Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Progress Update

As some of you may know i have been fighting issues with my right hand for going on a year now. At first i lost the ability to perform banjo rolls with my thumb and index fingers which forced me to put down my banjo and go back to trying to learn guitar. Well that was going ok for a month or so and then I lost the ability to hold the flat pick reliably which forced me to put down the guitar. Then my right hand got to the point that I could no longer type with it, which is a HUGE problem as I am a computer engineer and not being able to type with both hands slows me down considerably.

So i started out in february with an emg which showed an irritated C6 in my neck, got sent to ortho doc and PT for that, neck better than before but hand still messed up so after 2nd emg shows no more C6 issue get sent to hand doc who concludes its writers cramp and refers me to neurologist. See neurologist a few weeks ago and diagnosis is focal hand dystonia, not cool, google it, its pretty much a death sentence for my music career :frowning: Neurologist wants to do botox injections providing insurance covers but I dunno if i want to do them or not but dont see what other choice I have. I have also been thinking about trying to switch to lefty guitar since I am left handed anyway but dont want to jump into that until i see what the shots do i guess. Pretty depressed about the whole deal which is why i havent been around last few months.

Wow, I am sure ready for some good news on your hand. I am sure you are too. I’ve been thinking about you from time to time and wondering how you were doing. Thanks for the update. I am glad to hear that the neck issue is better. Is that what caused the focal hand dystonia?
Keep us updated. I’ll be praying for you.

To be honest mike i really dont know what caused my neck issue other than maybe too much tension trying to teach myself right handed guitar and banjo going against the grain if you will. I know there are many people that are lefty and haved learned to play right with no issues but now i am beginning to think i am not one of those. The one thing i am holding onto at the moment as kinda proof of this is here in the last week i have been tinkering with how my guitar feels lefty and i have to say i feel my overall posture seems better lefty and even with the dystonia in my right hand i feel like i have more reach with my fingers with the right fretting as opposed to the left. I hold my guitar more classical style when playing right but lefty i can rest it on my knee like i see most do.

At this point i am trying to resist the urge to go grab a lefty guitar and really get into it though until i try the botox shots i guess as i gotta get my typing back first and foremost but i have read some info on musicians that have retaught themselves lefty with some success as the dystonia only seems to affect certain activities and maybe if i can give my right hand the fretting job it may be able to deal with that, time will tell i suppose

Well, that’s kind of cool that going lefty would be an option. I read a little bit on the condition earlier. That’s some weird stuff. It sounds like movement can sometimes be re-learned. I thought that was encouraging. Try every option and don’t give up hope. Thanks again for letting us know what is going on with it.

Wow man, that’s bad. Bad in a sense that I hope it does not take away you being able to play an instrument!

It’s funny I am a lefty and play with right handed like you do - do that with almost everything. It is not funny that I have herniated C4-C5 and am somewhat in the same boat as you, however I can get mine fixed at some point. When diagnosed (my neck locked up on me and put my chin on my shoulder) I was told it was pre-existing and I had hurt it in the past, told me I was a freak of nature as the way it was herniated that I really should not be able to use my left hand/arm (herniation pinched the nerves). Doc told me I was much to young to have the operation and since i was not in pain that I should wait until the day comes when I wake up and lose the use of my arm or hand and then I could have the surgery done. He did tell me that it could and would happen “any day” (and that was 8 yeas ago) and he told me to not be alarmed as I would eventually wake up one day and not be able to move my arm/hand.

As far as my playing: Well my damn left hand simply falls asleep a lot when I use it. It is really common for me to have to shake my hand for the 1st hour of playing as that dude “falls asleep” and is hard to get the tingling out…but if I keep shaking it and shaking in between songs/practice it will cooperate and get going after and hour or so.

Now to inject some humor but to not take away form the seriousness of your post/diagnosis - Man doesn’t it suck getting old and falling apart? I am in great shape for my age (42) but with heart, neck/spine, gurd, and vision problems starting to show up I can only say that it is down the hill all the way to the bottom from here!

Wish you the best of luck man, modern medicine is amazing and I hope you can find something to either cure/overcome the Dystonia.

A question though as I know little about it - Does it only effect one extremity vs both (in the case of your arm/hand)?


Basically from the right side of my neck, all the way down my right arm feels like i have slept on it all night long which i know i havent as if i was i wouldnt be pissing my wife off blowing air from my cpap at her from laying on my left side part of the night :laughing:

Also imagine holding your right hand out and attempt to touch the tip of your thumb to the tips of each finger and one minute you may be able to do it and the next minute your thumb takes off and folds itself into your palm and your index finger tightens up in a hook.

The neuro doc thinks the neck and arm pain is from all the tension because my brain is basically making all the muscles in my hand fire full force which i suppose makes sense.

At this point i just want to sign up for the cyborg project and have replace my arm with a robotic one with a selector switch that says Scruggs, Stanley, Rice and Watson :smiley:

I just found out we have a local banjo player who was diagnosed with the same condition as you, Brad. Seems odd that I’ve only heard of this problem twice and both times it’s been with banjo players. I wonder if executing banjo rolls aggravates the problem?

Here he is in his banjo playing days.


He’s got a blog entry about his condition on his, too.

good stuff Larry, so was he able to overcome it and pick again or did he have to hang it up?

at this point i would just be happy to be able to type again and then being able to play guitar would be a huge bonus, i feel likw my banjo days are long gone :frowning:

i did start seeing a chiropractor last week, two sessions in and i admit my neck feels a bit better, hand still sucks but considering its change of some kind in going on a year i will take it. he wants to do 12 sessions on me so figure what the hell i will give him a shot as my only option now is those botox shots

I don’t actually know the guy, Brad, so I’m not sure what his status is. I heard mention of his old band a few times, saw they were local, and was curious why I hadn’t run across them before. A google search lead me to his myspace page and I was struck by how similar his situation was to yours.

It’s encouraging that your chiropractor visits are helping. Hope that trend continues.