The London-based instrumentalist was helped by physiotherapy and Pilates
When did you first have trouble with your shoulder?About twelve years ago. I was lying on my back with my baby on my chest and reached over my right shoulder for a cup of tea, when I felt something ‘pop’ in my shoulder and was suddenly in a lot of pain. I could still play, but I started to worry that this was the beginning of the end of my career, and that all I could hope for would be a slow, gentle decline.
What did you do?
A very good friend who is a consultant did some research to find the best orthopaedic surgeon for my particular problem. I paid for a private consultation to speed things up. The surgeon told me I’d ruptured the subacromial bursa, a fluid-filled cavity in the shoulder that forms a cushion between tendon and bone. The quick fix would be an antiinflammatory cortisone jab into the shoulder, but there was a one in ten chance that the injection might paralyse my arm for a couple of days. I decided it was a risk worth taking: this was Tuesday and I had a Mendelssohn Concerto coming up at the weekend. By that afternoon my arm was completely paralysed but it was back to normal by the Thursday and I played the concert.
Did your worries end there?
The injection certainly stopped the pain, but over the following months I realised things weren’t quite right. I had a slight tremor in my bow and couldn’t get the weight of my arm back on to the strings. It was as if I was guarding myself against a pain that wasn’t there. I went back to the surgeon, who put me in touch with Mark Bender, a physiotherapist in London.
What happened during physiotherapy?
After checking me over, Mark said my pelvis was tilted, my rib cage had shifted up and my shoulders were floating free from the rest of my body. Apparently this was probably because, five years before, I’d spent three months on crutches after breaking my right leg and had received no corrective physiotherapy afterwards. The right side of my body was also much weaker than the left – partly because of the leg fracture and perhaps also because, as a violinist, your centre of gravity tends to go through your left side.
During the first session he tied me up in a knot and dropped his weight on me to correct the angle of my pelvis. It was amazingly effective; my hips felt incredibly free afterwards. A week later came a session I’ll never forget: he adjusted my rib cage by grabbing under the armpits and pulling down really hard. It was unbelievably painful, but made a huge difference. My shoulder settled down very quickly after the treatments and I felt reconnected to my instrument. Mark then said the next challenge was to maintain my new body shape, and he recommended I learn Pilates to build up my strength.
How did learning Pilates affect your recovery?
Pilates was where the real recovery started, because unless you relearn how to use your body correctly, you tend to go back to your old postural habits. And if you’ve had an injury, you instinctively guard yourself against the pain, which eventually ties you up in knots. It is amazing how gaining control over a set of muscles in your back improves your posture and helps your playing. One exercise called ‘chicken wings’ was particularly helpful for my shoulder: you lie on your back, pulling down at the armpits while extending the arms upwards. This helps the trapezoid muscles anchor the shoulder blade and also broadens the rib cage.
Has your playing changed as a result of your injury?
Having an injury gave me a chance to have a good look at my fiddle playing from a physical perspective. I’ve also benefited from having a stronger back and shoulders. Before doing Pilates, my right shoulder joint was far too mobile, so the momentum of a sharp down bow would force my upper arm back into the shoulder socket, reducing the power of the bow stroke. Now my shoulder resists the force of my arm, allowing me to produce a crisp attack and a free sound.
Do you still practise Pilates?
I still do my chicken wings exercise from time to time and also keep my spine flexible with curls (progressively curling down to almost touch my toes). A few years ago I asked a Pilates expert to design me a series of stretches to counteract the contraction of playing and I now do two to three minutes of stretching exercises after each playing session to rid the muscles of tension and increase the blood supply. I find this is a very effective way to avoid aches and pains the next morning.
Interview by Sarah Mnatzaganian