When I was studying the piano, I remember us students telling each other to "be careful, because if you ever get injured, you might play again, but it'll never be the same". Almost everyone knew that injuries happened, but no one really knew what to do about them.
I saw many of my colleagues suffer from repetitive strain injuries (RSI), many of then even just months before their final exam. They had to postpone the exam and start the peregrination to the doctors, specialists, methods...
My thing turned out to be, many years later, that I broke my right arm one day. One day you're fine and you slip, and then it's my turn to go to the doctors, physiotherapy, to practice with one hand, to learn everything new again.
I learned that the body is the constant fountain of regeneration. When you trust the body, it'll love and trust you back, will give you back the strength, vitality and movement. Here go 12 ideas to speed up your recovery.
(When I mention pain, I mean a pain which is intense, persistent, and present for some time. Slight pain or minor pain of one day, in general, goes away on its own without much fuss.)
Sleep a lot. If you realize that you want to change your pain into well-being, start with getting a solid 8-9 hours of sleep per night. If you can sleep 10 hours, do that.
Hydrate. Upon waking up, drink 3/4 to 1 litre of pure water. Then, throughout the day, drink 1-2 more litres. Hydration is key in helping the body do what it needs to repair cells and clear itself of toxins.
Breathe. When we are in pain, we tend to stop breathing. Our muscles also tend to get tight because they lack oxygen. Breathe fully, trying to open every muscle of your body as you do it. Make sure your ribcage opens and widens when you breathe into it, just as you would do while exercising. Try doing 3 full breaths, slowly, 3 times per day. Ask yourself: are you holding your breath as you're reading this?
Don’t isolate the painful area from the rest of your body. When something hurts, we have the urge to investigate, to move that area and analyze which movements cause more pain. This separates the body into different parts, and chances are, that's one of the reasons why it began to hurt in the first place. Instead, try to integrate the painful area into the rest of the body.
Lie on the floor. To give our weight to a surface is what helps us relax. This is possible because that surface supports our weight, as it is firmer than our body is. The bigger the surface that touches the body, the more complete relaxation is possible - that's the reason why we sleep lying down and not standing up. Try the following exercise on the floor, you can use a blanket or a carpet.
- Lie down, flat.
- Start feeling the surface and breathe from the center of your body (the lower part of the belly).
- Feel how the weight starts to transition into the floor as you let go.
- Just lie like that for a couple of minutes and feel what it does to your body.
Walk feeling your own weight beneath your feet. I often observe that people who are in pain don’t have good contact with the floor, neither standing up or walking. Walk feeling your own weight, be conscious about how the weight shifts from one foot to the other. As a consequence, you might walk slower than you would usually. How does this new way of walking make you feel? How do you breath now?
Spend time in nature. If you have the chance, take the train, the bus, your bike or walk, be in nature - even if it's covered in snow. By spending time in nature your body can return to its roots, your feet can touch the grass, soak up the water and you can breathe in the fresh air.
Be careful in taking painkillers. Pain is awful, but if you supress it you won't be able to tell of you are changing things in the right direction. As you make progress, the pain will change too. This will let you know about your progress.
Do something that brings you joy. Do it regularly! Whether it's meeting a good friend, taking a bath, watching a fun movie, reading a great book... Make it a point to check off a joy-bringing activity at least once every day.
Be patient. Things need time to heal, to adjust. Give yourself space to recover fully.
Practice a piece you feel emotionally tied to. Injury from playing often comes through repetitive movements with no musical or emotional intention. Therefore, to restore the emotional bond, and to stay motivated ("I will play/sing this piece!"), spend some time with a piece that you love, enjoying the sound.
Practice only when you're not in pain. Playing in pain is stabilizing your injury. Take deep breaths, practice for a couple minutes, then rest. Take a lot of time to rest. It's ok if you can play just the first note of the Beethoven concerto! Soak up that note, because with time, you will play all the other notes that follow.
The resonance of sound is able to repair our body. Whatever you play, try to create full, resonant, open sounds. If you make this a habit, you will be healing your body while you practice.
Note: I don't intend to give medical advice here, I am just sharing what has worked for me and for the musicians I have worked with.