How I Overcame Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

It was 1996. I had just published my first solo album, ​Music From Many Places​, and played several concerts, including a two night stint at the Millennium Stage of the Kennedy Center for the Arts, in D.C. And then….my fingers and wrists were hurting and felt frozen. I realized that playing the piano was bringing on these symptoms, and I was afraid that my budding solo career had just gotten stopped dead in its tracks. I immediately cancelled the three or four concert bookings that were scheduled in the upcoming months. Instead of following through on perspective bookings, my first priority became dealing with this situation.

My first stop was to a surgeon, who, after trying a few other things, wound up having me take a nerve conduction test – an incredibly painful experience for me. Sure enough, when I went back to the surgeon – a super nice person, who was a real music enthusiast – he reported that the test showed I had severe carpal tunnel syndrome in both hands, and that the only option for me was to have surgery. I replied that I wasn’t ready to do that, and that I wanted to look around and see if there were any other approaches that I might try first. That was 24 years ago.

It turns out that there were all kinds of healing modalities claiming to improve carpal tunnel syndrome, and I tried quite a few of them. I bought into the idea that I had gotten CTS because I was not utilizing my body properly both at the piano and with other activities as well. It made sense to me that unless I changed the way I was using my hands and my body that, even if I had successful carpal tunnel surgery, I would wind up recreating the same problem.

I actually spent four or five years going to a variety of different practitioners. I first went for sessions with a chiropractor, then with a physical therapist, and then with an acupuncturist. These sessions were all helpful to some extent, but my CTS symptoms remained basically the same. I then learned about “body workers” of various kinds, and went to practitioners of Feldenkreis, Alexander Technique, Egoscue, and Rolfing. These were all excellent approaches, with talented practitioners, and by this time my carpal tunnel symptoms were minimal. But the fact is that when I went back to playing technically demanding piano pieces, my symptoms returned. I was able to play club dates and play piano for parties, but was unable to do any heavy lifting technically at the piano without carpal tunnel repercussions.

Finally, I discovered the Taubman Technique and the person who became my teacher for a number of years, Sheila Paige. Sheila, a classical pianist, had learned the techniques of healthy playing from her teacher, Dorothy Taubman, who had figured out how pianists could play even the most technically demanding piano pieces without taxing the body in any way. Sheila expanded on what became known as the Taubman Technique, and also incorporated some of the teachings of Feldenkreis, Alexander Technique, and Egoscue to form her Piano Wellness approach. In a future post, I will explain some of the features of Sheila Paige’s Piano Wellness, but suffice it to say that from my studies with Sheila, I was finally able to regain the ability to play technically demanding piano pieces without injuring my hands.

I am extremely grateful for the techniques I have learned that enable me to now function pianistically at the highest level of my performing career.

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