Retuning Musicians' Fingers
Some musicians face a terrible problem. Their hand cramps, making it impossible to play their instrument. This can happen to any musician, on any type of instrument. Piano, guitar, oboe, and flute players have often reported this problem.

"Writer's cramp" or "occupational hand cramp" is known in the medical world as focal hand dystonia. There's no particular treatment that works for more than just a short time. This can leave professional musicians out of a job.

A new treatment has been tried in Germany. It's called sensory motor retuning. It works best with string players. Wind players haven't had the same success. The musician works with a physical therapist who combines the use of a special splint with exercises.

The splint is placed on the hand and fingers that try to make up for the dystonic finger. It holds the fingers in a resting position and doesn't let them move. The dystonic or "stuck" finger(s) must move through a series of exercises. These are done in 10-minute blocks of time. Five sets are done in an hour, once each day. Then the musician goes back to playing normally.

In all cases of string players, normal motion without cramping was restored. However, none of the wind players got better with this program. There are several possible reasons for this. The exact cause is unknown and will be the subject of more research.

There's new hope for musicians who play the guitar or piano and also suffer from hand cramping. Sensory motor retuning can be used with good results. It's not certain how long these exercises should be done, but the musicians who used them in this study are showing good results on a long-term basis.
Victor Candia, MA, et al. Sensory Motor Retuning: A Behavioral Treatment for Focal Hand Dystonia of Pianists and Guitarists. In Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. October 2002. Vol. 83. No. 10. Pp. 1342-1348.