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.”