Can playing the piano cause arthritis?


Arthritis affects many people.  Over 350 million people worldwide suffer from this condition. If you’re concerned that playing the piano might lead to or directly cause arthritis, you’re not alone. 

While there is no definitive proof that playing the piano causes arthritis, many pianists who experience arthritis have noticed the pain manifests when playing the piano. This can easily discourage many from playing the piano ever again.

Symptoms and Causes

If you suspect you have arthritis, you may have any of the following symptoms:

  • Pain
  • Stiffness
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Decreased range of motion

There are two types of arthritis that causes damage to your joints in unique ways.

Osteoarthritis

This is the most common type of arthritis.  It causes cartilage loss in the joints, which can be very painful because that cartilage is used as a cushion between your bones.  Without that cartilage, it can cause the bones to grind down on each other which manifests itself with movement. This can occur over many years or because of injury.

Rheumatoid arthritis

This is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the joints.  It’s less common than Osteoarthritis, but just as painful. It tends to affect the tissues surrounding the joints which can affect not only the joints, but the ligaments, muscles, and tendons.  

Is it safe to continue playing the piano with arthritis?

If you’ve been diagnosed with arthritis, it doesn’t mean you have to stop playing the piano.  By simply adapting to the situation, you can continue playing by implementing a few changes.

Posture

Having a good posture can make a world of difference when it comes to managing pain. While the posture of your body doesn’t directly affect arthritis in your hands, it will help prevent neck and back pain when playing.  

Tips for good posture

  • A strong core can help with balance and posture.  Keeping your back straight will help prevent fatigue and allow you to play longer
  • When you sit at the piano, position the bench such so that your knees are slightly under the piano.  You will know you are sitting correctly when you can place your hands on the keyboard and your wrists and elbows line up in a straight line.
  • Avoid playing when tired.  I’ve often played late into the evenings and that’s when I notice my posture starts to slack the most.  Get some rest and try playing when your body is ready.
  • RELAX! It’s important to not be stiff.  Remember to breathe when you play.  

I know it can be hard to remember posture when playing.  After all, you’re using all 10 fingers to play different notes while following the sheet music and using the pedals to make beautiful music. 

It requires a lot of brain power to play well, don’t forget the importance of posture!

Hand/Finger Position

This is probably the most important because it directly affects the joints in your hands.

When you place your hands on the keyboard, keep your wrists relaxed but straight. The wrists should be flexible enough to keep the movement from chord to chord smooth.

Your fingers should sit on the keys in a curved position. By doing this, the weight of your arms and wrists are able to play the notes by allowing gravity to do the work. This will ease the tension in the joints of your fingers as you play.

Slow down

You may not be able to play as you used to. You might want to set the ragtime music aside for a few weeks until you can train your fingers to play with this ailment.

Avoid music that requires quick movements and large reaches. Playing too fast can cause severe pain because you might compromise your posture and hand/finger position.

You’ll want to stick to music that you’d imagine you would hear at your grandma’s church. Music that is made mostly of chords is your best friend. Avoid music that has long runs that require lots of dexterity.

As you practice, you should be able to graduate to more advanced stuff, but listen to your body so you don’t overdo it.

Stretch

Stretching your hands and fingers can have an enormous impact on helping you play the piano pain free. While these stretches are good to do before playing the piano, if you experience arthritis, you may want to do these stretches several times per day anyway. You might even want to invest in this hand strengthener tool which can help immensely to reduce pain caused by arthritis and to help get you back on the piano quicker.

Five best hand stretches

  • Make a fist – First extend your fingers and slowly make a fist. Don’t squeeze too much. Hold it for a few seconds, release, extend your fingers, and repeat.
  • Bend fingers – Bend each finger down individually and holding for a few seconds before releasing and moving to the next finger.
  • Spread fingers – Pretend you are trying to play a large chord on the piano. Spread your fingers and reach slowly before easing the tension and repeating.
  • Stretch wrist – This one will help with the movement in your wrist. Hold your one hand (palm up) out in front of you with your arm extended. With your other hand, guide the fingers down so you feel the stretch on the inside of your wrist. Alternatively, you can also stretch the opposite way so you stretch the outside of your wrist.
  • Squeeze Stress Ball – A stress ball can be handy to have around. They are a dime a dozen and can help your arthritis significantly. Squeeze the ball and hold the squeeze for 10 seconds. Release and repeat.

Remember you can still get hurt from stretching. Always go slow, and listen to your body. Stop if you feel any pain.

Can playing the piano actually help manage my arthritis?

The short answer is YES! While playing the piano can’t cure arthritis, it can definitely help you manage your pain.

Moving your fingers is the key to relief. That’s why we stretch. Playing the piano can be a form of stretching. That’s one reason we start slow. You’ll never want to play faster than you are able.

While playing the piano can help manage the pain from arthritis, this is only the case when you have the correct posture, and there are no jerky movements. Slow and steady is key.

You’ve heard of the phrase “Practice makes perfect”. Well I’m here to tell you that is a bunch of baloney. Practice does not make perfect. If you practice the wrong way, you will never attain perfection. Having bad posture and movement will never help your arthritis.

The phrase I want you to remember is “Perfect practice makes perfect”. You need to perfect your stretches and posture in order to attain relief. Following these steps will help.

Conclusion

You should not worry about developing arthritis from the piano as arthritis is mostly caused due to injury, inheritance, or infection.

In fact, playing the piano can help manage your pain if done correctly.

Disclaimer: Please remember that this article is not intended to diagnose any disease or ailment. Please consult a doctor if you have any questions or concerns.

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