Finger arthritis and piano playing
Pianohawk posted:
I have significant deterioration of first (closest to finger tip) knuckle joints in both my "pinkie" fingers; both at times develop what I've been told are synovial cysts, little blister-like growths on the skin surface between nail and knuckle. I also have been and would like to remain an active pianist. Problem: it is extremely painful in the joint when I really have to put pressure on either of these digits. Seems like wrapping them fairly tightly in tape or band-aids helps, so I wonder if there are support devices made for knuckles that would safely provide pressure/protection for the finger, but not be ungainly, i.e., not interfere with playing, or injure the keys of the instrument. I don't like the pain and worse, don't want to injure myself somehow. My late father had similar problems and ended up with the ends of his pinkie-fingers just sort of floating -- not frozen, but joints effectively "gone." Other suggestions would be welcome as well.
churchpianist responded:
I have exactly the same situation with the pinkie of my right hand, and also another joint on the middle finger. I am 59 and have played the piano for 47 years. I have been a church pianist for 26 years and teach piano at a school of music A few days ago, I went to a well-reputed Orthopedic Clinic in our area and the doctor put a shot of cortisone into the pinkie joint. I was so hopeful that would work, but 5 days later, it is still the same - maybe worse. The doctor said no cartilage is left - it's just "bone on bone." The same deterioration is happening to my middle finger as well. The osteoarthritis is painful when I play. The pinkie became damaged through playing octaves so much in church accompaniment music. Meds and supplements that used to help my osteo no longer do. I am deeply saddened to think I will have to give up public performance of piano after all these years, especially since I serve my church. My husband and I tried to devise a taping system or splint for my worse finger, but can't seem to come up with anything. I found another site talking about finger splints, but they are not useful for musicians because they hinder mobility. My doc said they don't do joint replacements on musicians, because they never get the needed mobility back. I am now wondering about a joint fusion and if it would help. Does anyone have a solution for pianists whose fingers, through wear and tear, have developed osteoarthritis? Playing the piano with deteriorating joints is very painful. I also play the organ and might be able to continue that, as there is not much pressure needed, however the joints have to twist in order to make the music sound smooth, since there is no sustain pedal on an organ, as on a piano to connect sounds. This twisting of the joints can't be a good idea either. I am heartsick over giving up my job at church. I might be able to play an occasional offertory, but no more accompanying the choir and orchestra, playing for weekly rehearsals, 3 services, etc.
churchpianist replied to churchpianist's response:
I think I found a solution! I cut some non-stick gauze into 1"x4" strips and wrapped it around my pinky with the bad joint. I put 2 thick, flat toothpicks (broken into 1" pieces) on the side of my finger, and then had my husband help me wrap a bandaid tightly around the whole thing. I just practiced my church music for tomorrow, and if I don't play too hard (forte), I can use the pinky, but I am sparing it and trying to use just the 4 fingers. I once saw a youtube video of a young lady born with 2 fingers on each hand. She plays concerts (and not pity concerts), so if she can manage that, I think I can figure out a way to play acceptably. I have to be very careful with octaves, especially on choir music accompaniment, knowing that this joint has no cartilage and I have another bad finger as well. Someone really should come up with nice finger supports for us pianists with osteoarthritis!
Caprice_WebMD_Staff replied to churchpianist's response:
That's great that you found at least a temporary solution, Churchpianist, and thank you for sharing it here!
We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us. ~Joseph Campbell
Pianohawk replied to Caprice_WebMD_Staff's response:
I will give a shot to the amateur engineered splint.Band-aids have worked reasonably fine for me, but perhaps I am not as deteriorated as you, or others, may be (not quite bone-on-bone as yet). My preferred instrument /music to play is my Steinway grand /classical, which does require pressure for dynamics. I also play in a local jazz band, and bought a Yamaha 88-key keyboard that is [sort-of> touch sensitive. Comping in a jazz setting is not quite Chopin, but I find that the electronic instrument does not tax my fingers nearly so greatly (or reward my musical satisfaction). Guess we go with what the Lord provides! Good luck to all in similar circumstances!
churchpianist replied to Pianohawk's response:
I just found an even better solution for playing the piano despite my right pinkie having no cartilage (osteoarthritis). Yesteday I bought 2 kinds of tape at Wal-Mart in the bandaid aisle. One is flesh colored and slightly spongy. The other is white athletic tape. I put non-stick gauze around my finger first, then wrap the spongy sticky tape around a few times, then wrap the whole with white athletic sticky tape. This morning I played the Yamaha grand piano at church with minimal pain - I try not to play forte anymore with my RH pinkie if I can avoid it. I try to adapt my playing to using just the 4 other fingers - when at all possible. At the piano school where I teach, I use a Yamaha Clavinova digital, and at home I have a Roland KR-107, which I chose because of the light touch of the keys, since I also have fibromyalgia So far, so good! I have another finger going, so might need to start wrapping that one too. But caution: Don't wrap so tight that it cuts off circulation to the tip of the finger. I dearly miss the flexible action of my pinkie, but at least I can keep playing without excruciating pain.
Pianohawk replied to churchpianist's response:
How inventive we are! Tape and fingering changes. I guess if we want to keep playing we figure out a way. Unfortunately, I never learned other instruments. Recently read of an device called a "melodica" -- a keyboard with a tube to blow through. Sounds like a harmonica in tone, but you can play a melody instead of the typical reed-chord of a harmonica (henc the name, I presume). It has no touch sensitivity - volume controlled with air, but more advanced models can be connected to an amplifier. In the amateur jazz band I play in, this might give me relief as the fingers age. I assume I have more money than cartilage! Also, in my fantasies, I might suddenly have the revenge of the background player by siezing the melody.
churchpianist replied to Pianohawk's response:
I just bought a bottle of Synthovial 7 (hyaluronic acid) - a joint moisturizer. Took first dropperful this morning. Will give it a 30 day try. Of course, without any cartilage in right pinkie, there is nothing left to moisturize, but perhaps S7 will save some of the other fingers. Playing the piano is my livelihood, so I have to pull out all the stops to stay functional.
nuttynana46 replied to churchpianist's response:
I have /had been a church organist since I was 12. My fingers don't hurt when I play either organ or piano, but when I do hand sewing for any length of time it is extremely painful after awhile. Also osteo./fibromyalgia are extra painful when I play. I have huge knuckles and inter-diget swelling. A-535 rub (odorless) can be very helpful for the "after sewing pain" I also gave up playing in church, with great heartache that I am considering returning to "tthe bench" even if I have pain from it for a few days.
Blessings to you as you sort out the joy/cost of this talent.
nuttynana46 replied to Caprice_WebMD_Staff's response:
an easy thing to say, but difficult to do!!
Caprice_WebMD_Staff replied to nuttynana46's response:
Hi Nuttynana,

You're referring to my signature line/quote? Yep, I agree. I had to learn this myself and it's an ongoing lesson.
We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us. ~Joseph Campbell
bonnieh123 replied to churchpianist's response:
Hi - I am 69 years old and have been developing nodules on my 1st and 2nd joints of all my fingers for years. I now play tennis daily and about a month ago I experienced great pain in my index finger of the hand I hold the racket with. I have found tape that helps alot. It is called "Nexcare - Absolute Waterproof tape". It is stretchy so you can make it as tight as you want, yet it is flexable. You can buy it in the supermarket. Hope it helps.
Michael66049 replied to bonnieh123's response:
Until I hurt my back 22 years ago, I played a church organ (I can no longer play the pedals, so I had to give it up). I found it easier, with my arthritic hands, to play an electronically-controlled organ vs. the tracker type I played in college, on which the more stops one engaged the more effort it took the press the keys and the pedals. People with small hands must have more difficulty than those with normal or large hands. All of the wrapping solutions above seem good to me. Recently I had heat applied to my arthritic shoulder, which felt great. We may try ice too. They both work at different times or in different environments.
An_247995 replied to Michael66049's response:
Pianists arthritis - try this strapping technique for sore joints.
I'm a 50 year old female professional classical pianist. I accidentally flipped back my left hand little finger joint (closest to the nail) a couple of years ago. Xrays a year later showed the joint had osteoarthritis. All my other joints are fine. I've now learnt a finger joint dislocation can lead to arthritis.

I experimented with bandaids and other tapes which were useless, they were not rigid enough to keep the finger from going sideways.

The best one and cheapest I've used is: Elastoplast Sport Rigid Strapping Tape. 38mm (1.5 inches) width [Australia only $10 and the roll of tape lasts me half a year>. You need a small pair of pointed scissors (sewing scissors - $2 from a discount shop), almost sharp but not a sharp point that it will spear you, but not too rounded like school kids scissors either, as you need to insert the scissors under the tape to cut 3 layers of the tape away after finishing piano playing. (Profile of the metal scissors must be thinnish and not chunky, maybe nail cutting scissors might do the job)

Get a box cutter knife and cut a quarter inch into the tape to make it half width, 19mm wide (6/8 inch). Cut off 11cm - 12 cm (4.5 to 5 inches). As the fingertip is slightly conical shape, Start tape on the underside of the finger, gentley shape the tape into the finger joint groove and roll in an outwards direction from the finger - do not pull on the fabric tape, you don't want to apply tape tension and strangle the poor finger (!), so stick it gentley without pulling it tight. Stick only 1/4 inch, then use the scissors to cut tape halfway down from the nail end to the middle, so the tap can wrap around the conical tip and the joint is being supported. Continue making small snips in the tape from the nail end down to the centre, to accommodate the conical finger shape.

After a few weeks of practice, I had the taping, cutting, snipping and wrapping down to an art. At first, I wrapped it too tightly which restricted blood flow to the fingertip. As you get use to doing this, you learn to not pull on the tape, otherwise the finger feels strangled! This keeps my little finger straight and it doesn't go sideways - sideways movement of the joint is what makes it hurt a lot.
After I finish playing piano, or washing dishes, or doing chores, I carefully insert my sewing scissors, and snip away from the hand towards the nail part of the finger. When I pull the tape off, I am careful to grasp the tape, and pull the whole width of the tape, very very slowly going towards the thumb, release, and regrasp close to the joint - keep doing this a little at a time, regrasping close to the joint, and try not to move the joint sideways. If I don't strap my little finger, the joint gets stressed and hurts for a few days, so I aways carry my tape and scissors in my piano bag, and to protect it from bumps when I go for a body massage, as the masseurs sometimes move the arm around and bang the hand on the table.

I also strap the finger if doing household chores to avoid the joint getting bumped or pulled or pushed. For chores I strap the joint, and wear cotton gloves underneath rubber gloves. This provides a good shock absorption. When I drive, I wear cotton, polyester or knitted gloves to avoid the joint rubbing on the hard surface of the steering wheel. Let me know how you go with my method of strapping.
My joint is not severe arthritis, so you have to be careful that you can get the tape off without pulling on the joint, or cutting your skin. I've been strapping for more than a year, and haven't cut my finger with the scissors. I nearly did with a sharp pointy pair of sewing scissors so NEVER use sharp point scissors, so I use the ones with slightly rounded or flat tip. You can't use chunky scissors either.
Melody_Vine replied to An_247995's response:
I'm 43 years old and developed osteoarthritis in almost all my fingers by playing a lot of piano as a piano and singing teacher, and also I was a data entry clerk for 10 years - a great deal of typing as fast as you can all day every day. I too tape my fingers to play or to type, it helps very much, I also like to put Tiger Balm on my fingers at night and then sleep with socks on my hands so it doesn't get all over the sheets.

I went to see a naturopath who is also a homeopath and a chiropractor - this visit cost $323.00 for a thorough consultation. Advice I've received from him and from other sources:

Quit gluten, all durham wheat products - I know two people who say this eliminated all swelling and joint sensitivity in their hands so I'm giving that a shot, supposedly it takes a month to see results - will report back in three more weeks. It's not as hard as you'd think, there are a lot of gluten free products in the better grocery stores including breads, pastas, cereals, double dark chocolate muffins, cookies and such.

Osteo-biflex Energy Formula, you can find it reasonably priced at studies show that this combination of ingredients reduces pain and swelling in about a week, and takes about three months to really kick in. Over time it will help rebuild cartilage.

Sierrasil is a mineral supplement clinically proven to relieve osteoarthritis symptoms and rebuild cartilage, you can read about it on wikipedia. You can find a store that carries it near you by visiting their website.

Foods to avoid or minimize according to the naturopath: wheat and barley, alcohol, sugar, turkey (btw, it so happens that my hands flared up Dec 27, and the above is my entire month of December!)

Foods that may help: milk, eggs, oats, green veggies, strawberries exercise and fresh air