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Thumb hyperextension problems in percussion playing

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My problems with my thumb first began when I was 12, when I had a dry skiing accident and broke both of my thumbs. At that time I had just began learning the drum kit. Instead of being treated by a hand specialist I was being seen by a general surgeon who specialised in backs. Over a two year period I kept going back to the surgeon explaining that my thumbs were very painful and my left thumb especially was bending very strangely (known as hyper-extending) but the surgeon kept turning me away saying that there are much worse hand problems out there and I should be grateful mine aren’t that bad (in the mean time my left thumb especially was getting to that ‘bad’ stage). I was becoming more and more involved with music, I had started to learn timpani and conga along with the drum kit and had also started to learn piano and tenor saxophone.

I then moved to St Mary’s Music School in Edinburgh where I began playing marimba, which was soon to become my main area of study. I concentrated a lot of my time of four-mallet playing (two mallets in each hand) and I was playing up to five hours per day on top of my other instruments. Tenor saxophone was also a big problem as my thumb would sit in its hyper-extended point which meant it was basically dislocated while playing. (I have now moved on to playing soprano saxophone which is usually held like a clarinet so this has taken away many of the problems from the joint.) This lead to my thumb joint getting much much worse.

I was lucky to have Richard Beauchamp teaching at St Mary’s and he put me in touch with the British Association of Performing Arts Medicine (BAPAM) who then explained that I have flexible joints and they weren’t surprised that this had happed to my thumb especially after my ski accident and were surprised that the surgeon who treated me before hadn’t realised this. We were then put in touch with a hand surgeon at Ninewells, Dundee who I am so grateful to. I was put on the waiting list for surgery to my thumb and six weeks later it was all done and dusted. Six months later I was playing a marimba concerto in the Edinburgh Festival and then flying off to New York to take part in the Juilliard Summer Percussion Seminar where I have been invited back by the Marimba Soloist for private lessons. I am also heading off to study at Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester and have a whole life of music playing to enjoy which wouldn’t have even been imaginable if it wasn’t for the support from St Mary’s and my Surgeon at Ninewells.

If you ever have any doubts about the health of your joints and you are not happy with what your doctor/surgeon is saying then I strongly advise that you seek further advice, because if I hadn’t I would be writing this success story which I never would have thought possible.

If you wish to find out more about the surgeon or my hand problems contact Richard Beauchamp who will put you in touch with myself.

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