More Info: Musician’s Dystonias

Professional musicians are susceptible to a variety of specific occupational injuries. One disorder to which musicians are susceptible is task-specific focal dystonia.

Hand dystonia and embouchure dystonia (which affects the mouth, cheeks, jaw, and tongue) are the types of dystonia most often diagnosed in musicians. Playing the instrument triggers the muscle spasms. The spasms are not usually present at rest.

Musicians may perceive the early symptoms of dystonia as the result of faulty technique or lack of sufficient preparation. By definition, musician's dystonia is almost always focal and does not spread to affect additional parts of the body.

Musicians With Dystonia (MWD) is a program of the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation implemented to acknowledge the unique challenges facing affected musicians.

Symptoms
Musicians may perceive the early symptoms of dystonia as the result of faulty technique or lack of sufficient preparation. Therefore, many musicians intensify rehearsal and practice sessions and do not seek medical help until the condition is quite pronounced.

The first signs of dystonia are lapses in the usually instinctive ability to perform on the instrument. These lapses may show up in technical passages, formerly not problematic, which become resistant. With brass players, they may start in one register.

Over the course of three to six months, the performance problems become progressively worse. Increasing practice or taking time off does not help, and there is usually no pain associated with dystonia. Playing the instrument triggers the muscle spasms. The spasms are not usually present at rest.

Pianists usually are affected in the right hand, and the spasms may cause the fingers to contract and curl under when attempting to play. String players are typically affected in their left hands, and dystonia has been detected in guitarists and percussionists in either hand. Woodwind players can develop dystonia in their embouchure or hands. Brass players are usually afflicted in the corners of the mouth and the jaw.

Dystonia is task-specific to playing the instrument and does not usually spread to other activities. Since dystonia is a neurological disorder, massage therapy, acupuncture, and other methods of muscle function therapy do not usually provide significant relief, but these practices may benefit a person's overall well being. A visit to a neurologist who is a specialist in movement disorders is strongly recommended.

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