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String Musicians Fretting Over Carpal Tunnel

MusicianCarpalTunnelCarpal tunnel syndrome is a work-related risk for string musicians. The technical explanation of median nerve inflammation as a result of repetitive stress is of little consolation to the virtuosic guitarist who must use his fingers to eat or the orchestral violinist who needs to feel the strings beneath the fingers to execute the meanings she seeks to convey. Often when anti-inflammatories prove ineffective, the muse is silenced to the detriment of us all. There is hope, however.

Chinese medicine can treat carpal tunnel. How acupuncture works is intimately tied to why it works, which is based upon an energy system devised over 2000 years ago. This system has no Western analog, though research findings have been robust enough to have the World Health Organization designate acupuncture effective in treating over 30 conditions, carpal tunnel among them.

Musicians who receive acupuncture can expect to feel 30% to 70% relief after their first session, which can make a big difference when suffering from weakness so extreme that holding the bow becomes painful. With three treatments, the passionate cellist should definitely see the benefits of treatment by reduction of pain medication and increased range of motion.          

As an approach that invariably affects the whole body, acupuncture is like the tuning fork. Bringing the body back into pitch requires the external impulse of a sounded fork, but the body as instrument must also be true. Exercises help enhance the benefits of acupuncture and prevent future injury. Just how fast one gets cured really depends on the severity, duration, and specifics of each individual.

Talented individuals who rely upon the dexterity of their fingers and the lubricity of wrists and elbows are right to be nervous about needles in very sensitive parts of the body. Such caution should be doubly applied before considering surgery, where the trauma and risks are far greater. Still, when looking for assistance from one who practices acupuncture, just ask whether they needle locally. Non-local methods are not only far less risky, they are often much more effective and consistent with the teachings of the classical Chinese medicine texts.

Carpal tunnel can be an intractable condition ruining the string musician’s career, but it doesn’t have to. Acupuncture can help bring relief in as early as the first session. Overall, Chinese medicine can help restore function, reduce reliance on dangerous medications, and prevent relapses.  Some non-local (i.e, not at the sore spot) approaches to acupuncture are very effective in producing quick and lasting relief, while protecting already sensitive nerves. It’s a good idea to ask your acupuncturist about his or her style.

Yang-chu Higgins, LAc, EFT-Adv is a musician’s clinician. Located in Los Angeles, he specializes in using non-local acupuncture techniques and Alexander Technique-based exercises to restore balance at affordable rates that work for under-insured musicians. More info at