The piano is a versatile instrument, and for that reason, incredibly popular. Virtually every musical genre can be played on the piano, so music fans flock to the instrument. Likewise, people young and old take up the piano as a hobby, and in some cases, a profession. Whether making money from it or simply playing for fun, the piano is one of the most well known instruments in the world.
As many older players know, the challenge to play piano without causing some sort of minor injury gets harder to avoid. As things like arthritis in the wrists, hands, and forearms develop in middle to late age ranges, piano can prove somewhat difficult to play.
The best way to implement a method of preventing hand fatigue is to ensure you’re following the crucial tips in this article for preventing hand, wrist, and forearm pain when playing piano.
What Pains are Associated with Piano?
It’s no surprise that injuries are prevalent in the lives of piano players. Not only do older players have to handle arthritis and joint pain, but younger players can suffer harm as well if not playing properly.
Can playing piano cause carpal tunnel syndrome? Yes it can.
Likewise, a number of other muscle and joint related injuries can occur from improper or excessive playing. These threats are greater for those who play for a significant amount of time.
The key to avoiding injuries in any activity is knowing which parts of the body are at risk. The key to any proper piano playing technique is always going to be playing in the correct position and posture. We’ll get to the tips for avoiding these injuries altogether below, but first, what areas are at risk for piano players?
The primary place that piano players feel pain and discomfort is their wrists. The wrists are in high performance mode for any style of piano playing, making them incredibly susceptible for wear and tear.
As time goes on, older men and women often report pain in their wrists. That’s because the joints in the wrist are incredibly delicate and tender. Given the amount of time we spend using our hands for things like typing, yard work, or other projects and hobbies, it’s no surprise the wrist is at risk.
For piano players, anything from playing basic chords to performing at a professional level is going to demand a lot from your wrists. When older players inquire about how to avoid piano injuries, they are more often than not concerned about wrist damage.
Short term injury is always a pain, but long term arthritis and discomfort in the wrists is of the utmost concern. If the pain in this area grows to severe, it can limit and even put an end to piano playing as an option for certain people.
The hand makes more contact with the piano than any other part of the body. The hands are always in high demand during even the most simple, straightforward songs and exercises.
Hand injury and pain is easy to come across, whether it be strain the hand itself or individual fingers feeling excess levels of stress and pull. As players advance in their learning of the instrument, improper technique can lead to the wrong hand and finger positioning for certain chords.
An early learning curve for new players is the ability to use both hands at the same time to play songs. With one hand doing one thing, and the other doing something completely unique, mentally focusing on the activity of each hand can be tough. As players improve hand independence, the risk for accidental injury goes down, but is still prevalent. If the hand is sore, and players continue to play through the discomfort, this can lead to serious pain in the short and long term.
Pain in the forearm is not always considered a threat to piano players, but it is very much a danger. From the strain put on the forearm to position the hands correctly, this essential part of proper piano technique can really start to feel the strain of long term playing.
With so much demand on the placement of every finger on each key, the forearm can sometimes get ignored in terms of proper technique. Things like forearm strain, and even long term arthritis, can plague piano players into struggling to perform even the most basic songs and practice regiments.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of focus on hands and wrists, but not much on forearms. What any piano teacher will tell you, however, is that the forearms cannot go ignored. Without giving them the proper care and preparation before playing the piano, small kinks and pains here and there can turn into long term issues.
Proper back posture is a big part of the early teachings of a new piano player. Kids especially need constant reminders to practice properly, including good posture and sitting up straight.
Spine issues are not limited just to piano players either. Instruments of nearly every grouping and style require a straight spine, relaxed but straight posture, and diligent dedicated to upholding this stature.
Most piano benches are backless for this very reason. Without a backrest, piano players are forced to develop a perfect posture. In the early days of playing, and as players age, the temptation to slump or lean a bit while playing grows stronger. Doing so can really make playing the piano a painstaking process.
The spine is delicate, and shapes to the way in which a person positions their back and shoulders. When slumping while playing piano, the spine starts to bend and curve in a way that can cause irreversible damage to the player. Not only does improper posture cause bad back pain, but it can also lead to improper technique in the other problem-areas mentioned above. For example, when slumped over the piano without a straight back, the forearm is improperly positioned, and can lead to the wrong technique for hand and wrist placement as well.
While we’ll be focusing on tips for preventing piano related injuries in the wrists, hands, and forearms, it all really depends on whether or not the back is properly postured.
Tips for Preventing Piano Related Injuries
So, we know that the risk of the hand, forearm, and wrist pose a problem for players. Especially for those who play piano with arthritis or other ailments, the experience can be tough on the body and mind. Here are the best ways to start building a scheduled regiment of proper care for these problem areas.
1. Don’t Ignore the Early Signs of Injury
It might sound silly, but it’s true: nobody knows your body and how it feels like you do. This means you know the ways in which your body usually feels when it is pain-free. Any sort of discomfort should not be ignored. When something feels out of the ordinary, don’t ignore it. Hopefully, the rest of the tips can help avoid you getting to this place. But, like any injury, the possibility of getting hurt in a minor or major way is always looming.
2. Do a Warm Up for Your Body Away from the Piano
You might be getting ready to play the piano, but you’ll need to warm yourself up before ever sitting down on the bench. A little workout routine can help warm the body up in its most essential areas needed for proper technique and posture. A few suggestions for workouts away from the piano include:
- Shoulder Raises - standing up straight and shrugging can help to loosen the neck, back, and shoulders before playing
- Arm and Wrist Circles - slowly and carefully, rotate your arms and wrists in one direction, and then the other, to ease the joints into the right preparation for playing
- Forearm Stretches - place both hands together in front of the chest with fingers pointed down, and stretch the forearm out. This also just so happens to stretch the hands and wrists too.
A small warm up for your body before ever sitting at the piano can help prepare your body to play in the safest, most effective way possible.
3. Sit and Properly Prepare
Check in on a few important things before starting to play. For starters, is the bench close enough to the piano? Is it too close? Either improper placement of the piano bench can put excess stress on the wrist, hand, and forearm. Likewise, sit for a minute or two and allow your spine to stretch to the seated position. Giving yourself the time to prepare properly without just diving into a practice exercise can help avoid injury.
4. Take Breaks and Don’t Get Too Repetitive
The body needs dynamic movement in order to stay limber. That includes your hands, wrists, and forearms. If a particular scale, exercise, or passage in a song is giving you trouble, don’t repeat the same stretch of notes over and over for too long.
Forcing your fingers to strive to hit the same notes, in a difficult practice nonetheless, can really lead to damage in your body. Even if you’re not particularly struggling with a song or scale too much, take breaks. A 5 minute breather to stand up and move a bit can give your arms and hands the break they need to avoid pain and injury.
Piano is a demanding instrument on the hands, wrists, and forearms. Each part is needed for proper playing, whether it be at the introductory level or the professional. Long term pain is associated most often with poor posture and technique, but as people age, they become more susceptible to injury. Arthritis and other joint issues are prevalent in nearly every physical activity enjoyed by people of a certain age, and that can make someone’s favorite hobby like playing piano a bit of a struggle.
Following these tips to preventing pain in the wrist, hand, and forearm should not be saved for older players. Any pianist should be implementing these routines into their regiment, and doing so can protect them from long term injury down the road. For piano players, nothing is more important than focus, and that doesn’t just mean on the instrument. Keeping your body’s needs and health in mind throughout every practice session and performance can help keep hand, wrist, and forearm pain away!