Dealing with Focal Dystonia: Resources for Bass Players
Q: In the last year or so, I’ve started having issues in my right hand. It seems somewhat random but I’ve had a few gigs we’re my ring and middle finger have completely curled into my hand, and it’s pretty scary. I think it may be Focal Dystonia. I’m wondering if you’ve ever heard about this. Maybe it’s something you could do a column about? There is a well known bass player on YouTube named Scott Devine that suffers from this.
A: First, let me express my condolences. As one who is aware of an impending neurological condition on my horizon, I understand how scary that prospect is.
Initially, I was going to write you back personally and try and help you to find some resources available to you. It then occurred to me that I get quite a few medical related questions here. My biggest concern when attempting to respond to inquiries like this is that I don’t want to be responsible for anyone’s decision-making processes when it comes to health and wellness (music wellness or otherwise). The best thing I can do is to try an point you in the direction of a medical professional. Typically, I’ll answer the more innocuous inquiries, but respond personally to the more specific or heavy questions and try to make the recommendation of a knowledgeable resource.
That is what I’m going to try and do here: Simply provide a list of potentially useful resources. I’ll also encourage you readers to chime in if you are aware of a medical professionals, organizations, or websites that may be of use to someone suffering any kind of playing related injury or illness. I would implore any of you who may have some playing related injury or malady to, at the very least, make an appointment with your general practitioner and at least get an informed opinion.
I have spent time hanging and playing with Scott Devine and, indeed, he also suffers from Focal Dystonia. He has moved through various phases with the disease and, for now, is able to mitigate it by wearing gloves. It’s pretty amazing… he showed me his hands as he tried to hold them still. Each finger wiggled independently of each other, in a completely random matter. He couldn’t hold them still or control the fine muscle movements. As soon as he touched anything to the tip or side of a finger, all movement stopped – total control all of the sudden. So the gloves help trick his brain and allow him to maintain control over his fingers. He understands the condition pretty well and it might be worth writing him an email through his website and asking if he has information on any specialists relating to Focal Dystonia. He’s a great guy and I’m sure that he’d be happy to shoot you any information that he has on hand.
Here is a list of resources for you:
Note: almost all of these sites also have a “resources” page. The rabbit hole runs deep. There is a lot of stuff out there. While much of it requires a class or subscription, there are just as many free resources available if you look.
- Musician’s Way: Wellness Resources: This is a nice site that is available to help musicians grow, learn and function in any number of ways. It’s kind of a companion to the book, The Musician’s Way, but it has a lot of good information whether you are working with the book or not.
- The Performing Arts Medicine Association website
- Musician’s Health: Not the prettiest website but there is a lot of good information in here.
- Janet Horvath’s “Playing Less Hurt” website: A resource and site that revolves around the book, “Playing Less Hurt”. I haven’t read the book yet but I’ve heard good things. Injury avoidance focused.
- Andover Educators’ Body Map Website: Learn about body mapping.
- Dr. Randall Kertz: I know Dr. Kertz and he is a resource often used by many musicians you know. He’s a fantastically knowledgeable person and is also a bassist and is quite focused on musician’s health and the unique ways in which we can hurt ourselves. He’s also written a great book called, The Bassist’s Guide to Injury Management, Prevention, and Better Health and a series here on No Treble.
- Hand disorders in musicians (PDF): A medical resource chocked full of other resources and references to research papers.
In general, as it pertains to medical issues and playing health: It goes without saying but be careful! Make sure you understand what is happening and what you can do to help mitigate it before you commit to any methods or techniques that could possible make things worse. I’m reminded of a friend who’s neck was absolutely killing her on the road and she mistakenly went to a chiropractor she didn’t know in whatever town she was in that day. He almost paralyzed her. He whipped her neck around and made the multiple slipped and bulging discs (the real problem she discovered) traumatically worse. She went straight to the hospital because she couldn’t handle the pain and it turns out that he actual spinal cord was now in danger and had emergency surgery. We all have a tendency to lock on to any appearance of a light in the dark, especially when we’re scared or in pain. Do some research, talk to some professionals, get some second opinions if you need to. Start taking steps now but make sure that each step you take is the best available to you because, misunderstanding any health issue can cause us to ‘treat’ ourselves improperly, potentially making things worse.
Readers, help us out if you have any information or online resources relating to this topic. Please share in the comments.