WTF is with my hands?
January 30, 2009 8:45 AM   Subscribe

I'm having periodic numbness in my hands, very minor. I'm a musician (violinist). I might have messed something up exercising. I recently started practicing a lot more. I'm trying to be very careful. Also I type a lot. And it's cold. I'm freaking out a little bit.

I'm looking for some level headed advice.

Basically the deal is

January 11th I started a new practice regimen. I started doing 3 hours a day. 1 hour scales, 1 hour etudes, and 1 hour music (I actually play fiddle music, but I'm studying classical technique right now). It went great for about 12 days problems at all. I was so excited by keeping up with things that the next day I decided to start exercising too. My exercise of choice has been intervals of Burpees, squats, leg lifts and crunches.

So I did that one day and wore myself out, right after practicing.

The next day, I had two very short but rather severe feelings of pain in my wrist. It felt similarly to a muscle cramp in my leg. A feeling of having pulled a muscle.

It freaked me out and I took the rest of the day off and the next day from practicing.

I'm not sure if it was the practicing or the exercise. I'd had no pain from practicing, and the exercise was the new variable. The pain seemed to go away, but came back once when I was sitting on the floor and pushed myself up off the floor (bending my wrist against the floor)...which made me think it was the burpees (which are like crazy pushups...and where I might have been dropping myself on my wrists without cushioning myself.

Since then I've eased off on the practicing, but I'm experiencing periodic numbness in the hand that originally felt the pain. It's been very mild. I'd say if the numbness you feel when you wake up on your arm and it's totally dead is a 20, this is like a .5 The pain seems to have gone away.

This morning the numbness is slightly more intense. Maybe a 1 out of 20. But I can feel it.

The other thing is that there is a touch of numbness in my left hand, which I don't think I injured in any way.

I'm totally paranoid about getting carpal tunnel or tendonitis. So it's entirely possible this is psychosomatic. And I could see myself worrying myself into a tizzy about this.

Are there any good resources about hand diagnosis online? Or good exercises or info like that? I've been warming my hand before practicing and walking more instead of the high intensity exercise.

For the record, in the past violin teachers have told me that the fundamentals of my technique and my physicality are really healthy, and I'm working hard on playing without tension and being mindful of my wrists. I don't have access to medical care right now (no insurance, no money). I'd really like to get back to practicing. I don't think I'm doing anything really off the mark here. I'm almost wondering if the whole numbness thing is totally psychosomatic, and that the injury was just what it was and is gone, but I also don't want to injure myself further.

Any advice?

I'm wondering too if a certain amount of aches and pains are part of being a musician. I've been playing music for a long time and never really seen this addressed in a non-hysterical but also non-dismissive way.

posted by sully75 to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Oh and one other factor. It's been seriously frigin cold here. I'm not sure if this might have a circulation component too. I've been staying warm, mostly, but a couple of times a day, getting in the car or whatever, it's real cold. That wouldn't explain the numbness in the mornings though.

I can squeeze a ball hard with no pain. I can push myself up off the floor with no pain. I can play the violin with no pain. I'm just not sure what's up with this numbness.
posted by sully75 at 8:51 AM on January 30, 2009

get thee to a doctor, stat. Sounds like something carpal-ish, and they'll have treatment.
posted by jenkinsEar at 8:53 AM on January 30, 2009

I have very similar condition - from doing too much phd typing! Mine has just been diagnosed as repetitive strain injury. Go see your doctor asap, and ask for a physio consult too.
posted by Augenblick at 8:56 AM on January 30, 2009

Are there any good resources about hand diagnosis online? Or good exercises or info like that?

There are, but it would be irresponsible to point you to them. If you have a joint injury, you could make things worse by doing the wrong exercises.

Stop practicing your violin and doing burpees until you save up the money to see a doctor, or until you have stopped experiencing the symptoms for at least two weeks.

You should also seriously consider that 21 hours of practicing a week is too much for your body. If you jumped up to that from, say seven, you should try increasing more gradually. The burpees sound like a horrible idea all around.

Do not underestimate this issue. I doubt it is psychosomatic, and if you mismanage it you could end up with permanent damage that will hurt your ability to play music, or stop it altogether. Taking a couple of weeks off is a lot better than taking the rest of your life off.
posted by grouse at 9:05 AM on January 30, 2009

Have you ever heard of Guillain-Barre Syndrome? A friend of mine was just treated for it (young guy, not otherwise unhealthy)- started with numbness in his fingers and toes, he was very lucky he caught it early. You really need to see a doctor about this issue.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:06 AM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

ok got it. I'm not sure what to do now regarding a doctor. I don't have insurance or a pcp.
posted by sully75 at 9:16 AM on January 30, 2009

I actually had to see a doctor for a wrist tendonitis issue without insurance. I called a hand surgeon and said I was uninsured, and asked how much it would cost to be seen by the doctor if I paid in cash. In my case, it was $60, but I was probably lucky. I would expect to pay less than $200 though, if you ask about it ahead of time. So call around. I hope you have some money or can borrow some.
posted by grouse at 9:23 AM on January 30, 2009

I'm a cartoonist and graphic artist and an amateur piano/guitar player who has done battle with both repetitive stress injuries and Dupuytrens disease affecting my hands. Oh, and a fair amount of weight lifting to boot. Yes, I agree that if you can you should seek some medical help. I've found hand therapists seem to know as much as the docs.

But if you're looking for a cheap quick hack to this, there was one thing that gave me pretty instant results. Go buy a brace that fits over your wrist and the back of the hand and keeps all of that aligned perfectly straight. Wear it as often as you can, but this is the important part, wear it while you sleep. I didn't realize how I contantly arced my hands around the pillow thus impinging the wrist joint. Just keeping that wrist staright solved a lot of my tingling/numbness kind of stuff.

Oh, and if you can, do any weight bearing exercise using a machine where you can keep the architecture of your wrist straight. Or do pushups on your fists for the same reason.

In short, keep that wrist tunnel open.

Good luck.
posted by lpsguy at 9:26 AM on January 30, 2009

Go buy a brace that fits over your wrist and the back of the hand and keeps all of that aligned perfectly straight.

Braces are frequently contraindicated for people with wrist injuries, and can make things worse. Don't do this without consulting a medical professional first.

The cheap fix is rest.
posted by grouse at 9:30 AM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

My toes get numb and white after I do burpees, and almost no other time. I'm pretty sure it's a circulation thing. I'm not sure if we have the same issue, but I plan on seeing a doctor about it, and I'd suggest you do the same.

In the meantime, stop the burpees asap and find an alternate exercise. Burpees are a great workout but they seem to have a lot of potential to mess up hands, wrists, and feet.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:37 AM on January 30, 2009

I'm not a doctor, but I am a musician who has had trouble with my hands.

I recommend you visit a doctor to make sure it's not something major. In my county, there's a free clinic for people with no insurance. A friend who was having weird hand symptoms went there, was referred to a specialist who also works through the clinic, and got treatment for very little money (I think it was under $100).

In the meantime, some things you might try:

1. Stop the burpees and anything else that might strain your wrists.
2. Cut back a lot on practicing.
3. Take ibuprofen. If the symptoms clearly improve with the ibuprofen, that might suggest your problem is local inflammation, which is less scary than some alternatives. But I am not a doctor.

I messed up a wrist by playing too much during the same weeks that I was splitting a lot of wood. Ibuprofen and rest helped. My symptom was sharp pain and some swelling, however. Numbness is a little scarier, which is why I recommend scouting out your local version of a free clinic. (A friend discovered she had MS when she had numbness in her hands and back after suddenly increasing the amount she exercised. I say this not to be an alarmist but to point out the need to see a doctor if the numbness continues.)

On preview: I would also avoid a splint until I knew what was going on. However, you might check how you sleep. I tended to fold my wrists in extreme ways and now make an effort to keep them in neutral positions as I fall asleep.
posted by PatoPata at 9:43 AM on January 30, 2009

Ok one thing for the record: I did the burpees once, the pain thing happened immediately after that. The numbness followed the pain and has been intermitent (mostly off) since then. I'm not doing the burpees. I just wasn't sure if the initial pain came from the burpees or from the practicing.
posted by sully75 at 9:44 AM on January 30, 2009

Rest (both getting your 8 hours of sleep, and laying off the exercise, practice, typing,etc), ibuprofen (400mg 3x a day is the max recommended, though a doc, which I am not, may prescribe more), ice.

Yeah that, and figure out how to see a doc to make sure it isn't something more than an injury, and try to find a really good massage or physical therapist.
posted by Good Brain at 9:55 AM on January 30, 2009

I had a pain in my right wrist once and I eventually I figured out that it was from a combination of weight-lifting and using my mouse. Starting up both caused the pain to return. I switched mouse hands for a couple of months, rested my arm for a week while icing and taking faily ibuprofen, and it went away and stayed away. I still use my computer and lift weights and haven't had any problems since.

Numbness, on the other hand, sounds like a different problem.
posted by creasy boy at 10:05 AM on January 30, 2009

The elbows-up thing in fiddling might be causing this problem. You might consider a good chiropractor instead of a medical doctor. The medico's first inclination will be to order an MRI, which will set you back megabucks. The chiropractor will be sensitive to your budget and can often figure out the problem by touch rather than expensive scans. In my experience for this kind of thing the chiro will do manipulation therapy, massage, perhaps ultrasound, and will recommend good stretches, excercises and ergonomics.
posted by beagle at 10:36 AM on January 30, 2009

I'm not sure what to do now regarding a doctor. I don't have insurance or a pcp.

Some ideas on this front:

See if there is a free clinic near you. Not necessarily ideal, but at least it will get you an initial visit.

Call doctors near you and ask if they have any programs for people who are uninsured. Some will make payment plans, some will be able to offer a discount (sometimes based on a financial screening to see if you qualify). if they need to refer you to a specialist, the referring dr's office might be able to communicate with the specialist regarding your lack of insurance and see if something can be worked out. The scheduler or office manager might know from past experience which docs in town are able to offer discounts, etc. Medical office staff can be really knowledgeable about how to help the uninsured. And if you get a dud on your first call, just try other offices.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 10:47 AM on January 30, 2009

Follow up: talked to a physical therapist friend of mine. He did a couple of tendonitis tests and said everything seemed to be ok. I started stretching a bit before practicing. Eventually I went back to doing the burpees and a lot more intense exercise. All seems to be good. Very occasionaly (like once every 2 weeks), I'll get something that seems like a sharp pain. I just take a break, stretch out and then move on and get back to what I was doing. Seems to be holding tight now for 2 months or so, no problems. Also had some violin lessons with a teacher who checked me out and said I wasn't doing anything stupid. I'm able to practice 3 or 4 hours with no pain. I think the exercise is actually helping a hands and arms were quite weak and I think made them succeptible to hurting.

I don't know, other than everything is working and feels good.
posted by sully75 at 12:27 PM on March 18, 2009

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