Arthritis and Chopin

I have a retired 70 year old student who has suffered for some time from mild arthritis in his fingers – every now and again they swell at the knuckle joints which of course greatly restricts both the range and freedom of movement. It’s very frustrating for him as he is actually quite a good pianist and it limits the repertoire he can play – if at all, some days.

After trying various ‘common sense’ remedies such as soaking hands in hot water before playing, or resting his hands completely by not playing at all for a while, he finally came up with a solution that works best for him – which quite possibly flies in the face of most ‘received wisdom’ and medical advice.

His solution is to spend as much time as he can practising really demanding pieces, ones that give his fingers a really good workout. He aims for a minimum of two hours a day, and tries to do at least three or four. It seems the more he uses his fingers, the less trouble he has with the joints, and it’s only when he takes a day or two off from practising that they start to swell. Being quite an advanced student he finds the big works of Chopin (Sonatas, Ballades, Scherzos etc) especially helpful on account of the large stretches they demand between the fingers. This it seems is more helpful than endless fast nimble passages, and in fact the stretches make the nimble passages more easy.

Best of all, it puts his fingers in a condition which makes fiddly daily tasks like doing up shirt buttons and tying shoe laces much easier too.

The essential message here seems to be, far from resting inflamed joints, it may actually be more beneficial to keep using them intensively. Specifically, stretching seems especially helpful. Particularly important is to consistently exercise each and every day. And what better, more enjoyable way to do that than to spend time with Chopin?

For an inspiring article on how a great virtuoso (Byron Janis) continued to perform at top level even with severe arthritis see this link

As Byron said, “over the years the arthritis hasn’t gotten any better, but what life has taught me is that almost anything is possible if your mind is strong enough.”

(see other posts)