Wednesday, 7 July 2021

Pain in the neck

First up this is not a "woe is me, feel sorry for me", no not at all!  I wanted to talk about this because it took me many years to understand and learn a few things hopefully you won't have to do the same!


Question: JAW's neck...can you spot the problem?

So I used to be a pretty keen cyclist, and noticed after my 20km cycle to work down my left arm would go numb/tingly, and my shoulder blade on the left side always felt a achy.  I had worked out early on that if I lay on a cricket ball or similar on the achy spot for a while, the "pressure point" would relax and it would come good for a while.  But it always came back.  And it was slowly getting worse.

I went and saw a physio and he identified it as some sort of neck injury, where the nerves coming out the left side of my neck were being impinged up.  He had me do an MRI and the report came back as some deterioration in the vertebrae disc and osteophytes present - also known as "bone spurs".  He said "surgeons won't want to touch it, it's spinal surgery. If you couldn't move your arm and were in pain all the time then they would, but at the moment you are okay."

I stopped cycling and although it didn't go away (bones don't "go away") it was far more manageable. Lay on a cricket ball once a week, the shoulder is only a dull ache, get on with life.

A few years go by, I ask, in passing, any doctors and surgeons that I meet about grinding bone spurs out of neck and they all said the same thing - don't do it unless you have to.

Then one day my daughter is seeing a chiropractor and getting good results, for a lark I sign up as well, "a check up".  I mention the neck thing, he insists I get an xray. And the xray showed the problem to me far better than the MRI and he was able to explain it to me quite clearly.

For some reason (they always suspect an injury like a car accident but I couldn't remember anything) the disk between my C6 and C7 neck vertebrae has thinned, and the bones at the rear have been rubbing.   Road bike cycling would _not_ have helped that, nor does painting a ceiling!  When bones rub they decide to grow more bone, and that has restricted the path for the nerves that run out the side of your neck down your arm. That particular nerve deals with the outside of your arm, left pinky and ring finger, that sort of region.  So when the nerve is being impinged you get this "referred nerve pain" in those areas.  Meanwhile, my neck and shoulders and back realise that something is going wrong and then tense up "to hold the problem stable/in place", so I have aching muscles.


Answer: C6-C7 vertebrae has thinned, bones have
rubbed on bone and produced two bone spur spikey
looking things, the hole where the nerves come
out doesn't have as much room as it should.

The good news is that some exercises really help!  For instance, if you have a stretchy rubber band, hold it between your hands with your elbows by your side, standing nice and straight, move your hands away from each other and then back, keeping your elbows by your side, do that until you fatigue, wait 30 seconds, then do half the amount you previously did. This works wonders for me! Basically it tightens up some back muscles (we are generally too hunched - back muscles are weak and stretched) and this opens up the nerve passage, less impingement. Laying on the cricket ball pressure points those sort muscles that are always tense, lets them relax.  When the physios and chiros do "dry needling" that works great for me, better than the cricket ball.

Long term it is just about management. Keeping a good range of movement in the neck, building up the muscles that hold your posture in a better position for less impingement. Maybe one day it will get really bad and I will have to consider surgery - I don't like that idea, I'd hate to recover and discover my left hand pink doesn't work properly anymore!  I'll take an achy back anytime over loss of function.

Saturday, 3 July 2021

Fingerstyle Arrangement Dynamic Balance

I follow a number of fingerstyle arrangers, and I do tend to focus on cover arrangements, particularly pop and rock classics. It is interesting to see other's takes on songs, and always interesting when they cover the same songs I cover.  I get so many extra ideas to throw back into my arrangements!  But sometimes I see a cover and I just can't get into it, and it largely comes down to, for want of a better term, dynamic balance.

First up I'm self taught so I have zero musical credibility; this is coming from my ear. Dynamics are how we get that extra edge of emotion into our playing, sets us apart from the robots, and that's good! But dynamics have to be balanced. A song, say, "Smells Like Teen Spirit" has clear dynamics - there's a quiet section, then there's a thrashy section. Your fingerstyle arrangement should capture that. But sometimes I see dynamics that shouldn't be there. An example would be playing a part of a song with a pick (euw) and then the next part with your fingers...unless there is a call for extreme dynamics you shouldn't do that to keep the song balanced.

I recently saw Gabby Quevedo cover "4 Non Blondes - What's Up" and she did some strumming then played some fingerstyle, sorry, it didn't work for me! It put the song dynamically out of balance; putting dynamics where there shouldn't be.  See it here https://youtu.be/9D7cJMzK4G8. Gabby does great arrangements so this one surprised me. Phil Jakes does similar "unbalanced" arrangements from time to time and even the unstoppable arranging legend Kelly Valleau does too. I've seen it elsewhere so it's probably just me, I've done it myself once or twice and never been happy with the result.

I'm not sure if I'm explaining myself very well here, what do you think?