Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California

Pianists, back pain, and my personal rehab bundled into a BALL

exercise piano room

Eight weeks ago, as I started my scale warm-up routine, I felt sudden, excruciating, spasmodic pain in my lower back, and I couldn’t move in any direction without feeling a knife deeply embedded in my spine. It was an “e-m-e-r-g-e-n-c-y!”that I registered by text message. My Nokia cell was thankfully beside me on the piano bench!

My instant cry for HELP! was ironically heeded by an adult piano student who was, herself, physically compromised– on crutches, to be exact, in a cast from an ankle fracture.

How could she be of any assistance?

The crux of the problem was I couldn’t get to the door, so my rescue was made impossible unless the landlord was successfully contacted.

By miracle, my savior on crutches, tracked her down in the phone book, and she responded like lightning, with a master key.

When everyone arrived, I was glued to the piano bench unable to budge, though in minutes, I managed to force myself down a few inches, suspended between the piano and my computer table.

If anyone dared to move me, I would scream bloody murder!! (An ambulance call would have been a ticket to hell!)

To make a long story short, I had my landlady locate my stash of Ibuprofen in the medicine cabinet and toss one down my throat. Within 45 minutes of ingestion, I was able to slither down onto the floor, and roll around in fetal position to my bedroom.

What then? For the next 5 hours, I lay on my back, with little hope of getting to the bathroom without risk of falling.

At the 6th hour pain juncture, nature called, and I had no choice but to take the plunge, forcing myself upright as I deep-massaged my lower back.

The pain rose to crescendo level, just as I popped an immobilizing kink. In a shaky vertical position, I now felt an ache, localized to the right side and emanating down my leg.

With reduced pain, I baby-stepped my way to the commode, grabbing furniture, and the wall for support.

What the docs said..

In aftermath of my acute EMERGENCY, two internists, one by telephone, told me I might have a “bulging disk,” or at worst a herniated one, and I should take Ibuprofen a few times a day; ice pack the area, while doing various upward stretches, when tolerated. They said, my sitting at the piano for long periods crunched my spine. (In an ensuing work-up, a “muscle spasm” was the diagnosis made by a Saudi Arabian Resident who embraced Meditation and Yoga, while she probed my back with supple hands)

A gym trainer who had observed me working out nearly every day at the ‘Y’ took me off machines where I would pull up from a sitting position, same for leg press where I was crunched, and advised upward stretches at frequent intervals, adding that my 3-mile walks every day, were part of the problem. I should do STRETCHES right after completing.

I stuck with the Gravitron, stretching up, and hip rotations, before I DISCOVERED a 65cm Go-Fit ball!

I tried one at the gym, rolling my back over it’s spongy surface, discovering several routines that were comforting. Naturally, in the midst of such long-sought relief, I ordered the big RED ball, and plunged into daily therapeutic exercises.

Here are samples that are life-savers, (set to the music of Scarlatti–my own recordings) so why not share them. I feel like Hell is safely behind me, but just in case, I will roll out the ball every day for a GO!


A Musical Journey: Scarlatti, Schubert and Chopin

Scarlatti and Chopin

6 thoughts on “Pianists, back pain, and my personal rehab bundled into a BALL”

  1. Woah Shirley! I am sorry you had to endure such pain. Good you are well on the road to recovery. Thank you for sharing your experience. I will be careful. Also I have been walking 3 miles almost every day. So when I heard you did this and that you needed to stretch afterwards, I will incorporate this. I also have one of those big balls that I have never used, but will be looking into it. Take care of yourself. The last few weeks have been a bit hard on you, considering the students who loved you, but left you recently. My sympathy for your ordeals and travails! Let’s hope things will be headed towards brighter things and happier times for you. Best of heatlh! Take care of that back!


  2. Wow. That sounded such a frightening, excruciating and possibly debilitating (non-piano playing – Oh My God No!) experience. I am so glad that it seems to have resolved to some extent.


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