Tendonitis: Cause, Treatment, and Recovery (Drummers and Percussionists Guide)

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Intro: Vibrations From Drumming Can cause Injury

It is a well know fact that discusses how the vibrations created when drumming can actually cause injuries.

It states, “continuous exposure to vibration has been shown to cause a variety of health problems such as back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and vascular disorders. Vibration exposure can be divided into whole-body vibration or hand and arm vibration. Both can result from various sources, affect different areas of the body, and produce a number of symptoms.”

Further, “[a vibration injury] is a direct result of the continuous repetitive motion of the hand and wrist involved in drumming, in addition to the constant vibration that is transferred from the stick to the hand. Whole-body vibration occurs when vibration is transmitted to the entire body through the seat, from the feet, or a combination of the two. This potentially can occur when [drummers] stand on vibrating floors or sit on a vibrating seat.”

Being exposed to vibrations in an improper way for a long period of time can cause tendonitis, back pain, decreased grip strength, lessened dexterity in the hands or feet, carpal tunnel syndrome, and vascular injury.

One of the best ways to prevent these drumming injuries as a result of vibration is to stay loose and relaxed when you play. If you grip the drum stick extremely tight your hands are not given any room to absorb the shock and the vibrations go straight to your tendons and bones. If you stay fairly relax and loose when holding the drum stick while you play, your hands, arms, and shoulders will be able to evenly distribute the shock and reduce the impact of the vibrations.

Another method that helps heavy hitter drummers is to wear drum gloves. Drum gloves provide an extra layer between your stick and your hand so that the drum gloves take a good portion of the vibrations created from the sticks away from your hands.

As always, be aware of the movements you create when drumming and the way your body is absorbing the shock. Make the proper adjustments to your technique in order to stay as loose and relaxed as possible when playing to avoid these drumming injuries.

What is Tendonitis

It is likely that you have heard the term “tendinitis” before even if you have never experienced it. The reason for this is that tendonitis is a condition that is unfortunately far too common in the drum and percussion community. It is a totally preventable condition but still manages to haunt drummers of all ages and genres.

So what is this condition and how do you prevent it? To understand what tendonitis is, you must first understand what tendons are and how they help you drum.

Tendons are bands of tough fibrous connective tissue that connect muscle to bone. When tendons act in a normal setting, they move smoothly and allow our muscles to move our bones at a very efficient rate.

Now that you understand the function of your tendons, it is very apparent that their role is simple but absolutely crucial for drumming. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to move our fingers and wrists let alone our hands and feet! When the smooth and natural movement of the tendons is impaired and spoiled, the tendons start to become irritated and inflamed. These irritated and inflamed tendons are what we call tendonitis.

Symptoms

We defined what tendonitis is and what causes it.

Now, we will look at four common symptoms, in order to teach all of you drummers and percussionists how to identify and diagnose the condition.

It's symptoms can vary anywhere from a mild scratchy pain to a severe sharp pain. The worse the case of it, the sharper the pain will tend to be. By the time the pain becomes a consistent sharp pain, it will take you a decent amount of time without drumming to recover. However, if you catch it in early stages, it can heal fairly quickly.

Here is a list of symptoms for drummers and percussionists to look for:

1. It is painful for you to move a certain joint or limb under pressure. If you have tension and pressure built up on the tendons when you drum they will start to become irritated and painful.

2. When touched or moved, the affected area is in pain. If you have tendonitis in your wrist it will certainly be painful when you drum. An indicator to determine how severe the injury is to see if the pain continues when the tendons are not moving.

3. Movement of the affected area is restricted. Drummers may find it difficult and painful to move the affected area for simple tasks other than drumming.

4. The affected area has a burning feeling. This burning feeling can also coincide with the “scratchy” feeling and is often experienced after a session of drumming.

The most common locations for tendonitis to appear in drummers are in the wrists, elbows, shoulders, and knees. If you experience any type of pain discussed above in one of those locations be sure to consult your doctor as soon as possible. The earlier you diagnose and treat it, the sooner you will be able to drum injury free again!

Treatment

The best treatment is a combination of time and rest. The condition is a result of stressing out the tendons and causing them to become inflamed and swollen. Therefore, it is necessary to use the affected area as little as possible for a couple of weeks so that the affected area can heal. Allowing the affected area to rest will allow the swelling of the tendons to reduce and return to normal.

As a drummer or percussionist, you may not want to take a couple weeks off of drumming. I completely understand. However, you need to realize that if you don’t give the affected area enough time to heal you will only make the condition more severe and last for a longer period of time.

Depending on the severity of the condition, and given the proper care, it should go away within two to four weeks. This is why it is important to diagnose and treat it as early as possible for drummers and percussionists. If you catch it early it may only take a couple of days for the swelling to go down. On the other hand, if you ignore it and keep drumming with the affected area you could end up needing four or more weeks to recover!

If you cheat the recovery time and start drumming too soon you also run the risk of the tendonitis flaring up again. Be sure that when you are treating it you allow a couple extra days of minimal uses to ensure that the condition will not surface again.

Procedures

Stop drumming. No questions asked. If you notice any of the symptoms of tendonitis you should stop drumming immediately and inspect what type of movement is causing the pain.
Stop using the affected area. If you believe you have tendonitis, avoid using the affected area as much as possible during day-to-day chores and work.

Brace or wrap the affected area if you can. By doing this, you will help limit the range of motion that the affected area can move. This will minimize movement and help remind you not to use the affected area giving it more valuable time to heal.

Use some Anti-Inflammation medication for the affected area. Take some medicine that is anti-inflammatory to help reduce the swelling and pain of your tendons. You can also try applying ointments such as IcyHot of BenGay to sooth the affected area.

Rest, Rest, Rest! Depending on the severity of the condition, allow the affected area to rest for a couple of weeks. Always add on an extra three days to your estimation for good measure.

Always consult your physician with any drum health questions. If you believe that you have tendonitis and the treatment method above doesn’t seem to be working, schedule an appointment with your doctor to get the affected area looked at.

In severe cases, surgery may be needed to correct the condition but often times it is only used as a last resort.

Treatment of Elbow Tendonitis

By now, you know that tendonitis is a common injury that drummers and percussionists often face. The symptoms vary but commonly include an itchy or burning pain in the affected area. When drummers speak of this type of pain in their wrist, elbow, knees, or shoulders – tendonitis should definitely be considered as a condition.

When a drummer or percussionists have a case of elbow tendonitis, it should be treated with the same steps and caution that you would care and treat for tendonitis of the wrist. If you believe you have tendonitis of the elbow, be sure to do the following:

Stop drumming immediately. Pain is your body telling you that something is wrong. If you continue to drum with a joint or limb that is in pain you are only making the condition worse. In the case, you want to give the tendons as much time to heal starting as soon as possible – the more you drum with swollen tendons, the worse the condition will get and the longer it will take to heal

Stop using the affected area. If you believe that your drumming caused tendonitis in your elbow, you should lay off the sticks for a while. As stated in step one, if you continue to drum on an injured joint or limb you will only make matters worse. Fight the urge and allow your body some time to heal.

Reduce movement of the elbow. It is a bit more difficult to wrap an elbow than it is a wrist. If you can find a comfortable way to wrap or brace your elbow, by all means, do. If you don’t have access to a brace or wrap for your elbow, just be conscious of your drumming injury and limit the range of motion and the overall movement that you make with it.

Use some Anti-Inflammation medication for the affected area. Take some medicine that is anti-inflammatory to help reduce the swelling and pain of your tendons.

Rest! Depending on the severity of the elbow tendonitis, allow it to rest for a couple of weeks. Always add an extra couple of days to your estimation for good measure.

See a doctor. It is always recommended to see your health care provider during the course of an injury.

Using these methods should allow the tendons in your elbow to heal and return to normal after an appropriate amount of time. These steps should get you back to drumming injury free as soon as possible! If you have treated your condition properly and have given the affected area plenty of time to recover, see your doctor immediately.

How to Investigate the Cause

After you have given your tendons ample time to heal and the affected area no longer hurts when you play through a simple warm up, you should reflect on your technique and determine how you got it in the first place.

This is crucial because if you got tendonitis from drumming, allowed it to heal, and started drumming again the same way, it is very likely that your tendonitis will flare up again. Thus, finding out what technique caused the tendons to stress out and swell is important so that you can change that technique and drum in a healthy manner.

Here is a brief way to investigate your cause:

  • Look for kinks in your technique around the affected area. If your wrists hurt, check and see if you drum with crooked wrist position or if the tendons are stressed in the position that you hold the sticks.
  • Analyze your stroke. Do you hold a lot of tension in the stroke? Are you applying much more pressure than you need? Clamping on to the sticks too tightly can cause the tendons to stress out and flare.
  • Analyze at the position your drums and cymbals. Do they require you to make exaggerated movements in order to play them? Are you making any rugged movements to play them? Do you have to battle resistance in order to play them?

These three topics above tend to be very common reasons why drummers and percussionists develop tendonitis. Continue to analyze your technique and make adjustments so that the mechanics of your drumming become as smooth as possible.

The Recovery Process

The next process in dealing with the injury is the recovery process.

Before recovering from it, you should ensure that your tendons are no longer inflamed and are back to normal before proceeding with this process. You should have also investigated and inspected your technique to see what type of motion caused it, so that you refrain from making that motion or combination of motions again.

Here are a few steps to take when recovering:

Warm up slowly and lightly. Start drumming with very slow, light, and large strokes to ease your muscles back into playing the drums. This will help stretch the muscles out as well as warm you up a little bit. Nothing strenuous, the first couple days of recovery should be light warm-ups only – nothing extreme.

Lightly stretch the affected area. You will want the affected area to remain relaxed and loose. Stretching is a great way to loosen up tendons and muscles without straining them. Be sure to do this lightly for a couple of days.

Start drumming a little bit more while still stretching and warming up every day.

Ease back into your normal drum routine. Over the course of a few days, start drumming more and more until you are back to your normal routine.

As you go through this process, you should be consistently reevaluating the situation to ensure that the tendonitis condition is not flaring back up. You should stop drumming at the first glimpse of tendonitis in the recovery period because this means you did not give your tendons enough time to heal.