Welcome to the second posts of The Artist Series, where I interview musicians who have overcome injuries to help demystify performance-related pain and inspire musicians to better take care of their health.
Our next guest is Hayley Currin, a cellist currently completing her undergraduate degree at St. Olaf College.
What is your name and preferred pronouns?
Hayley Currin (all pronouns)
Where do you currently work, and what is your instrument/voice type?
I am currently an undergraduate BM Cello Performance student at St. Olaf College
What was your injury, and how did you get injured?
I got severe carpal tunnel syndrome in my right wrist. Having just entered college, I was extremely driven to be the best musician I could, and also terrified that I wasn’t good enough, so I practiced constantly. I was practicing upwards of 6 hours a day, without warming up, and then frequently rehearsing for hours more. My whole life was consumed by practicing in the most unhealthy way, and when my wrist started hurting. I maintained my schedule and made it worse for months.
What were the biggest challenge(s) of your injury?
The pain in my wrist was unbearable. Sometimes even picking up my bow would bring me to tears and I would still finish practicing anyway. I quickly lost all of my grip strength, to the point that I couldn’t even hold my phone without dropping it. In retrospect, I was in so much pain for those couple of months that I am missing most of my memory from them, it’s like I simply blacked out a good month and a half of my life when the pain was at its worst.
What was your recovery like? What struggles did you face trying to overcome your injury?
My recovery was long and with limited degrees of success. The first step I made was going to an urgent care to confirm that it was carpal tunnel, and there I was given even stronger ibuprofen, which I proceeded to use for longer than I should have. I then went to physical therapy, where he told me that I had 0% mobility in my wrist, and that he was frankly surprised I had made it this far without seeing him. Physical therapy was very helpful, but always just for a couple of days after my appointment.
At the end of a couple of months of that, he told me it would still be unlikely for me to be able to play for longer than 45 minutes at a time, ever again. I was advised to take two weeks off of playing, which nearly drove me crazy. I couldn’t remember taking a day off, let alone two weeks, but I did. I was so worried about using the energy in my right hand that I stopped doing anything with it but practicing. I no longer typed, I texted with just my left hand, I stopped taking notes, I stopped knitting, I wouldn’t so much as let someone hold my hand on the right side, and it “worked” meaning in spite of all the things I was sacrificing, I could still practice.
In the fall of 2020, I met Austin and enrolled in the Functional Musician program. It started helping me pretty immediately, with more mobility and some limited strength training, and as time went on I started feeling better consistently. My practice hours started going back up, and I felt more confident about making it through 1.5 hour orchestra rehearsals. I started doing things with my right hand with less fear that it was going to reverse all of my progress, and most importantly, I felt some hope. By the end of the three months, I was back. I could finish a 4 hour practice session and be okay.
What was the biggest lesson you learned during your recovery?
The biggest lesson I learned was that there is more to life and frankly, more to music than the amount of hours you can practice. I was doing so much for the sake of doing too much, and recovery really taught me to slow down and think first. It taught me to make some boundaries with myself. I walked into Freshman year with the mentality that “I could do anything if I worked hard enough” and eventually learned that I could do anything, but only if I equally worked to make it sustainable.
What was something that surprised you during your recovery?
I was surprised by how much my injury had really taken from me, and all of the parts of my life it was in. Getting injured was never just about wanting to practice, there were a lot of mindset things there too, and recovering was never just a physical endeavor either. I was rather upset when Austin told me that meditation, hydration, and nutrition were part of my recovery process, but in the end, I could really tell the difference. You give more than your physical self to being injured, you have to give more than your physical self to recover.
What are you actively doing to stay healthy and pain-free?
I still regularly dedicate a lot of my time to injury prevention and health. After doing a lot of the strength training that Austin gave me, I really started to enjoy it and started to get back into weightlifting. Currently, I lift 5-6 days a week and I’m absolutely in love with it. A couple of years ago I couldn’t even hold my phone, and now I get upset when my grip fails on a 205 pound deadlift. I use the Pomodoro method in each of my practice sessions, which is practicing for 25 minutes and a 5 minute break, and though this is usually used for focus, I use the breaks to stretch and do mobility exercises. I’ve never been much of one for classic meditation, but I take the time for either walking or hammocking in nature frequently.
Do you have any words of encouragement for someone currently going through an injury?
I would say, try to be gentle with yourself. I know having an injury is terrifying. Music can really be our whole lives, but breathe, have faith, take a walk, and it’s going to be okay even if it isn’t getting better as fast as you want it to. Recovery, like practice, is a process. You’ll get there.
Any other final thoughts about your recovery journey you’d like to share?
Musically, I have been trying a lot to really feel mind-body connection and implement that in my phrasing and the ease of my right hand. I am also in the midst of a very extensive grad school audition process. I have two more auditions to go, so wish me luck!