I feel it is important to be clear that even though I have a Doctorate, it is not a medical one and the information contained in this article is not intended to offer professional, medical advice. If you are suffering from any kind of medical condition that you feel may be of concern, you need to seek professional medical attention and advice.
For most musicians, the idea of regular practice on their chosen instrument or with their voice is a given. It is an essential aspect of the learning process that brings rewards in the form of improved performances and being able to master increasingly challenging pieces, but it can also lead to problems.
Index Finger Twitching Playing Piano
As an undergraduate student, I first came across the possibility of injury due to practice. The phrase in common use at the time was ‘repetitive strain injury’ that came about for some musicians due to frequent and strenuous practice regimes and performance schedules. They had pushed themselves too far and as a result caused, in some more extreme cases, permanent damage. The hands and fingers were the usual areas of the body which were identified as having suffered this unpleasant type of strain, and for many easing back on performing and practicing was enough to set it right, but for others, there were more serious effects.
Another common factor in twitches that arrive in the hand seems to be the health of the individual musician concerned. It would appear that twitches happen regularly to performers who are under great pressure, perhaps giving many recitals, or not sleeping well. These amongst other factors can contribute to all manner of twitches in the hands, sometimes attributed to strain in the back too.
On one site I discovered a video of the well-known pianist Valentina Listsa playing the famous ‘Appassionata’ Sonata by Beethoven where she seems to be suffering from the same affliction suggested in the title of this article. In the light of her punishing schedule of recitals, it is perfectly reasonable that she may be under such immense pressure that her levels of exhaustion are showing in her performance.
Practicing in the ‘right’ way is a key point that is worthy of further consideration. It can also be a serious reason for working with an experienced, empathic teacher of your instrument of choice as they are likely to be in a good position to advise you on best playing techniques, posture, and practice regimes. If you have fallen into poor practice habits or perhaps have a weak technique on the piano, for instance, this could lead to injury, twitching, and other avoidable physical problems. On the other hand, it is also possible that you might have been taught to play the piano incorrectly and this, in turn, could give rise to all manner of physical anomalies from backache to twitching index fingers.
If you are using or even over-using your muscles to play the piano then there is a distinct possibility that a type of dystonia might develop. This, as I understand it, comes about through pressing, gripping, or even pinching to a point that the muscles, tendons, and nerves in the hands and fingers are being badly compromised.
According to the National Health Service (UK), dystonia is defined in the following way: “Dystonia is the name for uncontrolled and sometimes painful muscle movements (spasms)”. The description is one that includes twitching and other painful involuntary movements that can be in the hands through to other parts of the body. Treatment is possible from localized injections of botulinum toxin directly into the affected muscles, muscle relaxants, and even surgery. All of which sounds rather unpleasant if potentially avoidable under careful professional guidance.
From my research on the opinions of practicing pianists, the overarching feeling is to try and avoid the more extreme medical treatments. I imagine though that if the condition is advanced then there may be fewer options and the more invasive types of remedy might be required to alleviate the problem.
Other suggestions are for complete rest and relaxation together with a consultation perhaps with a professional who deals with movement. If they can offer an analysis of how you are moving, sitting, reacting when you play the piano, then there is a very real chance that they will be able to help correct your approach. It is all too easy to become entrenched in detrimental habits when playing any instrument and equally easy to overlook the signs and signals the body provides as warnings.
The scenario does not end there. If you are experiencing twitching in your fingers, index, or otherwise, there are additional possibilities of the condition to consider. Muscle cramps and shaking can be the result of a magnesium deficiency which although rare amongst healthy individuals could be at the root of the problem. If your vitamin E is deficient then this can create some very unpleasant symptoms from difficulties articulating through to a decline in cognition. ‘Benign Fasciculation Syndrome’ is another common condition that can make muscles twitch involuntarily. BFS is a relatively recent diagnosis that according to ‘Medical News Today’ requires further research.
Having had some experience of finger twitching I can certainly attribute some of it to stress, caffeine intake, and insufficient sleep at those times. I have also made a concerted effort throughout my years of playing and performing to pay close attention to how I play, practice, and move. It’s not always easy and we all make mistakes which is why another pair of experienced eyes is very useful to see what we have become complacent about or simply become used to.
A twitch is in all probability a sign that something is not right. Pianists make significant use of their hands and indeed their whole body when playing the instrument. Alongside the deep emotional input when performing music, it is not a revelation to realize that these injuries frequently occur. Try to be aware of your whole being when you practice and perform and as all good musicians do, listen, but not only to the music, to your own body.