Music and Arthritis

Many musicians develop pain in one or more joints or tendons after years of playing their musical instruments. There is evidence to support the idea that conditions like osteoarthritis are directly linked to the repetitive movements involved with playing an instrument. Some musicians suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, a disease that affects one in a hundred adults in the UK. Playing music with arthritis can become very painful and not possible in some extreme cases. However, many musicians refuse to allow arthritis to stop them pursuing their passion.

Whereas arthritis can be a painful obstacle that some musicians must overcome, playing music can also provide a form of therapy and pain relief for those non-musicians suffering with arthritis. We examine a case study from Sunderland that shows the power of music in helping those living with arthritis.

In our latest blog, we explore the various links between music and arthritis.

It makes sense to begin with a brief overview of how the main two forms of arthritis affect musicians:


The wear and tear of the joints associated with osteoarthritis can present in musicians at a younger age. This is because the risk of developing osteoarthritis is increased by repetitive movements and the overuse of joints. Keith Richards, the Rolling Stones’ guitarist, has osteoarthritis in his hands as is evidenced in the above photograph.


Rheumatoid arthritis is when the body’s own immune system starts to attack the joints. More common in women over 40, it can mean that the inidivual experiences chronic pain and loses function which can seriously affect a musicians ability to play and perform.

How Music Can Help Reduce Arthritis Pain

Music can actually help alleviate some of the pain associated with arthritis. The exercise and finger movements related to playing can actively assist those living with arthritis in managing their pain. As well as releasing endorphins, which help alleviate pain, playing an instrument helps improve the dexterity and strength in joints.

In October 2014, the Arthritis UK Sunderland Group held a meeting in which they discussed music therapy and arthritis, and how music can help reduce pain in those suffering with the condition. Much of the discussion was focussed around the Bunker, a Sunderland group committed to healing through music and, one case in particular, that of John Hope. Suffering with the symptoms of arthritis for 27 years, John had a passion about music and wanted to try his hand at being a drummer despite daily pain in his hands, toes and spine. With specialist tuition from Cieran at the Bunker, John found that after a few weeks he was able to hold his drumsticks and sit on stool for over an hour, something he would never thought .

John told Arthritis Research UK, ‘Music releases endorphins which help subdue the pain and lighten my mood. The personal tuition and support I’ve received has helped me enormously.”

The Bunker is determined to help you follow your musical passions regardless, whether that be learning to beat out a rhythm on African drums or play the piano. For more information, visit the Bunker website.

The hope is that this type of specialist therapy through music will spread across the UK, giving people with arthritis another option for pain management.

Musicians with Arthritis

For many musicians, giving up on their passion is simply not an option. You therefore have to look to ways of managing the pain and minimising the impact of the symptoms of arthritis. Here are some real life examples of musicians with rheumatoid arthritis:

Edith Piaf

The French songstress suffered from severe Rheumatoid Arthritis from her early thirties.

Here she is performing the classic Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien:

Fenella Barton

Internationally-renowned violinist Fenella Barton’s rheumatoid arthritis became so bad that she could not always lift her bow. Fenella in an interview with the BBC explained: “I was not practising. I would be going to rehearsals and just surviving. Sometimes I could literally not pick up my bow or move my hand so I just had to cancel the concert or get someone else to do it.”

Here she is performing Of Knots and Skeins with Dominic Saunders:

Chantal Chamberland

Canadian jazz singer Chantal Chamberland has struggled for two decades with rheumatoid arthritis. At the age of 24, symptoms presented in her feet, knees, hips and hands. She had to stop playing guitar and limit her concert appearances. The condition threatened to stop her performing altogether. A combination of Enbrel (etanercept) and methotrexate has meant that she has been able to continue playing live and largely pain free. Read the full article here.

Here she is performing Someday from her 2005 album Dripping Indigo:

Cases of misdiagnosis of arthritis can also happen with musicians due to the prevalence of related conditions involving joints, tendons and muscles. For example, when professional keyboardist Rick Wakeman experienced swollen hands and acute pain during shows, he was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at the age of 31. The man famous for playing up to 36 keyboards found out over 30 years later that he did not have rheumatoid arthritis but a condition related to him overworking his hands. You can read more on his story over at the Daily Mail. The point is that it is worth getting a second opinion on a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, especially one from decades ago.

If you are a musician experiencing joint pain, it is important to speak to a doctor as soon as possible. It is all too easy to dismiss aches and pains as being part and parcel of practicing regularly and carrying a heavy instrument around. The pain you are experiencing could in fact be symptoms of arthritis. Although there is no cure, the condition can be effectively managed and an early diagnosis should prevent longterm joint damage. With a treatment plan in place early, you  should be able to keep making music for many, many years.

Further Reading on Arthritis

Life Insurance and Arthritis

Your Life Protected are specialists in securing arthritis life insurance – this can include osteoarthritis and rheumatoid. For more information on how arthritis can affect your insurance cover and how we can help call us today on 01275 404268 or complete the simple form for an arthritis insurance quote.

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