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How Demanding Is The Concertina On Arms/wrists/elbows?

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I'm a long time fretted instrument player, and heavy computer user due to work.

 

Over time I've built up plenty of aches and pains thanks to those activities, and always make sure I take it easy when something hurts, and to stretch before playing.

 

I've been considering taking up the anglo concertina, but before I do, was wondering how hard it is on wrists/arms/elbows etc.?

 

Do many players suffer from RSI/tennis elbow/carpal tunnel/etc. when playing the concertina?

 

For those of you who play different instruments, how does it compare to those?

 

From reading this subforum, I can see that injuries do occur, but I'm trying to get a feel for how common they are, and whether picking up the concertina might be a more relaxing alternative to fretted instruments, or whether it might be even more physically demanding.

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I play anglo, at least an hour a day for the last 5 years, and haven't had any problems. In fact have played through 2 bouts of frozen shoulder and it was one of the few activities that didn't seem to aggravate the condition.

Edited by Bill N

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Anglo is an excellent choice, since the button arrangement is perhaps the best fit for fingers and hands, and you also often get "two for one" notes without changing buttons. The buttons can usually be played with a fairly light touch, much less pressure than having to press strings on frets. No need for callouses either!

 

Just be careful if you're planning on playing furiously fast Irish tunes - Niall Vallely once mentioned several years ago how his hands shook uncontrollably after some tunes. If you're playing more in the harmonic style with full chords, all your fingers can be put to good use (not just a few), and I've found playing the Anglo to be very beneficial exercise for serious arthritis. Never had any concertina problems whatsoever with wrists, elbows, arms, carpal tunnels, any of that. Now if you decide to play it standing up or swinging it over your head, that could be a different story!

 

Gary

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Great, thanks for the responses, that's sounding pretty positive so far!

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Some good advice (which I did not entirely heed) was given to me by anglo teacher/tuner Paul Groff. He said it takes awhile for all the muscle groups involved to acquire strength and finesse. I was a string musician for 35 years prior to starting anglo and, at 53 at the time, wanted to be up and playing at sessions as soon as possible. Several bouts of tendonitis in the forearms and elbows convinced me to slow down. (You don't want to waste valuable practice time doing alternate ice water to hot baths for the elbows and forearms!)

 

So I'd advise setting your goals long term and keeping practice/playing times to a reasonable length with occasional breaks. Increase your playing time as your body adapts. The anglo is a wonderful, fun instrument. Enjoy!

 

Greg

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What I learned when a bout of carpal tunnel took me out of playing for nearly a year was that only a small number of us are prone to it. Thus, many folks gave me sanguine advice, "not a problem." But if you are prone to it by bone structure, etc., then it pays to be careful. For me it was a combination of factors that set it off, concertina being the last straw. Only when I got to a good physical therapist some time later did I learn how to manage and control it, and I do pretty well now. Pay attention to what your body is telling you.

 

Ken

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What I learned when a bout of carpal tunnel took me out of playing for nearly a year was that only a small number of us are prone to it. Thus, many folks gave me sanguine advice, "not a problem." But if you are prone to it by bone structure, etc., then it pays to be careful. For me it was a combination of factors that set it off, concertina being the last straw. Only when I got to a good physical therapist some time later did I learn how to manage and control it, and I do pretty well now. Pay attention to what your body is telling you.

 

Ken

Any advice or personal observations?

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Hi

 

I have had some issues that arose after I was playing at a strange posture, I believe, and they eventually went away. One small recommendation:

If you put your hands through the hand straps and the instrument is resting directly flat "bottom" side on the thigh.....well, then roll the concertina forward just a bit,so it is resting on the "point". You will see this will straighten out your wrists just a bit but creates more of a straight line for your tendons and carpal bits and all those parts that make your fingers work. This can't be bad in the LOONG run?

 

Richard

Edited by richard

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What I learned when a bout of carpal tunnel took me out of playing for nearly a year was that only a small number of us are prone to it. Thus, many folks gave me sanguine advice, "not a problem." But if you are prone to it by bone structure, etc., then it pays to be careful. For me it was a combination of factors that set it off, concertina being the last straw. Only when I got to a good physical therapist some time later did I learn how to manage and control it, and I do pretty well now. Pay attention to what your body is telling you.

 

Ken

Any advice or personal observations?

 

This is yet another article I had posted on the old, static side of C.net, and Paul says I may repost the files here. Seemed egotistical to do my own article first, but I'll add it to the list - it's a fairly big job.

 

What Richard says is correct, it is now one professional taught me to hold the instrument.

 

Ken

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Another suggestion is to not make the straps (assuming an Anglo here) too tight. I've seen a few players who had very tight straps and it caused them to have to bend their fingers backwards in a way that to me just seemed like a recipe for eventual RSI problems.

 

I play with the straps loose enough so that there's about .5-.75 inch space between my hand and the bar, allows my fingers to naturally curve towards the buttons rather then be hyperextended backwards.

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It varies...I got in trouble because my straps were too _loose_, and I was flexing my wrists into the ends of the concertina to support it. Use your fingers too much in that position and the connective tissues in your wrists swells up, pinching that carpal nerve...

 

Maybe the message here is that we've all experienced different extremes, but your body will tell you what works if you let the irritation heal before trying an adjustment. An experienced player or teacher can be a big help.

 

Ken

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My experience is that building up your support muscles prevents a lot of aches and pains. Here is a cheap, brief and, for me, highly effective therapy for my own brand of wrist ailment. The disclaimers are that I am not a medical doctor nor physical therapist and of course your experience may differ.

 

I tore some fascia in my wrist about 5 years ago. It was very slow to heal even with physical therapy and I still had frequent pain as recently as 2 years ago. I missed months of concertina playing (duet) and I thought my river-paddling days were over. At that point, a coworker who is a drummer gave me 2 of her old drumsticks and showed me an old drummer's exercise which I have located here: youtube.com/watch?v=ZDw2qAjv9B4 (0:13" to 0:18" is the essential sequence - apparently no sound).

I keep the sticks on my desk and use them about 15 secs per workday - a really minimal investment in time, equipment or trouble. Any item of roughly comparable length and diameter should do. At first I could only do 1 or 2 repetitions without inducing more pain. Now I do 4-6 reps curling one wrist under first, then the same initiated with the other wrist. I've added to this slightly on some reps in that once the sticks have been fully extended, I move my forearms up and down a bit until I get a slight stretch. I have been essentially pain-free in my wrists since.

Edited by Stephen Mills

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My hands are killing me, and two visits to the docs, two sets of xrays, and a few days of corticosteroids later, at least the swelling is going down. Here's what the docs say: "Lay off the concertina until we get this sorted out."

 

Well, as a near-rookie (two years) over 60 whose obsession may be fueled by a late start and the subconscious need to make up for lost time, I was playing, hard and fast, for an hour or sometimes 4 a day, late summer, and several 2 hour sessions per month. (And, almost forgot the eight hour sessions at Squeeze-In in mid September.) For a couple of months, my wrists and knuckles would swell, and I would use aspirin and carry on. Then, after an aggresive day of bell-ringing at a sporting even (2.5 hours of steady cowbell, fast) my hands really went crazy. Worse on my right, which I use way more in my along the rows, sraight up and down, little or no crossing rows, old cheap anglo style and, also Elise duet. Right hand and wrist ache, making even turning a doorknob or pulling on socks a big deal. Swelling on right to near double size, looking like it might pop. Scary.

 

While meds work, and it settles down, my task is to ascertain either a better course of practice and play,

or a better instrument for my body. I will read and consider the advice already here, but would appreciate any thoughts,. While I as yet have no diagnosis, my gut is that RSI/carpal tunnel will be in there.

 

After all that rambling, a specific question: Does anyone think the difference between button accordion (wrists, hands and fingers generally much straighter?) might make a difference? When I play five seconds of gentle "air concertina" it hurts, and not so much or none at all when I play "air melodeon.". Of course, that could be just because I have not yet wrecked those different muscles/tendons/?

 

Anyway, I would sadly but willingly switch for whatever time necessary, just to not go ccompletely cold turkey. Maybe a miniature melodeon?

 

Thanks for any and all suggestions!

 

David

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Button accordeon should, at least on the right hand, seperate the wrist action from the finger movements, especially if you use two shoulder straps.

 

I would suggest, after a period of R&R that you practice for half an hour at a time only... perhaps two or more short periods of practice instead of hour long sessions.

 

Then get yourself a concertina that plays more easily ( here assuming your "old cheap anglo"comment relates to your instrument)..... I have an Elise and also a Wakker 46 Hayden.... the difference in effort imput is huge. I've played the EC for more than 40 years but starting on Duets caused some discomfort at the begining... it is normal, don't give up but treat yourself gently.

 

Over Practice is like trying to store Sleep.... trying to learn something new after the age of 60 takes much longer.... enjoy the journey.

 

Any new intense activity is going to cause muscle pain and one just has to gradually get 'fit' to the task.

 

Good luck.

Edited by Geoff Wooff

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Everything Geoff said, plus I'd take a short ride up to The Button Box and try a Beaumont. The action is so responsive it makes the Elise feel like a work-out.

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FWIW, having suffered pretty badly in the past from computer RSI symptoms, I find that piano-style keyboard and button accordion are fine. In fact, I found that learning the musical keyboard actually relieved my symptoms. (To the surprise of the professionals!)

 

But haven't played concertina to that extent, so it might be different.

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Thanks for the thoughtful responses! The keys seem to be moderation and a quality, responsive instrument. I will indeed do my regular pilgrimage to the ButtonBox and try "lighter" instruments, and probably will consider a button accordion rental to see if that seems easier on my hands. The good news may be a re-kindling of my relationship to the harmonica (my first language) while I work through this. I have noticed there doesn't seem to be many wrist and finger problems for harmonica players!

 

One more related question: does it seem that the English and duet players suffer less from hand and wrist problems, due to the apparently less frequent (and less urgent?) bellows direction changes? Although the Elise duet can be a load to pull, it doesn't seem to hurt as much as my old Bastari when I attempt yo play that with speed.

 

Thanks again, and regards,

 

David

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"as my old Bastari when I attempt to play that with speed" :blink: . No wonder you are suffering David!!!

 

My father used to berate us when my brother and I were rebuilding yet another 'blown up' motor cycle engine, with " You cannot flog old machinery!".... he was right of course.....

 

You have the classic combination of two lots of old machinery... you and that "concertina like object".... do yourself a big favour and buy a decent instrument, is the best advice I can give.

 

Then the next thing could be learn to play across the rows to cut down on all that suck and blow movement.

 

But to your last point; I play the hayden only at home,yet, and manage an hour at a time... I am new to it.... but I play the EC in a dance band where I need to play it hard and loud and often for three or four hours at a stretch. Some years ago ,at a music festival, I managed to play for 14 hours in a session... yes my hands were a wee bit sore the following day but with a good instrument it is possible .

Edited by Geoff Wooff

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