Focal Hand Dystonia

Every week I get emails from around the world asking me about the condition 'focal dystonia'.  It is a very difficult and frustrating process to recover from, which requires absolute comittment, determination and above all else patience!  I have uploaded a few articles by leading specialists on the subject.  Katherine Butler was my specialist who has done a great deal of research into focal dystonia amongst musicians.  The best advice I can give is that you do have to retrain the brain's messages to the fingers, so you must take things very slowly and please, please be patient!  It took me nearly six years to completely recover and start giving concerts again. Please feel free to contact me if you have any related queries. Click on the links below to download as a pdf file; Focal Hand Dystonia Affecting Musicians. Part I: An Overview Of Epidemiology, PathoPhysiology And Medical Treatments Focal Hand Dystonia Affecting Musicians. Part II: An Overview Of Current Rehabilitative Treatment Techniques Slow-Down Exercise for the Treatment of Focal Hand Dystonia; Page 1 Slow-Down Exercise for the Treatment of Focal Hand Dystonia; Page 2 Slow-Down Exercise for the Treatment of Focal Hand Dystonia; Page 3 Slow-Down Exercise for the Treatment of Focal Hand Dystonia; Page 4

12 thoughts on “Focal Hand Dystonia

  1. Hey Mark,

    I just read a very interesting chapter about this in Oliver Sachs’ amazing book “Musicophilia.” He talks about various treatments and research, and discusses case studies like Leon Fleischer. He touches on both the neurology and the psychology of the condition.

    It’s well worth a read.

    In fact I recommend the whole book to everyone, musician or not; suffering with a dystonia or not!

    Cheers, Chris

  2. Hi Chris,
    Good to hear from you. I haven’t read this book but I shall certainly look it up. I do believe that Leon Fleischer is now back performing but that quite a bit of botox was used in his recovery. I have heard that it does aid recovery from dystonia but I managed to avoid any such injections that goodness.
    Hope you’re keeping well.

  3. Hi Mark,

    In your recovery, did you change some aspects of your technique as David Leisner discribes in his article curing focal dystonia?

    cheers, Al

  4. Hi Al, In some respects I did change my technique but really it was a case of going back to basics. For example I became much more aware of my posture, my breathing and general relaxation. I did incorporate some of David’s techniques e.g. engaging larger muscle groups and he was the first to put me on the right path to recovery but the most important advice is to never play with focal dystonia again. What I mean by this is to only play at a tempo where the dystonia is not apparent in the hand. This reinforces the message to the brain the correct way of playing again. Once this is achieved the tempo can be increased, very slowly over an extended period of time (months, not hours!). Take a look at the articles I uploaded to my site.

  5. Yes from what I hear and read botox can aid recovery but this is in conjunction with other forms of treatment e.g neurological and physical exercises not just by itself. Botox only disguises the problem until it wears off.

  6. Yes Jack botox is dangerous and should be under no circumstances be injected by anyone else other than a doctor. I would generally encourage people to try all other avenues before going down this route which does (I believe), often disguise the real fundamental problems of focal dystonia.

  7. Dear Mark, I read your story with interest. I am a pianist with FD and it’s extremely complicated. I’d love to be able to ask you some questions but for reasons I won’t mention here, I need what I discuss to be kept confidential. I didn’t know if this message goes on to your website or not. Anyway, if you’re willing to read my questions, perhaps you can let me know how best to correspond.

    Many thanks and best wishes.


  8. Thank you for writing this article. I am a guitarist (non-professional), 53 years of age, and I have come down with what I believe is the first signs of FPD in my fretting hand. My ring finger wants to curl in, and when it does, it *locks in*, and takes greater conscious effort to *pop* it back up. While not a professional, I am a serious musician and NEED to play to feel alive… I’ve been playing for 40 years now and is as much a part of me as breathing.

    This article was written in 2010… I was curious to see if you are still able to play and perform now that it’s six years on. I’m planning to schedule an appointment with a neurologist next week to get an official diagnosis.

    Godspeed…. Dan Parsons

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