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Rotator Cuff Injuries and the Double Bass

Give it to me strait, doc. Will I ever be able to play the bull fiddle again?

Bottom Dwellers with Andy Lentz

Bottom Dwellers with Andy Lentz performing at Capay Organic Farm, circa 2011.

In early February of this year, I got a flu shot in my right shoulder. The medical assistant who stuck me said, “oh, your muscle didn’t like that” and warned me that it would likely be sore for a few days.

Fast-forward nearly two months later and I still can’t raise my right arm without significant pain. There are days when it hurts less than others, but the performance isn’t even close to where it used to be.

This is a serious problem for me. The broken part in my arm (whichever one it is) is one I need to slap my bass, and slapping my bass is like... my main bag.

I’ve been to the doctor since, of course. She diagnosed me with a rotator cuff injury that was likely caused by over use. I suppose that shouldn’t surprise me.

She prescribed some rehabilitation exercises. I haven’t noticed much of a difference yet, but other people I’ve talked to with the same injury have said it fixed them up as good as new. I’m supposed to do these exercises for the rest of my life, though. That sounds daunting, but in reality, I probably should have been doing these exercises from the get go.

Some of you are bass players, so I thought it was important that I share this info here. I’ve been playing slap style bass for about eight years with no problems up until now. I never expected something like this could creep up on me.

Many bowing and pizzicato techniques have been around for hundreds of years, and are taught in school. Those of us on the more... “colloquial” end of the double bass spectrum are out of luck when it comes to such time-tested standardization. In fact, I can’t think of any two players off hand that slap the bass quite the same.

The pain in my shoulder suggests there may be a need for us to put more thought into our techniques, and be as open and objective as possible when sharing them with each other.

If nothing else, this experience has shown me the importance of lifting weights and keeping all the muscles in your shoulder and upper arms strong. If you aren’t currently doing any weight lifting, I encourage you to start. Modest 1 to 5 lb. weights and a consult with your doctor on how best to use them should go a long way in extending your career.

Also, when players ask you about your technique, don’t hesitate to share and to ask them about theirs. I hope to share more about mine here in the coming months. Maybe when it doesn’t hurt quite so much to play.