Student Musicians’ Injury Treatment

I spoke with a client of Dr. Shmuel Tatz’s named Sarah, recently in the office after her treatment.  She is a violinist at Mannes conservatory, which is part of the New School; the campus is on the upper West side.  She came to Shmuel initially for about 3 months of treatment and by the end she showed significant improvement.

Most importantly, she is now able to play again with ease and more comfortably. She feels much better overall.  She gave a glowing review of Shmuel’s abilities, “He is wonderful, he is the best, he is better than everyone else I’ve seen.”

She is never sore after a treatment and is able to play at events and concerts the same day, which is a concern for musicians I’ve learned. In many cases musicians in physical therapy may have to schedule therapy on days they don’t play, because you don’t want to be sore from a treatment on the day of a performance.

The young student said that her school does not have any formal support programs in place to help musicians who are experiencing pain from playing their instruments.  She wished that they did have this option available, as many need physical therapy services.

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Professional Performers: Christa Ludwig, Alexandra Danilova, Isaac Stern

Located in Carnegie Hall, Shmuel Tatz’s studio is in the center of New York’s artistic community. And with good reason. Many of Tatz’s clients are virtuoso performers whose work places unusual stress of their bodies. This is the kind of stress Tatz has honed his Body Tuning methods to relieve.

Isaac Stern is one of the many violinists who has benefitted from Tatz’s help over the years. “Not only is Shmuel an enormously gifted, highly trained experienced physical therapist,” says Stern, “he is also knowledgeable in the unique needs of artists who so often have problems that are caused by professional work.”

Whether it is the musician’s repeated motion of bowing a violin, the singer’s breathing techniques or the dancer’s wear and tear on muscles and joints, all performing artists demand a lot of their bodies.

“My instrument is my body, and I need a healthy body to be able to sing,” says Crista Ludwig, one of the world’s great sopranos who performs internationally. When she is in New York to sing at the Metropolitan Opera, she makes a point to visit Tatz for Body Tuning.

“My back is always the first to go,” she explains. “The breathing I do as a singer involves holding my breath when letting the tone out and slowly breathing with it. If I have a long phrase to sing, holding my breath can make my back very stiff. On top of that, if I am nervous it always goes to my back.

“Shmuel has very special hands,” she adds. “He always goes deeper than massage and really works with the joints. When I am with him I can feel where the problem is. He relieves my tension and as a result my voice always gets better.”

Another thing Tatz has taught her is the importance of exercise. “We singers are always shrinking because we don’t move,” says Ludwig. “We sit in planes or in taxis or we stand on stage, but we don’t do any kind of sport. Shmuel really knows the right exercises for each age and body weight.”

The importance of taking good care of you body as you get older cannot be over-stresses, says Tatz. In the performing arts this is particularly true of dancers for whom endless hours of training ultimately takes its toll. Alexandra Danilova whose career as a ballerina has spanned much of this century and some of the most famous ballet companies worldwide, including the Maryinsky in Russia, the Diaghlev in London, and the School of American Ballet in New York where she taught for many years, works with Tatz for just this reason.

“When you dance you must look after your muscles,” she says. “One cannot neglect a little pain, you must take care of it and learn exercises to do to stay healthy.”

Danilova continues to live by this principal in her retirement and goes to Tatz once a week for Body Tuning. “I still work on my whole body,” she says. “I don’t want to stop or I’ll get stiff.”

“Shmuel really appreciates dancers,” she adds. “He knows the way their bodies work.” Ballet, she explains, has many parallels with Yoga. Exercises such as the pontes de bras and adagio come directly from Yoga. The reason Body Tuning is so effective for dancers, she says, is that it too is based on Yoga and therefore is a natural extension of the exercises dancers do in Ballet.

For Ludwig and Danilova Tatz’s work shows a particular sensitivity to the art. But Body Tuning for both has not just been physical therapy and massage to relieve pain or stress. Working with Tatz, they say, has taught them important new ways to think about movement. This influence has enabled them to work by them selves on using their bodies in a way that is more relaxing and, in the long term, more healthy. “Because I have a bad back it is often painful to move,” says Danilova. “But Shmuel has found a way to help me stand up straight. I have to say to myself ‘I am the queen.’ It feels a little strange every time I say it, but it really helps me to balance. If I don’t say this when I get up in the morning I find my self falling into a droopy position, saying this reminds me to hold myself up.” Ludwig says Tatz has changed her sense that exercise needs to be done quickly. “Every time he shows me exercises he always reminds me to do them slowly. I can always hear him say it, ‘slowly … slowly.’ Now that I have realized the importance of this I am dissatisfied when working with anyone who is not Shmuel.”

Both Danilova and Stern agree. Tatz’s highly developed technique and sensitivity to performing artists is unparalleled. “It is not only too rare to find this combination,” says Stern. “He can be an invaluable aid to any performing artist.”

by Alice Nadine

Physical Therapy for Pianists

Jerzy Marchwinski’s Road to Recovery

About ten years ago, the well known Polish pianist and pedagogue Jerzy Marchwinski began to lose control of the fingers of his right hand. Within a few years, he had stopped playing altogether. “At first, I started to make a few mistakes in concerts,” he explained, ” and eventually I lost sensation in my right hand. It felt like a piece of wood.”

For the last several years Mr. Marchwinski traveled around Europe, unsuccessfully seeking a solution to his problem. However, during a recent trip to Manhattan, he had the good fortune to meet and work with the respected physical therapist and educator Shmuel Tatz for a period of two weeks. My discussion with Mr. Marchwinski focused on both his odyssey through various unsuccessful treatments and the uniquely productive aspects of his work with Mr. Tatz.

Starting in 1990, Mr. Marchwinski began a series of visits to prominent physicians in Poland, England, France, and the United States. By the end of two years worth of medical exams, the only conclusion that had been reached was that he had suffered some degeneration in his upper spine. Some physicians suggested laser surgery; however, the explanation of the high risk of postoperative paralysis convinced him to forgo such a procedure.

Next, Marchwinski went to a Parisian clinic specializing in the treatment of hand malfunction. He was given a series of exercises which, to his disappointment did nothing to improve his condition. Acupuncture sessions were similarly unproductive.

By this point, Marchwinski had not played for three years, a period of time which seemed like an eternity for him. Frustrated by the many unsuccessful attempts at treating his condition, but unwilling to continue without the piano, he decided to try to play with only his left hand. Determined to reintroduce his right hand to the keyboard as well, he started to develop a limited technical approach that enabled him to play at least to some extent with his inflamed and dysfunctional right hand.

It was at this point that a friend suggested to Marchwinski that he come to Manhattan to work with Shmuel Tatz at Medical Arts. “I didn’t expect a miracle,” Marchwinski confided, “but Shmuel has helped me enormously.” Tatz began by mobilizing the joints in Marchwinski’s right hand through hands-on manipulation. Tatz also taught him hand exercises which have helped Marchwinski to begin to regain control of the fingers of his right hand.

“On a more general level,” Marchwinski elaborated, “Shmuel has introduced me to the sensation of relaxation, the feeling that the body is elastic, like a spring. It is important for me to be able to feel this sensation were when I am away from the piano–while shaving, for example.” After a mere two weeks of work with Tatz, Marchwinski found that in addition to his regaining some control of his right hand, his physical movements in general had become more relaxed and supple. “Thanks to Shmuel,” he remarked, “I even sleep better.”