Musicians Focal Dystonia

Some of you have been asking me why I haven’t been putting out any YouTube videos or product reviews recently.  Well unfortunately there’s a reason for that – I’ve been virtually unable to play guitar for around 2 years now…

Until a few months ago I had no idea what was wrong with me, but I have now finally been diagnosed with having a neurological condition called Musicians Focal Dystonia.  Never heard of it?  Here’s a quick definition from WikiPedia

Focal dystonia is a neurological condition that affects a muscle or group of muscles in a specific part of the body causing involuntary muscular contractions and abnormal postures. For example, in focal hand dystonia, the fingers either curl into the palm or extend outward without control. In musicians, the condition is referred to as Musician’s Focal Dystonia, or simply musician’s dystonia.

Here’s a great video which explains and shows the impact of the condition from the point of view of a musician who also suffers from MFD.

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The symptoms of the condition present themselves in my fretting hand, and the result is that my fingers try to curl into my palm whenever I try to play pretty much anything.  The muscles which are used to contract my fingers are in constant tension.  Dystonia is generally task specific, so the symptoms only present themselves when playing guitar.  Imagine playing your favorite song on guitar and being physically unable to lift your fingers from the fretboard without a huge amount of effort – that’s what it’s like for me.  It also makes typing much harder, so if you notice any spelling errors here on LeftyFretz that is most likely why!

Unfortunately Focal Dystonia is incredibly hard to treat, and for most musicians it is effectively the end of their guitar playing careers. Botox injections can relax (weaken) the muscles and help alleviate symptoms, but this is a temporary fix and not a solution.  Rewiring my brain through sensorimotor retraining activities may help, but can take potentially years and may ultimately make no difference at all.  Various other ‘tricks’ can help out, but none have made a significant change for me.

Luckily it’s a painless disorder (for me) and it’s not exactly the end of the world – but it sure is a complete pain in the ass.

So there you have it folks!  My options are to give up, become a slide player, or relearn to play right handed. Yikes!

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