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This web page gives a narrative of my recovery from embouchure dystonia and provides information about how I was able to retrain including resources and links to many helpful web pages.

Dystonia is a neurological movement disorder characterized by involuntary muscle contractions thought to be caused by overuse and misuse in practicing. My version was considered focal (meaning it only affected my embouchure) and task-specific (meaning it only happened as I played trombone).

There is no reliable medical treatment for dystonia; however, there are other options which I describe in the narrative and strategy pages of this site. These strategies worked for me; however, they may or may not work for you. This web page is purely informational and should not be considered a specific course of treatment for any one individual. For more information, view the Terms of Use.

When I was diagnosed with dystonia in May of 2002, there were very few resources available to help me. Now that I am better, I wish to share my story in order to help those with dystonia and also help those who are healthy stay that way. Evidence of my success in recovering from dystonia can be heard in the sound and video files on the Biography page. All of these recordings were made after I recovered.

 

Frequently Asked Questions:

What are the symptoms of dystonia?

When you have dystonia you feel like you can't control your muscles and the harder you try, the worse it gets. There are many different kinds of dystonia which may affect a variety of body parts. In musicians, it can manifest itself in the fingers or the embouchure. If a pianist, for example, has finger dystonia, one of the fingers will curl up whenever its neighbor is used. In my case, the muscles of my embouchure would lock up, prohibiting air to escape and causing late entrances, cracked notes and basically unreliable playing.

What causes dystonia?

Nobody knows for sure what causes dystonia but I suspect it involves a number of factors including, but not necessarily limited to: misuse of one's body, genetic pre-disposition, poor technique and obsessive personality. Not everyone who encounters chop problems develops dystonia; some people are able to work through difficulties and resume playing with little or no problem. Those who develop dystonia seem to be unable to solve chop issues without spiraling down into more serious complications.

Who is at risk for getting dystonia?

Dystonia typically strikes players in their mid-30's who generally have not encountered serious playing difficulties. These players are usually naturally gifted musicians and tend to be perfectionists and can sometimes be obsessive about practicing. There are most certainly exceptions to these qualifications and, in fact, I believe there must be an "x" factor; a genetic predisposition. If there weren't, then everyone who misuses their body would get dystonia and this simply is not true.

How can I avoid getting dystonia?

Be smart about your playing. Learn the truth about how we are built and how we are designed to move. To minimize your chances of getting an injury of any sort, learn to play without tension in your body. Play with awareness of how we are built and how we are designed to move. Do not equate music-making with athletic activity and do not strain to play.

How do you recover from dystonia?

I was able to do it through a cocktail of therapies; not just one magic bullet. My cocktail included movement therapies such as the Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais and Body Mapping. I also redefined how I think about playing and refined how I move to play. I cultivated global awareness and the ability to play trombone with my entire body.

Is dystonia common?

Not very. It is unclear how many cases are out there because it's not always accurately diagnosed and those who have it are not always forthright about their condition.

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