Focal Dystonia/Hand technique rehab techniques

iwearnohats

Silver Member
Hi guys,

I'm interested in feedback from anyone who has encountered problems with Focal Dystonia, any sort of involuntary clenching, tension, etc. If anyone has also used this process to develop Traditional Grip as a solution, please let me know as well.

I'm currently in the process of trying to fix my own problem (which is undiagnosed but I believe to be focal dystonia). I believe I have isolated the primary cause but would like to test my ideas with other drummers before I draw up a video (and I still need more work anyway)

I have two primary components of the 'rehab' process, one is an alternative grip (not Trad), and one is redeveloping the 'correct' grip.

It's taken me over a year of experimentation and setbacks to reach this point.

The alternative grip has four main points:

1. Remain completely relaxed (crucial!)
2. Hand remains in 'flat', German style position.
3. Stick is 'bounced' using the underside of the index finger, between the first and second knuckles
4. Ring and middle fingers remain away from the stick and loose (unless you can use them without tension), and the stick is gripped only with the pinky.

I have found that this technique gave me enough facility for productive practise whilst I've been rehabbing the hand.

Points for redeveloping 'correct' technique, which is focused on strengthening the fulcrum first and foremost:

1. Initially, all technique work is practiced using ONLY the index finger and thumb, gripping the stick at its balance point between the thumb and the 3rd knuckle of the index finger.

2. Practice slow, 100% relaxed buzz rolls using pressure from the thumb (not tension) in a French-grip position

3. Practice high 'bounce' strokes allowing the momentum of the stick's rebound to extend the index finger. Use an American grip position

4. As you gain strength in the fulcrum, speed can be increased but only whilst remaining fully relaxed. Start incorporating double strokes and accented paradiddles, and eventually other rudiments and exercises as the grip becomes more comfortable.

5. Rest is just as important as technique work - if you can only do a few minutes a day, that's fine.

I am avoiding consciously having my middle and ring fingers touch the stick as this for me is the trigger for the involuntary tension, instead I am trying to allow my hand to naturally adapt to the fulcrum work.

The most important thing to remember in this little rehab program is to 'bounce' the stick like a basketball, and let it do all the work.

If anyone is interested in working on my ideas (or is experiencing the same physical and physiological issues), please let me know and if it works for you.

Thanks
 

Jeff Almeyda

Senior Consultant
I have dealt with musician's dystonia for almost a decade now. Nothing truly worked to bring me back anywhere near my prior levels except for two things.

1. It affects my traditional grip much less so I started working on that.

2. The biggie was that I went to NYU Langome to see Dr Stephen Frucht, a neurologist who specializes in this. He has treated hundreds of professional musicians, from violinists to pianists to over 20 drummers.

After being reviewed, video recorded and tested by no less that FIVE neurologists, I was officially diagnosed and given botox injections into the affected muscles. The muscles were weakened by approx 4%. Not enough to notice in everyday activities but enough to take the clenching and twisting down dramatically.

During the treatment, you must also practice diligently to get the correct motor program back into your nervous system.

The results have been astonishing. I can play double strokes with matched grip again, the pain that would normally occur in my forearm extensors as they fought the clenching of their antagonist muscles is gone. The treatment will continue for a few shots every 3 months until we reach an end point.

Truly, this was the answer for me and I would highly recommend anyone with a similar issue to seek out this therapy.
 

Jeff Almeyda

Senior Consultant
Your rehab method is very similar to what I've done. Strengthening the fulcrum is key.

For me, the bad fingers are the ring and pinky. I bought a bag of paper coin rolling tubes. The nickels tube fits over my ring finger and the pennies roll goes over the pinky. I reinforce the rolls with a little bit of tape so they don't unravel. Now I have an outside force holding the finger away from doing its contraction thing. This has really helped retrain the hands.

Also, I recently bought the stickpro (https://www.stickpro.com/). This is a little ring that helps you to hold the stick. It was originally designed for twirling nonsense but it has gained some traction due to Dennis Chambers as a grip assist.

It really helps keep the fingers away from clenching. Try it on different fingers to see if works for you.

If you combine this with what you're doing and then add the Botox you will be amazed at the difference.
 

iwearnohats

Silver Member
Thanks for your input, Jeff! The coin tubes are a great idea - I've been trying to think of something of that nature which I can use myself to completely disconnect my middle finger (which seems to be the primary trigger)

That Stickpro looks interesting - I might look into it at some point depending on how I go.

For now I'm trying to see if I can find an all-natural (i.e., purely physiological and neural retraining) method to fix the problem rather than Botox etc. I've definitely found that since training the fulcrum more (from what I can tell it was virtually untrained from 20+ years of unfixed techique haha) it's definitely letting the other fingers relax more as they're no longer the primary movers
 

iwearnohats

Silver Member
Hi Jeff, I've been doing some more experimentation. I was wondering if you might be willing to try a little exercise for me?

I believe the bulk of my problem comes from a lack of thumb strength and the fingers are overcompensating.

The exercise I'm playing with is as follows:

Hold the hand in a French grip position with the fingers relaxed, the stick resting the tip on the drum/pad, and the butt on the fingers roughly following the 2nd knuckle. The fingers should remain open and extended as much as possible throughout the exercise

Without bending the fingers or moving the hand, press the tip of the thumb towards the stick. Use just enough pressure to hold the stick against the fingers as you lift the stick. See if you can attempt to lightly drop the stick on the pad simply by relaxing the thumb. Attempt to keep the fingers completely open and relaxed throughout.

Can you please let me know if you try this out, and if so, do you have any feedback? I have been working with it for two days now and I feel as though it is making a difference already. I mean, still only 1% but 1% is better than nothing!
 

rustyfingers

Senior Member
Check out Scott's Bass Lessons on YT. He has Focal Dystonia and plays with a glove on his left hand. He has a very interesting video on the subject in on his YT channel if you want to check it out. I had thought that was my issue with my left hand but it turns out it's nerve damage from resting my elbow on a desk for 35 years working on a computer.

 
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