Q: I am a beginning piano player and have developed pain in my arms and forearms since I began taking lessons. I am practicing about 90 minutes per day since beginning a couple of months ago. Should I just take a few days off (that is what I dread doing since I am already addicted to learning to play). Or can I just put up with the discomfort and continue to practice without causing "permanent" injury? Should I begin a weight training or exercise program to help my arms heal?
A: There's much to discuss here about your new interest in piano playing. To start off with, what is your sitting posture like while you are playing? If you are too close due to reading and learning new music, you may be exerting strain upon the neck, shoulders, and arms. How are your arms situated? You may be extending (bending back) or flexing (bending forward) your wrists too much while hitting the keys. Another important factor is making sure you have enough light to read the music so you're not straining your eyes at the same time.
It is common for these tendonitis problems to pop up when you begin a new activity that involves a great deal of repetitive motion over a relatively short period of time. Think about this - you're going 90 minutes per day of using your fingertips to hit the keys. You probably have never done an activity such as that before. It is not a surprise your body is screaming at you. Just imagine if you started hammering nails 90 minutes per day for five weeks - you'd be hurting just as bad.
If you keep at the same schedule, most likely your arms will not have a chance to heal. In fact, if you keep up your schedule without changes, you are guaranteed a more serious problem developing. I wouldn't recommend weight training just yet because you're simply going to strain the already injured muscles. You need to start off by cutting down just a bit on your training schedule - not for a long time, just maybe a two or three weeks. Do 30 - 50 minutes per day instead of 90. Most importantly though, STRETCH your hands, forearms, arms, and shoulders before, during and after playing. If you are not aware of stretching routines, there plenty of books on the topic in your local bookstore. Do not play for more than 15 - 20 minutes at a time without a stretching and relaxation break.
Drink LOTS of water - your muscles are composed of 75% water. If they are dehydrated they will strain much more easily. Drink a 10 ounce glass of water every hour, starting now! You will urinate quite often, but it's worth the recuperative powers of the hydration. During every break, drink some water.
You can speed up the healing process a bit by seeking care from a chiropractor or massage therapist who specializes in myofascial release techniques. This will reduce the adhesions developing in your tissues due to the inflammatory process and allow the muscles to heal faster.