Professional musicians are susceptible to a number of occupational conditions, including task-specific focal dystonia.
Experts estimate about 1% of professional musicians are affected by dystonia, but there are likely large numbers of musicians living with symptoms who remain unidentified. Almost all individuals with musician’s dystonia are classically trained, and most are male. Up to 25% have a family history of dystonia.
The first signs of musician’s dystonia are lapses in the usually instinctive ability to perform on the instrument. Musicians may perceive the early symptoms of dystonia as a result of faulty technique or insufficient preparation.
Musician’s dystonia is triggered by playing the instrument and does not typically affect other activities. The top three musical instruments associated with musician’s dystonia are piano, the guitar, and brass instruments.
Pianists typically develop symptoms in the right hand, often affecting the fingers. String players usually experience symptoms in the left hand. Guitarists and percussionists may develop symptoms in either hand. Woodwind players may develop symptoms in the hands or embouchure. Brass players are usually affected in the corners of the mouth and jaw.
There is typically no pain associated with musician’s dystonia.
Because musician’s dystonia is a neurological disorder, the aim of treatment is to help the nervous system relearn the ability to complete specific movement tasks without triggering dystonia.
The origins of musician’s dystonia are being researched by scientists around the world. As a person develops and learns movement tasks, these movements are stored in the brain as sensory motor programs. Musician’s dystonia can be described as “computer virus” that corrupts the sensory motor programs associated with playing the instrument.
Although there is no cure for musician’s dystonia at this time, several treatment options exist.
- Types of Musician's Dystonia
Embouchure Dystonia: dystonia that affects brass and woodwind players and adjustment of the mouth to fit the mouthpiece of a wind instrument
Focal Hand in Musicians: usually manifests as a painless loss of muscular control in highly practiced movements
- Peer Support for Musicians
Musicians with Dystonia Support Forum is a private Facebook group where musicians affected by dystonia are welcome to connect, to give and get support.
Thank you to Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (USA) for allowing us to share this information. The DMRF is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to advancing research for improved dystonia treatments and ultimately a cure, promoting awareness, and supporting the well-being of affected individuals and families.