Music teacher answers pain with new technique

From the time she was born, Luanne Kauppila was surrounded by music.

Raised in musically-gifted family, she could sing more than 100 songs by the age of 2 and began playing piano at 10. She majored in piano performance in college. She's a Nationally Certified Teacher of Music, a gifted accompanist, has been teaching piano since 1977 and opened a Kindermusik program at Enumclaw Music in 2003.

So nearly four years ago when she was diagnosed with DeQuervain's tenosynovitis, a disease that causes pain at every turn of the wrist, she thought her music career might end.

"Music is my life," she said.

What started as a minor thumb injury became irritated as she played piano. In DeQuervain's tenosynovitis, the sheath of the tendons on the thumb side of the wrist becomes inflamed or swollen, restricting the tendons' movement. Treatment ranges from immobilizing the wrist and taking medication to surgery.

Kauppila did all three, but the recovery meant not playing for months. She returned to the piano, but then the pain began in her outer wrists – tendonitis.

"Partly, it's getting older and our bodies can't take as much as we get older," she said.

More surgery was not something she wished to consider, but not playing piano was not an option.

She turned to the Taubman Technique, an in-depth physiological approach to piano technique which prevents and relieves injuries sustained by musicians developed by Dorothy Taubman. She'd heard of it before, but this time went looking for more information. She found the answers initially with a teacher in Spokane, who recommended one closer in Shoreline.

It's all in the wrist – or, in the case of piano playing, typing, knitting and other similar activities – the arm and forearm.

Since March 2008, Kauppila has been tossing away decades of old habits and working on forming new ones.

"Forty years of relearning," she said. "It was just so hard."

For Kauppila it wasn't just learning a different way to play the piano, safely, without jeopardizing the integrity of the music, it was learning to do everyday household chores, too.

"There's a pattern in everything you do – how you type, how you cook, how you get dressed – so you don't reinjure yourself," she said.

Retraining has been a big challenge.

"I cannot play and sight read at this point," she said. "It's a huge brain thing, and physical thing for me.

"The piano has been more of a therapy for me. The movement heals, doing the right movement," she said.

She sees colleagues and friends with similar issues. She's trying to spread the word. As a teacher, she's also passing on her newfound knowledge to the next generation, hoping to head off future problems her students could face.

That too, has been hard.

"Most teachers teach intuitively," she said, teaching they way they were taught.

Kauppila is teaching, playing and learning. She continues with her Taubman Technique training, as well as studying at workshops, master classes and music teacher conventions.

"I'm still not healed, but I'm so much better than I was a year ago," she said. "I'm not 100 percent, but I'm getting there. I'm planning on being better than ever."

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