Theremin-induced bicep and forearm pain?

Posted: 12/10/2007 3:03:14 PM

From: Livingston, NJ

Joined: 7/14/2007

I have been playing a B3 (small model) theremin for a year, about five hours per week. A very ironic thing happenened a few weeks ago, and don't think me a hypochondriac. Someone wrote in a comment to a youtube video of mine and asked "don't my arms get tired?". I wrote back and said, "not really."

About a week ago, I started to notice a pain in my arm, and decided to lay off the theremin for awhile. At that same time, I tried doing many reps of curls with a small dumbbell (about 3 lbs). Since then it has felt much worse. My sister recommends Ibuprofen. Thomas Grillo and I were chatting last week and he recommended a visit to a doctor. My wife suggests a heating pad.

The pain manifests in my right inner mid-forearm (the pitch playing arm) and my right lower bicep. I tried playing (the theremin) last night and I had to stop after 25 minutes - painful. I also play the drums which I have played very recently and it does not hurt my arm. My arm also hurts when I use it do anything bearing weight, light work. It doesn't bother me at rest or typing (now).

As I say I am not a hypochondriac, nor "that" suggestible. This set in and the curls did grave damage, it seems. I play Hoffman-style with some attempt at aerial fingering. I will give this another week, and then be off to the doc. Any similar experiences or suggestions?

Posted: 12/10/2007 4:15:56 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

It is possible that your theremin playing is causing muscle pain.

As I recall, Peter Pringle highlights this in his DVD, and mentions there have been several instances. I strongly recommend getting it thoroughly better before you continue with [i]any[/i] suspect activities, and then trying different playing techniques and stances with an eye to which induces the least muscular tension.

I can only speak from personal experience - I'm not a doctor - but I find that keeping a straight back - army style; chest out, chin up - suits me best, and everything else kind of follows on from that. (I note that I have a neurological disorder that, amongst other things, makes me continuously [i]aware[/i] of muscle tension. So this is something I take seriously.)

Try not to look so worried though. :-)

I should add, having Googled "reps of curls" to find out what it meant, and watched some on youTube, I do think that's the more likely suspect.
Posted: 12/10/2007 4:33:11 PM

From: Livingston, NJ

Joined: 7/14/2007

Thanks Gordon!

I will paste in my happy face photo when things get better. :>)))

PS Pringle DVD coming for Xmas.
Posted: 12/10/2007 8:18:05 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005


I just watched your Bach video on YouTube.

You are seated with your right elbow resting on your knee. This means that you are attempting to do all your playing primarily by bending your wrist back. In fact, you are trying to do everything -- vibrato and notes -- with your wrist. You are probably hyperextending your wrist and this will cause you great pain.

First of all, STOP playing until you consult a physician about the pain.

Consider a technique wherein you do not place your elbow on your knee or an immovable object for support. Consider keeping your thumb and index finger together while playing to offer stability instead. Try a technique that doesn't require much flexing of the wrist.

May your arm heal quickly.

[i]-- Kevin[/i]
Posted: 12/10/2007 8:53:22 PM

From: Livingston, NJ

Joined: 7/14/2007

Thanks, Kevin. I appreciate everyone's support. Although I think I have more control now than I did in the Bach video from last February, it's true that I don't think twice about resting my elbow when I play (usually seated.) I can see now how it puts so much more on the wrist that the elbow could be sharing.

Along with a doctor's visit I have two things other things in the works that may help. An Etherwave. And a promise to learn the 4 and 9 postion methods of fingering. I've been watching some of Thomas G's work lately and he's got it going. But it looks extremely difficult. Ahhh, and it used to be such a pleasant, effortless way to pass the time... :)

I've always considered myself an intuitive player, but intuition can't fix hurt muscles and CAN lead you into bad places like this.

Posted: 12/11/2007 10:08:27 PM
Jeff S

From: N.E. Ohio

Joined: 2/14/2005

I just watched a couple of your videos and I have to agree with Kevin. The Hoffman style, especially as used for the Bach piece, does not look like a healthy or sustainable technique.

I think you already know the curls were not a good idea, especially since you were already experiencing pain. Not intended as an admonition....just stating the obvious.

I can completely relate however as I am forced to play with some discomfort as well. Mine largely stems from about fifteen years of intense use of a computer mouse (AutoCAD) for 40 plus hours a week. I can no longer use my right hand for that purpose for any extended period of time. In fact I went to a massotherepist for the first time yesterday in the hope of regaining some flexibility.

I cannot use any of the techniques that require large movements of the wrist without a great deal of discomfort, especially curled back in that manner.

I prefer the knuckle/finger extentions of Rockmore, Pringle, and Pamelia Kurstin. Even so, it does make my wrist ache a little simply from the tension caused by the vibrato. You can't cover a whole octave with just the hand, but you'd be surprised what you can do with the combination (hand and arm).

In fact, I'd venture you'd be able to play the B3 far more accurately that way since it appears to have a rather condensed range (at least the way you have it tuned in the videos).
Posted: 12/12/2007 1:21:06 AM

From: Livingston, NJ

Joined: 7/14/2007

Yes, I know it now about the curls - I had no idea they would be so counter-productive. Thanks. And take it easy. I should mention it's the thumbside of the forearm that hurts.

Posted: 12/12/2007 6:39:47 AM

From: Dublin, Ireland

Joined: 7/25/2007


I am a doctor, and I would strongly advise you to see (as well as your doctor) a good physiotherapist - especially one with experience in sports medicine, because the postural problems are similar to those of musicians. Physiotherapists, as well as treating the problem, will also teach you exercises to improve posture,and prevent recurrence.
Posted: 12/12/2007 7:32:25 AM

From: Blaricum, The Netherlands

Joined: 10/24/2007


You'll never stop impressing me.

Posted: 12/12/2007 7:52:09 PM

From: Livingston, NJ

Joined: 7/14/2007

Once again, thanks for the advice. I am hoping for a turnaround, but the doctor route *and physical therapist) seems inevitable.

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