Musicians, like athletes, can suffer any number of injuries and diseases that affect their careers. With athletes, there are specialized sports physicians, standard courses of treatment for injuries, and standard, expected recovery time. For musicians, it can be less clear, though equally career impacting.
During a car accident in March 2013, Toronto musician Jeff Alan Greenway, suffered multiple injuries. In the months to follow, he has seen multiple medical practitioners, received different diagnoses, eventually leading him to the Musicians Clinic of Canada.
Greenway is a full-time music teacher and independent original singer-songwriter-pianist. His work also includes performances and recording sessions with local musicians.
As a result of his accident, Greenway was receiving physio to help with neck and shoulder whiplash, when “they” strained the ligaments in his wrist, stretching out his shoulder.
From his blog:
“I use my hands a lot. More than most people. Besides being super-animated when I speak (every description has to be accompanied by a life-size air drawing), I have to conduct, write and play as a music teacher. And then there’s that piano playing thing too…
So needless to say, I was mortified to find that I couldn’t even dress myself, let alone touch the piano.”
Below is an interview with Jeff Alan Greenway about his experience and how correct diagnosis, correct treatment, and perseverance has helped him in the road to recovery.
Starting at the beginning, what did you go through medically and with whom?
I was terrified of anyone dealing with my wrist who wasn’t familiar with musicians, because I was certain that my physio injury was due to the therapist not being familiar with the muscles, tendons, etc. that musicians use and straining them because they were comparing me to a “normal” patient. So I put the word out on social media asking for any music therapists they could recommend (doctors, physiotherapists, osteopaths etc.). The first person I saw (the same week) was an osteopath (non OHIP) who had experience with music injuries. He did light massage and manipulation of the hand and wrist. Incredibly painful – it was too acute at the time, so I stopped after a few visits.
I also got a referral to the Musicians Clinic of Canada from a fellow pianist who also had a wrist/hand injury and highly recommended. I put in a request for a referral, and was told I would have to wait SIX MONTHS. While I was waiting, a good friend of mine in the health care field recommended getting an MRI. My family doctor refused, saying I needed an X-ray and bone scan. I knew there was nothing broken, but I went for them anyway – it was a waste of time.
By the time I got the results back, I had a lucky call from the Musicians Clinic – they were able to squeeze me in. I asked my GP to send me for an MRI and he deferred to the Musicians Clinic, saying they would “get me in faster”. It was October – he wanted me to wait 2 more months plus probably three months (or more) for the MRI appt. I was furious. I felt he was fighting me every step of the way. The absolute worst turned out to be the hand & wrist surgeon. (My health care friend found a reputable hand and wrist surgeon in Etobicoke.) His reputation was for his surgery, not his bedside manner. After waiting 2 1/2 hours in the surgical clinic for him, he was rude, dismissive, uncaring and impatient. He did refer me to the clinic physiotherapist, who prescribed a series of punishing stretches which I was to do “every hour of every day”. After seeing him again for a followup visit, he said I had better movement and there was “nothing more he could do for me”. He asked, “you don’t need to see me again, do you?”. When I complained that there was obviously still a problem, he refused to accept me in the clinic for further treatment, and wrote me a prescription to take to an outside physiotherapist.
Where are you now, medically?
I am now seeing 2 doctors at the Musicians Clinic of Canada. I am really impressed that both doctors take an in-depth interest in their patients. They research their musical backgrounds as well as medical, and firmly believe in reducing stress and taking a holistic approach to healing. A great deal of time was spent helping improve my playing technique to minimize stress and retraining the muscles to play correctly again. I was also referred me to a physiotherapy clinic in Newmarket that deals with musicians (non OHIP).
At the York Physiotherapy clinic I am currently seeing two therapists, and I am slowly rebuilding the strength in my wrist and hand, using weights and rubber balls as well as electrical muscle stimulation. It’s a very slow process, but it is working. They also recommended using athletic tape to compress my wrist while playing, which has been a huge breakthrough.
How much “work” time have you missed as part of this?
Hard to quantify. I usually play at least one show every couple of months of my own, plus open stages. At least 6-8 of my own, plus I also lost out on at least two paying gigs and a recording session. I had to take some time off of work and cut down my teaching schedule a bit, but I was mostly able to struggle through.
I was lucky my work and students/parents were understanding.
Would the key words then be: correct diagnosis / seek helpful doctors / persistence in all aspects ?
Definitely. Each therapist/doctor was one piece of the puzzle. Even after the diagnosis, not everyone agreed with it. The hand surgeon didn’t agree with the MRI report and was very hostile with me (didn’t believe a lot of what I said). The physiotherapist agreed with the MRI but also said she thought the wrist bones were subluxed, which was a hurdle to full recovery. No one else mentioned that, and no one oversaw the whole process of treatment. You have to put it all together yourself. No one does that for you.
I’m now approaching the one-year anniversary of my wrist injury. I can only hope that I will be well on my way to recovery by then. I have realized that I may never get back to the place I was at before, but I am playing again, and I am hopefully positive. I am taking it day by day, and appreciating every little extra movement I get.
Official Jeff Alan Greenway website:
Jeff Alan Greenway fanpage on Facebook:
More on Jeff Alan Greenway’s recovery from his blog:
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