Perception vs Reality When You're a Musician in Pain

Hi, I’m Karen. I’m the one writing the blogs over here at Musician Health Resource. A few disclaimers: I am not a doctor, physical therapist or psychologist. What I am is a musician who has experienced a lot of pain, a lot of rehab and a lot of therapy, both physical and mental, throughout my music career.


I started playing the cello 25 years ago and it was one of those “wand chooses the wizard” moments. After several unsuccessful attempts at turning me into a pianist by my pianist parents, I was told, “The elementary school is inviting you to participate in the Strings program. You will play an instrument. Pick one.”


At the time I didn’t know what a viola was, I knew violins were high and squeaky and I knew my neighbor’s cousin was popular and she played this instrument called the cello. So, with hopes of popularity on the horizon, I went to the music shop to pick out a cello.


I brought it home, sat in the chair with my parents kneeling in front of me and plucked the C string. Then I plucked the G string. Then I looked at my parents and declared, “This is Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” They stared back at me with a look I describe as, “our child is a musical genius” and, with that, my wand chose me. I was now a cellist.


Unfortunately, popularity did not follow. Not when you are a rather puffy homeschooled third grader who gets dropped off at the elementary school to lug an equally puffy case and cello out of the back of a mini van, through the library and into Strings class.


Popularity also did not follow in my orchestra-nerd high school years.


And popularity did not follow me into the practice rooms of college.


It took eighteen years of playing before I landed a recurring sidelining job on the TV show, “Glee” and suddenly people were taking note (pun intended) of the once puffy homeschooled girl who was still playing the cello.


Unfortunately for me, right in the middle of my finally achieved popularity and success, the nagging pain and hip spasms I’d been ignoring for the last five years decided it was time to finally get some notoriety as well. And there I was spending my weekend flat on my back with gigs and rehearsals cancelled, finally taking some note (pun intended) of the once slight pain that had become back spasms and seizures and a big problem.


When I typed into my laptop, “physical therapist musician Los Angeles” the only advice the internet returned was a buried Yelp review for a doctor in Koreatown who had once helped a flutist. The office informed me they wouldn’t take my insurance and depression set in to accompany the physical pain.


I’d been working my whole life to get to this moment! Career success, happy parents, popular kids from high school Facebooking me that they’d seen me on TV, the ability to pay all my bills. It sounds honestly ridiculous on this side of it but, when you’re in it, it’s crushing and crippling literally, physically, metaphorically, all of the ways.


I took an eight month journey through physical therapy, spent my earnings on doctors visits, cut down on practice hours, suffered through sounding less-than professional. It was torture. And I struggled with major questions like, “Why I am playing the cello?” “Did my parents choose this path for me or is this what I want?” “Should I end things with this relationship that’s causing me pain?” (Yeah, I’m talking about my instrument there.) “What will people think if they find out I’m injured?”


After grappling with these questions for the better part of a year I made several discoveries: One, I am more than a cellist. Two, I needed to pay more attention to my self-care habits. Three, patience is necessary in returning to play. And, spoiler alerts, I did recover. I still play the cello and I still have a career.


I’m not sure, nor do I particularly care anymore, where I stand on the popularity scale. “Glee” is over and in the past but staying on top of my physical self and music practice is a constant present. And now, so is this resource. I learned a lot in the journeys of healing that I’ve taken and my greatest hope is to be able to share them with you.


I consider myself beyond blessed to actually get messages from people telling me that they’ve experienced or are experiencing these same struggles or questions and needed to know they weren’t alone in it.


You are not alone in it!


I’ll be regularly sharing many of my personal struggles and success with you here in this blog. I’ll also be sharing the resources I’ve found in my many journeys to healing whether they’re physical tools, stretches, rehearsal and practice tips, books I’ve read or people I’ve had the pleasure of talking to on the podcast.


Come build a community with me and remember your goal: a life of less pain and more music!


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  • Dec 19, 2019
  • Category: Blog
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