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Real life stories

Why performers need a specialist service. Andrew's story

Andrew, 31, is a professional guitarist, playing mainly pop, jazz and rock. He has been playing for over 20 years and in the last few years has combined playing with lecturing.

Like so many guitarists, Andrew is largely self-taught: ‘My uncle showed me a few chords; the local music shop owner a few more, and then I picked up stuff from guitar magazines and copying live performers. Nobody talked about posture in the early eighties.’

By the age of 27 Andrew had been touring around the country with various bands, when he started to study music more formally. He developed an interest in composition and arranging which meant that he spent less time playing. When asked to do some session work, he suddenly started playing again with an intensity that he hadn’t been used to. He noticed problems with his left hand and arm. The pains and pins and needles in his hands became so bad he couldn’t play for very long at a time, and driving a car was agony. He went to his GP and was diagnosed with an underactive thyroid (!).

When he returned to the GP after six months with no improvement, he was referred to a rheumatologist in the local hospital; x-rays found nothing wrong, and yet ‘some days I could only bear to play for 30 seconds’. An occupational therapist in the local hospital gave Andrew some exercises which he did religiously; he was sent off for nerve-conduction tests and eventually diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome and referred to an orthopaedic surgeon.

‘I prepared some pretty mature questions for the orthopaedic surgeon, but he didn’t seem to get the fact that I am a guitarist, and that’s all I know. ’ Andrew nervously made an appointment for the surgeon to operate on his wrist.

Andrew spotted the article about BAPAM in the Winter 2005/06 edition of Link magazine, which prompted him to set up an appointment with the BAPAM GP in Birmingham. ‘For the first time I felt my problems were taken seriously by someone who understands musicians,’ he said. He was referred to BAPAM’s hand therapist, who is a flautist herself. She asked Andrew to bring his guitar to the consultation. ‘It was amazing. Even though I was about to undergo an operation, I left the consultation feeling more at peace than I had done in years.’ The operation itself took five minutes, but the BAPAM hand therapist gave him a splint, tips on looking after the scar tissue and building up his playing again gradually.

‘Clearly the surgeon was very skilled and very experienced, but it makes the world of difference to talk to specialists who also understand what it is to be a performer’ says Andrew, now well on his way back to playing. But this time he will be more sensible about his technique; ‘Being aware of posture and ergonomics is so important. If I had heard of BAPAM when I was starting out I’d be in much better shape now.’

August 2006