Wellness Wednesday by Bailey Firszt

Welcome to Wellness Wednesday! We decided to make wellness a main focus of this blog because we have seen many times here at Rice that musicians don’t focus on their own personal health until it is seriously threatened. Staying physically (and mentally and emotionally) well is absolutely essential to our success as musicians—just as essential as practicing!

I’ll start by saying that I am NOT a doctor, a psychologist, or a physical therapist, and I am certainly not qualified to give you medical advice of any kind. However, I can share my experience with debilitating injury and successful recovery: why it happened, how I coped with it, what worked to get me better, and what didn’t. I hope my story can encourage you to focus on your own physical wellbeing and empower you with knowledge you need to play without pain.

I got injured in 2010, during my sophomore year at Rice, but in retrospect, my injury was a long time coming. I started taking the viola seriously while I was in high school, and I experienced some extreme pain while playing but never thought much of it. Sometimes when I practiced, the base of my neck would go completely numb. Other times, usually during orchestra rehearsals, I would have severe back pain; once I was literally crying during a concert because I was in so much pain. It is obvious to me, and probably to all of you, that those were very serious warning signs that something was amiss; and yet, I thought it was all part of the experience. It made me miserable, but I just dealt with it and plowed on. When I got to Rice, Ivo and I worked a lot on set-up and posture, and by the time my sophomore year came around, I was in less pain than ever—relatively speaking. I would still get exhausted in orchestra and have constant knots in my neck and shoulders. (Some of you can probably relate to going to get a massage and hearing the massage therapist say, “What have you been DOING?!”) However, nothing I felt at the time made me suspect that I was about to be hit with constant, debilitating pain that kept me from playing for almost two years.

My pain started one October evening during technique class. I stood up to play a scale, and when I sat back down I noticed a funny burning feeling in both my forearms. Technique class was on a Tuesday, and by Friday the burning hadn’t gone away. By the following week, it was clear to me that I was not going to be playing until the pain went away. I had to back out of my quartet (one week away from our performance), and our orchestra conductor had to find a different violist to take my spot in the section. I essentially didn’t play for the rest of the school year. I had weekly lessons with Ivo, but I could do little more than play open strings for a few minutes. That year is a blur of physical therapy appointments, tears, and frustration. I had no idea what was wrong with my body, and it seemed that no one else did either.

Fast forward three years to September 2013. Today, I consider myself fully recovered, with a greater knowledge of how my body works, a much improved technique, and a sense of musicianship and creativity that I did not have before. All of these things came out of being injured, and for that reason I can honestly say that my injury is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. However, it took almost three years of physical, mental, and emotional struggle to get me to this point, and with the knowledge I’ve gained I would like to empower our readers to learn about their bodies, improve their technique, and become better musicians—without having to go through heartbreaking injury. It will take many more blog posts for me to share everything I’ve learned, so for now I’ll end by saying that there is hope for those of you who struggle with physical pain due to playing. I would love to hear about your experiences with injury prevention and recovery, and I can’t wait to share mine. Until next time: stay well!

– Bailey Firszt

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