Dystonic syndrome

The dystonic syndrome in musicians, commonly known as focal dystonia (involving the embouchure or hands) is a disorder characterized by abnormal muscular activity. It can include involuntary phenomena such as contractions, spasms, tremors and grimacing; all of which prevent the musician from adequately handling the muscles involved in performing.

Many musicians experience this disorder at some point during their lives. In some cases the syndrome is overcome spontaneously and the musician may not be aware of how it was remedied. In other cases the musician may experience fluctuations in their playing which can result in instability until retirement, or in some cases we come across the musician that “throws in the towel.”


Nowadays there is scarce information about this problem and in some cases this information is communicated in an alarming and confusing way. What information is available ranges from a cautious clinical approach, to information which is open to new perspective, to information which hopelessly condemns the musicians career to ruin.

I have been working with this disorder for thirty five years, and more than two decades ago I came to the conclusion that this disorder was the consequence of an unnoticed shift in a musicians daily practice and the emotional behaviour associated with it. How do we know this? Because the musician is healthy from a physical standpoint, which is why some medical tests do not reveal an abnormality. In fact, the musician is not born with the disorder but rather it is triggered at some time during their life. Musicians develop the disorder through behavioural patterns which are a consequence of an exacerbated response to what they consider a threatening context. It could be the obsessive idea of failing in an audition, concert etc…

It is also significant to mention the extrapolation phenomena that consists of moving the same behavioural patterns to other situations in life, which may bring about (no – the ) writer´s cramp, water leaks from the corners of the mouth while drinking, abnormal tremors or cramps when not performing, difficulty typing or picking up things, etc…