Musicians Focal Dystonia

Neuroscience Gives us a New Answer


Focal Dystonia is a silent suffering experienced by athletes, musicians, dancers, writers, surgeons…

I first came across it in a professional basketball player who suddenly was unable to accurately jump from under the ring and place the ball into the basket. Since then I have successfully helped him and many other people to resolve their Focal Dystonia.

What makes it so elusive is that the causes are hidden deep in the subconscious brain and are often seemingly unrelated to the Focal Dystonia.

In this page I will briefly outline a definition of Focal Dystonia, its causes, the most common responses to it and perhaps most importantly how it can be resolved.

What is musicians Focal Dystonia?

It is a neurological condition that affects a muscle or group of muscles in a specific part of the body. It causes a block with the accurate functioning of those muscles; sometimes it causes contractions and abnormal postures. For example, in focal hand dystonia, the fingers either curl into the palm or extend outward without control.

For the musician, who suffers from Focal Dystonia a highly precise movement becomes impossible to perform, despite all their concentration and effort. What makes it even more perplexing for them is that it often appears all of a sudden. Examples that I have worked with are musicians who can´t maintain their embouchure, who´s tongue is unable to create the beginning of a note, sports people who´s body suddenly stops moving forward or who can´t release the ball.

Common Responses to Musicians Focal Dystonia

  1. The most common initial response that I see in my clients is to try harder. I hear over and over again how they practice more hours, dedicate more concentration and effort, but with no avail. That is when the inferno of suffering begins. Their self-demanding and trying harder is usually followed with any number of the following responses.
  2. Hiding the problem at all costs. They fear that they will be labelled and written off and so hide their difficulty. This means that not only do they have this tremendous suffering; they do so alone and in silence.
  3. Sufferers of Musicians Focal Dystonia become masters of adaptation. They find every way possible to avoid the block. However, as a professional musician this is only possible up to a certain point. This means that their professional career becomes highly limited.
  4. Most sadly for many musicians they reach the point where they see their only option to be to throw in the towel.

Causes of Musicians Focal Dystonia

The causes have been previously unknown; however, my experience in treating it links it to adverse events.

These adverse events are distinct in each case and often are not initially related to music. However, in all the cases that I have worked with, the primary events have a deep emotional and usually relational root. They are stored in the sub-cortical (limbic, autonomic and reptilian) areas of the brain, which are also beyond our conscious memory and control.

Further experiences become built on top of the primary events until in the present time something occurs which is like the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It may be an important concert, a difficult colleague, an injury, a change of instrument or difficult conductor… In that moment the initial symptoms suddenly erupt and usually worsen over quite a short period of time.

Many clients describe it as a flight/fight response or at least they are aware of some kind of feeling of threat or dread in relation to the early symptoms.

Recent neuro-scientific research has indicated the relationship between the areas of the brain that store these emotional and relationship memories and those that govern automatic fine motor skills. Indeed in my experience, it seems that the highly developed fine motor skills of musicians, athletes…creates a higher sensibility to Focal Dystonia.

How to Cure Musicians Focal Dystonia

Its resolution requires techniques which enable us to access directly into sub-cortical areas of the brain in order to resolve the primary and subsequent experiences that are the root cause.

As a result of this resolution the body movements are liberated and return to their natural state.

The complex part of the treatment is that there is very little downward communication from the new and conscious part of our brain (neo-cortex) to the deeper and sub-conscious part of the brain. For this reason Sensory Motor Training Activities are only partially effective. They work on the symptom rather than resolving the cause which is largely inaccessible to this type of technique.

I use a combination of techniques involving specific breathing patterns, body positions and Brainspotting. They are all methods which impact directly on the sub-cortex, creating neuroplasticity and physiological resolutions in the brain.

Brainspotting, is a powerful, focused treatment method that works by identifying, processing and releasing core neurophysiological sources of the symptoms. It is a method that penetrates powerfully and directly to the sub-cortex and at the same time it is focused, and containing.

Brainspotting works with the deep older brain and the body through its direct access to the Autonomic and Limbic systems within the body’s Central Nervous System. It uses the beneficial brain processes of the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep phase in a controlled, awake and conscious way.

In this way Brainspotting is accordingly a physiological tool and treatment which has profound psychological, emotional, and physical consequences.

The symptoms begin to disappear as fast as they appeared. As part of the treatment we resolve the scars, fears and suffering that the Musicians Focal Dystonia itself has left.

We also retrain the learned and conscious mental processes which have exacerbated the problem. As part of this process we develop the base psycho-emotional state of “Flow” in order to leave you with a whole new relationship with your instrument and with music.


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