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There was some advice for a beginner given here: Back hurts after playing piano, but I'm looking for something a little different:

I am now 52 and I have been playing since childhood (informally taught by my mother until I got formal lessons age 11-17). I never had back pain while playing before. I have recently started getting pain in the middle of my back (just below shoulder blades) after only a short time of casual playing. (Not necessarily focused practice.)

At first I thought it was related to presbyopia: Maybe I was just leaning back to focus on the sheet music and needed higher powered reading glasses, but I later noticed that it was occurring even when playing from memory or improvising.

Other background:

  • My piano is a German-made upright that I purchased new 17 years ago and have had regularly maintained (including major work about 10 years ago, but nothing since the pandemic shutdown in 2020).
  • The seat is a padded bench with adjustable height using a scissor-jack style mechanism. I have not changed its height lately. It's set nearly at its maximum so that my hip joints are above my knee joints. This puts my elbows at about the height of the keybed and my elbows at right angles. (I'm 6'1"/185 cm)
  • In the past, I had lower back pain frequently, but lost a fair amount of weight 4-5 years ago which improved the issue greatly.

When I had lessons long ago, I know my teacher addressed playing posture, hand and arm position, etc. as I was playing during lessons. Although I retained the lesson books and handwritten notes from those years, none of them related to this topic. I have checked against web-based references, but nothing seems to be obviously wrong.

What might I pay attention to while playing to avoid this issue?

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    Do you experience this pain in any other setting(s)?
    – Aaron
    Sep 10 at 14:13
  • I'm no means an expert in anything related, but could it be age-related back pain? I sometimes experiece some minor back pain myself after coming back to piano after a while, however playing piano regularaly with a good posture and cold showers help a lot for me.
    – Neins
    Sep 10 at 14:35
  • It is possible that it's age related, but that doesn't mean I'm willing to live with it forever! I have had a similar pain at other times, but not in any discernable regular pattern. Other than travel away from home I've rarely gone more than a couple days without playing.
    – Theodore
    Sep 10 at 15:33
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    Making the obligatory comment: I encourage you to consult actual medical professionals. Just because the problem comes from a musical activity doesn't mean musicians can help! Also, the fact that it's just suddenly shown up makes me wonder whether it correlates to any new activities that might be impacting that area. Sep 10 at 17:27
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    @AndyBonner Another reason to consult medical professionals: Some internal issues (involving stomach, liver, etc.) may manifest as mid-back pain. (That is an avenue I have pursued, but didn't mention in the question).
    – Theodore
    Oct 12 at 13:14
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Difficult without a video! But, just measured my elbow height/keybed, and the lowest part of my elbows is a good couple of inches higher. That says maybe you're using your back muscles to raise your shoulders, thus arms more than you need. Try the seat up a couple of inches. As a tallish guy, that should help at least. Good luck - don't slouch, but equally, don't try to sit taller, let the seat do that for you!

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  • Even pushing the bench to its maximum gives me only a small fraction of an inch. I will try by adding a memory-foam seat cushion I have.
    – Theodore
    Sep 10 at 14:50
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    Memory-foam tends to give too much. Something firmer would be better. If the piano has castors, they could go.
    – Tim
    Sep 10 at 15:26
  • It addition to sitting a bit higher, also try changing the distance you sit from the piano. Most commonly, people sit too close, but try changing in both directions.
    – Aaron
    Oct 10 at 16:50
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Your question is likely to get closed, because it really is about diagnosing a physical problem.

But, I happen to be 52 myself, and once had lower back pain too. My first thought is it's aging. Maybe there isn't anything else except playing piano that bothers your mid-back... right now. That could change in time. This pain while playing may just be the first sign of aging.

I don't know your general physical condition, but you mentioned loosing a lot of weight recently. Good for you on that point! Perhaps some strength and flexibility exercises will help. Whole body, not just your back. If muscles and joints aren't resilient it leads to trouble.

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  • Thanks. I was hoping to keep it on-topic here by asking (as I did in the end) about points of technique. I was likely taught the correct way as a teen and may have drifted away from it over the years. I'll edit the question to clarify. Although I still have books from my lessons, none of them cover this aspect of playing. I'm in generally good shape and have actually been doing more strength and flexibility exercise since switching to telework (although less walking since I no longer do 2 miles of daily walking to public transit.)
    – Theodore
    Sep 10 at 15:55
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    Maybe some change to the bench or your position will help, but there are always people who play with unconventional posture with no apparent problems, that I don't have much truck in strict posture/position. If that were the issue, it would have come up sooner than 40 years. You might need to consult with a pro if some sensible self remedy doesn't work. At least rest when needed and don't overdo sitting at the piano. You don't want to go from bad to worse. Sep 10 at 16:08
  • Speaking of age... Writing this prompted me to Google my piano teacher. She passed away last year at 99.
    – Theodore
    Sep 10 at 16:22
  • That's a ripe old age! Recently I Google an old guitar teach and learned he past away at a fairly young age. That was sad. But, let's not get too down. Our best years are ahead of us! :-) Sep 10 at 17:47
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Maybe you just need to get younger!

This isn't a flippant comment. I'm a little older than you, and have spent much of my life playing piano, sometimes for protracted rehearsal sessions. I've had the occasional sore back, often through having to use a seat the wrong height. But no major problems. But, just recently, I'm feeling the strain, in hands, wrists and back. Doctors can find no specific problem. I have to be more careful about posture and relaxation, which helps sometimes, but I can still feel the years creeping on...

(Go on, make me feel even worse by down-voting this!)

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  • I won't downvote this, because it might help someone else in the future even if I don't think it's exactly my issue. Lately, I've done much more strenuous things with this muscle group than playing the piano (e.g. swinging a pick-mattock to remove the rootball of a dead shrub) and had no pain. You might be onto something about relaxation prior to playing, though.
    – Theodore
    Oct 12 at 13:13
  • Or, another way to put it might be that younger bodies can put up with more "abuse" than older bodies can. Many of the ways that older folks are forced to mitigate discomfort are also good practices for everyone. Oct 12 at 14:00

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