My Physical Fitness History (Or Lack Thereof)

Hi, I'm Karen and my goal is to create a resource for musicians to help them avoid repetitive stress injuries and alleviate pain they have from playing. I'm not a physical therapist, I'm not a massage therapist and I'm not a particularly impressive athlete. But, I've had a lot of experience with music and a lot of experience with pain and repetitive stress injuries and I'm excited to create a resource where other musicians can benefit from what I've learned and doctors, therapists and athletes I've met.

But first, a brief history of why this is so important to me.

When I was in high school I was allowed to wave my PE graduation requirement if I was enrolled in enough other “scholarly” classes. This meant that between eighth grade and junior year of high school, I never ran a complete mile. I never lifted a weight. I never went swimming or took an aerobic class. I didn’t know about nutrition, endurance, cross-training or even general health.

What I did was play in the school orchestra, the school chamber orchestra, the community orchestra, the community chamber orchestra. I performed gigs on the weekends with my quartet and I managed to fit in a full practice and performance schedule packed with solo repertoire.

I was also overweight, out of shape, easily winded, addicted to sugar and eating my emotions. Sure, I played the cello well, but the physical and emotional stress on my body began to manifest in more obvious and painful ways.

Pre-exercise routine college years


During my sophomore year of college I took a semester of "Incompletes" in all my performance-based classes due to severe pain and cramping in my right hand. To recover I took some time to rest and then spent three months practicing nothing but open tones and scale patterns in an attempt to relieve tension and retrain my bow hold. In my mind, I'd lost months of valuable practice time. If I couldn't play cello, what was I going to do?


A few years past and, shortly after graduating with my cello performance degree, I developed painful hip spasms due to a compressed twist in my right hip flexor. This was exacerbated by both the posture I had held while playing the cello for the last fifteen years and the motion required to switch from the gas to brake pedal while driving my car.

Two years later into my busy music career the stress and tension I had built in my left shoulder combined with the pre-existing tension in my right hip and caused my entire back to seize with painful spasms. I took a weekend off of gigging, at my own expense, as I lay motionless on the floor of my apartment.

I needed to see a physical therapist.

Eight months and $1,800 later, I had completed physical therapy for my hip but I was out of visits and co-pay money to rehab my shoulder. The driving hadn’t changed, the hours in the cello chair hadn’t changed, but at least now I had a set of exercises to help me manage the pain.

In 2016, I was in a car accident when another driver pulled out in front of me. I took the impact of the accident in my right shoulder’s rotator cuff and it made playing a painful experience. The one benefit was I now had free health care and time with a physical therapist to rehab not only from the accident, but postural problems I’d struggled with in my upper body for decades. 

Another two years have passed and I've continued building on these foundational recovery exercises through regular time in the gym, running and hiking and time at home with foam rollers and resistance bands.

Fit and active at a Lululemon "More Than Miles Tour" event


If you’re anything like me, your musical pursuits began at a young age. Piano at age three, Suzuki strings at age four. Maybe you started later but in high school you began lugging around drum sets, guitar amps or keyboards to band rehearsals. Chances are you spent so much of your life focused on accuracy, musical artistry, technique and gigging, that your body, even in your 20’s and 30’s is beginning to give out with repetitive stress injuries or pain that keeps you from doing or enjoying what you love. 

I invite you to join me as I share with you what I’ve learned from multiple physical therapy visits, exercising, talking with doctors, masseuses, coaches and athletes, reading, researching and, above all, practicing healthier habits for myself. Discover what can be gained from putting your body first and experience how it can enhance your musical performance and ability.

Consider this a PE course for musicians as we learn how to train like an athlete to play like a musician!

Health and happiness,


  • Dec 01, 2017
  • Category: Blog
  • Comments: 0
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