Wrist Pain

I have been playing clarinet for seven years now. Whenever I play for a period longer than about 5 minutes I get very sharp pains running through my right wrist. I’ve tried holding my clarinet differently but it doesn’t help. My clarinet teacher gave me a clarinet neck strap to take off some of the pressure but that only works for about 15 to 20 minutes of play. What can I do?


I am sorry I have not answered your question sooner; actually I just received it yesterday. I changed my address and had difficulty receiving messages from the other address.

Concerning pain in the right wrist after playing only a short time; it could be anything from simply a strained tendon to some kind of syndrome such as Dequairvains (I had that last year with the left wrist; finally I had to have a minor operation to correct it) or even carpal tunnel. Both of these have to do with overuse of a part of the hand.

To answer really fully, I would have to see you before I could make a good diagnosis, but I can say several things about the pain: you must rest for a while, until there is no pain at all. What you probably have is all kinds of tenseness because you are expecting the pain to come and it always does, so you cringe and that can only make it worse.

You are probably young enough to spare the week or two that it will take for the muscles or tendons to heal or become normal. You have swelling in there, and that hurts. How old are you? If you are old enough, while you are resting take an NSAID (non steroid anti-inflammatory drug). It sounds complicated and scary, but aspirin is the simplest one and perhaps the best, especially if you are an adult. You should definitely check with your doctor about these things.

Then, after you feel normal again, make sure that you only play for short periods of time – really short. Do not wait for pain; stop much sooner than the onset of pain.

Make sure that your right thumb is in a correct position. Actually you hold the clarinet on that thumb, but in extension and that space between thumb and forefinger will become very muscular indeed if you hold the clarinet correctly.

But, remember, first rest. You must rest until no pain.

Finally, the musical public has become aware of the problems in learning an instrument and I have seen all kinds of devices to aid that right hand. A good thumb rest will help, Make sure it is padded and firm. Then there are the plastic affairs that support the thumb from wrist to thumb. I have seen these but I am not sure how they work.

Rest is first.

Make sure you begin quite slowly, for short periods of time only. Do NOT wait for pain. Stop prior to pain.

Ask you doctor for an NSAID. If he says yes, try it. Do not take aspirin if you are a teenager without your doc’s OK.

Is you teacher a clarinetist? If he is not, he may not be able to help much. Anyway, without seeing and hearing you play, there is not much more that I can say.

I am going to share this letter with a famous plastic surgeon, a friend of mine. If he adds anything, look for it in these pages.

Good luck with all your studies

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