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I'm currently preparing for ATCL exam, and I have been practising about one and a half hours a day.

Recently I start to feel pain in both wrists when I am practising piano, and also when I am not. The pain becomes more serious when I shake my hand.

What would be possible causes of this kind of pain? Do I need to provide more details? Thanks.

Update:

Pieces list:

  • Bach - Toccata in E minor, BWV 914
  • Mozart - Piano Sonata No.11 in A major, K.331
  • Debussy - Général Lavine – eccentric: Dans le style et le mouvement d'un Cakewalk
  • Bartok - Suite Op. 14
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    Go see a doctor, this could be something serious... – Jacob Swanson Aug 8 '15 at 5:03
  • What does your teacher say about this? – Tim Aug 8 '15 at 7:22
  • If it was a guitar player I would tell him / her that it is usually tension in your muscles build up from being nervous. I think you could be having similar problems although I do not play enough piano to be able to answer this with any authority. – Neil Meyer Aug 8 '15 at 10:58
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    Go see a doctor! This is the kind of thing that might prevent you from playing piano ever again, take it seriously! Also alert your teacher. – Todd Wilcox Aug 8 '15 at 13:02
  • I've added my pieces list, and, also I use my computer quite often, as I wrote programs. I guess that has effect on this too. – Jamie Aug 9 '15 at 7:26
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You could have any of a variety of forms of wrist overuse injury. I've been there from music, and I used to work in the sports world where this is endemic. The bottom line is it doesn't matter what specific form you have, carpal tunnel, tendonitis, bursitis, etc, they are all different forms of inflammation from overuse. Your connective tissue grows slower than muscle, and a sudden increase in workload (say from nothing to consistently doing 1.5h a day) can easily do this. It's extremely common in music school where everyone is suddenly practising twice as much as they used to. I had chronic wrist tendonitis from the combination of saxophone and juggling. You might have some other problem, but this is the most likely situation and the fact that it is hurting when you are not playing means you need to take it seriously right away. If you do a lot of computer typing, the combination can be much worse than either in isolation.

You need to stop whatever you are doing NOW. Go to your doctor and get recommended to a good sports medicine person and physio therapist, they can show help with immediate symptoms and show you how to stretch properly, change your practise routines, and strengthen antagonist and stabilizer muscles to help prevent this. But the bottom line is you NEED to rest until there is no pain and then another week or two before resuming practising. Reschedule your exam, missing the exam is nothing compared to the hassle of chronic tendonitis for years. You will find other musicians who tell you how to deal with it and keep practising. They are WRONG. The world is full of musicians who have wrecked their careers/hobbies with chronic lifelong overuse injury by refusing to take the time off to heal now.

When mine got bad, I had to basically just do other stuff for a year, but now I'm totally fine. A year seemed like forever when I was 20, but now that I'm 40 and can still practise 3 hours a day without issue, I'm so glad I learned how to take care of myself. I cringe when I see young people icing and taping and then continuing to wreck themselves. That kind of thing is ok for pro athletes who have a million dollars riding on the season, but they are trashing their bodies and have off seasons of extremely expensive medical treatments to make up for it.

Good luck! Good physiotherapists are worth their weight in gold!

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As Iain Duncan notes, pain is a sign of injury. Don't take it lightly. There is something about your posture or technique or even your diet that is causing stress and that stress is causing inflammation, and that inflammation (whatever form it may present) is causing pain.

You cannot "work through it." DO NOT "work through it." Long term, you need to figure out what it is about your posture and technique that is contributing to it, and fix that thing. Short term, you need to rest your arms/wrists.

Icing your forearms/wrists will likely provide relief from the inflammation/pain, but it is palliative, not restorative, and it will not fix the underlying problem.

Unheeded, it will likely make it too painful to play piano, and you'll have to simply stop. For a long time.

  • yup. Great line, "palliative not restorative". And really, you need to get to "preventative". There's no rush. Really, take it slow. – Iain Duncan Aug 9 '15 at 3:44
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If you are at the right standard for ATCL, you shouldn't have any problem with one and a half hours practice a day. Five or six hours a day, maybe, until you build up the stamina to deal with that.

But if you are getting continuous wrist pain even when you are not playing YOU ARE DOING SOMETHING SERIOUSLY WRONG, and IF YOU KEEP DOING IT, YOUR PIANO PLAYING DAYS WILL SOON BE OVER, PERMANENTLY.

You need some advice from a good teacher as to what is wrong with your technique, and you also need some advice from a good doctor on how to repair the damage you have done already. If you have to stop playing completely for 6 or 12 months, that's a much better option that stopping for the rest of your life!

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I just remembered something else from my days years ago in the sports world. Apparently most overuse injuries are actually triggered by the combination of the thing in question (piano) with something else. IE the difference between you and someone else who does 1.5 hours but doesn't do.. X... is often the key. It could be something as mundane as your day job, I had to quit a job bussing tables for that reason. It could be how you use some other tool in your life, or some muscle imbalance because of an activity you used to do a lot. Take a hard look at anything else your hands do as well and talk about that with your physio. good luck!

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