playing a Bellini opera with pages of tremolo, or how about chronic low back pain from sitting in an awkward position for many hours at a time (think Wagner)? As a violist who plays a lot of opera, these are problems I’ve dealt with personally. Many years ago, an orthopedic surgeon told me I needed surgery to remedy tendonitis in the rotator cuff of my bow arm. The idea of surgery terrified me. I wasn’t sure how a surgery would affect my playing and knew that it would take several weeks (that I didn’t have) to recover. I asked my colleagues for advice and was led to a trusted chiropractor. I’d never seen a chiropractor before and was skeptical, but willing to try an alternative approach. He made a few adjustments to my spine, and a series of exercises were prescribed to strengthen weaker muscles in my arm, the ones opposite from muscles I use repeatedly to play. The tendonitis gradually began to disappear, and surgery was avoided. I was able to go back to playing after a few days rest and continued playing during the treatments, which lasted a few weeks.
This was my introduction to chiropractic care, one of the many non-invasive therapies musicians depend on to keep us in good physical health, and playing to the best of our ability. Most recently I’ve worked with Dr. Christine Rosenkrantz of Wrigleyville Chiropractic and Massage, Ltd., a practice here in Chicago that pairs chiropractic treatment with therapeutic massage and dry needling. This season Dr. Rosenkrantz has helped me cope with long term problems such as lower back pain that require many months of treatment and short term tune-ups like dry needling sore muscles after a week of Faust. I am grateful to Dr. Rosenkrantz for answering questions I posed to her about her work.
For those who have never seen a chiropractor, how would you describe what a chiropractor does?
Each chiropractor is different, but we share the belief that the body can heal itself. A chiropractor aligns the spine, so the structure is stronger. Chiropractors found that if there is pressure along the spine, the nerves get irritated and cause pain. This can affect the muscles and joints also. If you have a good structure, then your body will function better. Chiropractic care helps to restore good health without the use of drugs or surgery. The goal is to increase mobility and decrease stiffness. I have been practicing for 20 years and use a variety of techniques to help patients meet their wellness goals depending on their individual needs. These techniques include gentle chiropractic adjustments, sports massage, myofascial release, acupuncture, dry needling, hot moist packs, cupping and active release technique.
You are a certified athletic trainer and have a master's degree in Science and Sports Medicine. Do you see a parallel between athletes and musicians?
Yes, I do see a parallel. Athletes and musicians dedicate themselves to deliberate practice, honing their skills both mentally and physically. Both need strength and coordination. These skills are central to success. Body aches and pains affect many aspects of everyday life, and health involves the entire person. Both athletes and musicians are susceptible to overuse and need to take care to ward off any injuries through preparation, bodywork and rest.
One of your disciplines is dry needling. Can you describe how this can be helpful to a musician who might suffer from stress due to repetitive motion?
The practice of dry needling involves inserting a thin acupuncture needle into a muscle trigger point to relieve pain associated with that point. Healthy muscles do not react, while affected muscles usually react with a "twitch" that stimulates healing. The needle touches the muscle and stimulates blood flow into the area. This flushes out lactic acid and stimulates muscle metabolism. The needle does not hurt or cause any pain. It has been a very successful and is a fast - growing treatment to relieve discomfort.
Musicians sit for long periods of time playing their instruments, often in uncomfortable positions. Do you have any advice to prevent injury?
Any prolonged activity requiring repetitive motion puts stress on our bodies whether you are a musician or athlete, or both! Our bodies function best pain free. In order to relieve stress or pain we need to look at the whole body. This includes a healthy diet, flexibility, core strength, good posture and proper positioning. A good warm up and cool down, hydration and exercise helps. Periodic stretching and breaks also help to reduce the load on your spine and muscles.