Aristotle called the human hand an "instrument of instruments." (Granted, this was also a guy who thought that fish came from leaves that had fallen in the river.) But our dual digitoriums each have forty muscles, making them the Grand Central Station of flex. Over the last fifteen years the rates of carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, wrist-feely-baddy, and that piercing pain in your palm have skyrocketed, leaving our more learned population to wonder: Have there always been repetitive strain problems and we're only now talking about them? Or is this some horrible time-release evolutionary blip in which all of our hands were set to deteriorate on or about the end of the second millennium -- nicely coinciding with the computer revolution?
Short answer: old typewriters were a bitch -- slow, clunky, and you had to pick up your hand at the end of each line and whack the return handle, breaking up the motion. Like most bitches, they might not have worked as fast as your pimp ass wanted, but they always delivered a dividend, and injuries were much rarer. Now we hardly need move our fingers a centimeter. Anyone who's played piano or guitar for many years, however, or done needlework like knitting or crochet -- or built tiny sailing ships in bottles -- can attest to having repetitive strain injuries long before it was hip.
Without knowing the actual math (actually, knowing the math but being too, shall we say, right-brained to understand it), one can safely say that the number of youngsters picking up guitars and learning to play them has grown considerably since the '60s. That means far more people have been doing specialized, contained, and rapid movements with those forty muscles since they were twelve. And that's just masturbation. Imagine adding guitar playing to that mix. Now factor in that the kid probably sits on his bed hunched over the instrument for hours -- and onstage the kid will probably sling it real low (someone who wears a guitar in the ergonomically correct fashion looks like a total dorkwad) -- and you've got a recipe for years of chiropractic care.
Doctor Timothy Jameson wants to be that musiskeletal chef. His Castro Valley chiropractic practice caters to musicians of all breeds, from classical to choir to rock -- Christian rock, to be exact, having offered his backstage services to many a faith-based fest. He takes a holistic approach to healing, with creative visualizations and almost no Western (drug-based) medicine. For a Christian, he sounds a little pagan. "Actually," he points out, "it's a myth that anything that is not medical is paganistic. It's really the exact opposite. Medicine came out of pagan rituals." For him, the Christian approach is to combine mind, body, and spirit, which is actually the basis of chiropractic anyway. Most people associate chiropractors with back injuries (and neck-brace wielding courtroom hacks) but they actually concern themselves with restoring the body's natural conduits, the central nervous system. "It's working with the body without drugs or surgery," says the rock doc. "Freeing the interferences between brain and body."
Jameson is a musician himself -- guitar and piano -- and realized that it probably takes a musician to heal a musician. "If someone says they have a V-shaped guitar with eleven strings and they are feeling pressure on the twelfth fret, I know exactly what they are talking about," he says. In other words, Yngwie Malmsteen, he's got you covered. Jameson has started a Web site, Musicianshealth.com, a hub of chiropractors around the country who work with musical artists, so you can find a chiropractor when you're on tour. It also warns of some of the pitfalls of live performing: sun exposure, noise, and the effects of dry ice.
His suggestions for musicians? Do some hand- and arm-stretches before you play, hold yourself correctly, and no drugs. No drugs!? "The days of sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll are over," Jameson says matter-of-factly. He obviously didn't catch Turbonegro two weeks ago, but to be fair, he's referring more to "professional" musicians like symphony players, session workers, cover bands, and good clean Christian rockers. The fact is, carpal tunnel is probably the least of your problems if you're sixteen and playing in a band called Goat Porker. But then again, those kids don't have proper parental guidance when it comes to taking care of their joints -- in any sense of the word -- unlike the twelve-year-old piano prodigy who fell under Jameson's care, practiced to death by her stage parents, and had lost total function in both hands. He nursed her back to normal in about three months, in which time she may even have discovered that there were other children her age playing outside.
For those players who have slowly injured themselves over the years, it's a devastating blow to realize they're damaged irreversibly and can no longer play like they used to. With this in mind, it's a good idea to learn how to do it properly from the start, and hope your technique will grow out of that. Jameson regularly sees kids who are just learning to play. As for older people who are having problems that need to be corrected, in true Christian fashion, he's happy to oblige, stressing that it's really God that does the healing, he's merely an instrument. An instrument for your instruments' instruments.
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