The best thing about my new PT guy (not so new, I suppose…it’s been a few months) is that he encourages my curiosity, and listens to me when I posit new ideas. “You’re in charge of your treatment: it’s all experimentation”, he says. A few sessions ago, I mentioned that my hips seem to flare up at the same time my scapular pain does- and that I have a suspicion they’re connected.

He gave me some hip stretches to add into my usual yoga-based program, and off I went.

One of the stranger aspects of this new era is that I don’t even have to be playing the cello to trigger the pain. We started looking into the mind-body connection, for negative thoughts or associations that might contribute to muscle tension or bad posture. I told him that despite everything that has gone so spectacularly wrong with my playing career, my associations with it are overwhelmingly positive. He believed me, and encouraged me to make sure I was getting quality sleep and minding my posture.

A week ago, I ended a lesson in such intense pain that I started to panic a little bit: I’d played for perhaps 10 minutes combined, but my upper back felt like I’d been rock climbing. Remembering that I’m the one in charge of my wellness, I decided to use this as an opportunity to test a theory: that the pain is connected to my hips. I did 40 minutes of hip, quad/hamstring, psoas, and piriformis opening and the pain in my upper back vanished. I did a little weight bearing with my arms in downward facing dog and handstand, and still no pain.

When I was in Minneapolis, I went to a chiropractor’s office for massages on lunch breaks. It was in the skyway just adjacent to the magazine, and even though I was hardly playing cello at all, my arm and back were lit up with hot spots of pain to the point where I would cry in the bathroom until the cathartic chemicals would dull some of it and allow me to go back to work.

The doctor marveled at my hips, which were tilted at a jaunty angle, the left nearly 2 inches above the right! He insisted on x-rays and did some extremely painful manual work to try and loosen the tightly bound muscles and ligaments moving through the area.

Within a week, the pain returned, and I think I know why, and I bet you have an inkling, too: it’s not the cello- it’s the sitting and then unwittingly going about life while this busted alignment ruins my back and hips, and the effects spread throughout my body. 

This has me thinking in entirely new ways about injuries and tension: how the body’s connectivity is not usually addressed by western medicine practitioners. They think a hurt arm means a problem in the arm. Here, have some surgery. That’ll be $10000, please.

Making it more difficult is that I also did have (may still have?) thoracic outlet syndrome, but the Botox quieted all of the arm and hand symptoms effectively.

What does this have to do with you? Well, if you’re interested in the longevity of your playing life, or are an injured player not getting relief from typical therapies, maybe consider your entire body rather than just the area that hurts and its immediately adjacent structures. If you’re sedentary and injured, try to do some gentle restorative yoga (easy poses, held for long periods to carefully unspool tension, suitable for all bodies) and a slow walk where you focus on breathing into the chest and belly rather than the upper neck. Hip openers are good for everyone, although you might want to start with modified postures, just to be safe.

It’s your body, and you have to listen to it and experiment to see what’s helpful and what isn’t. As medical care in the US becomes more expensive, more pharmaceutically driven, and more surgery prone, you have to be your body’s first line of defense. I also find that people who work on injured bodies (physical therapists and the like) tend to have more insight into these things than the MDs who are charged with diagnosis.

While I’m not a substitute for a qualified physician or physical therapist, I’m happy to answer any questions you might have, either here or via email. Of the few things I am sure of, I am perhaps most sure that I went through all this injury and heartbreak so I could be a better teacher and maybe create some small measure of positive change in this community. 💖

Stunning dancing skeletons in the featured image by DeviantArt user Shir-a