Strategies for not worrying alone

It has been almost three weeks (as of this coming Thursday) since I initially injured my embouchure from overuse, and I thought I would offer an update on what is going on, as well as what I’ve been doing for and during recovery. Since most of what I’ve been doing for recovery is resting and refraining from playing, I’ve instead focused on not worrying alone, in hopes that this will keep me from worrying like crazy (as I am wont to do).

As for how the lip feels, by the end of last week (two weeks after the initial episode of embouchure overuse), I’d finally gotten to a point where I could smile and talk without feeling odd tingling or aching in the upper lip muscle area, which seemed like a great step. Unfortunately, though, the tinglings have come back after I did some exploratory lip puckering (no buzzing or playing, though) this past weekend. Now I am really trying, instead, to refrain from doing anything that doesn’t fall in the category of normal lip function (you know, eating, talking, making facial expressions), so we’ll see how that goes.

But now, on to what’s helped – and not helped – over the past couple of weeks.

Too much Googling – not so helpful!

After speaking with a horn teacher two weeks ago, I found myself Googling obsessively. This activity most likely falls in the category of “how not to make yourself feel better.” I now know more than I’d hope to ever need to about a host of possible brass-playing lip ailments: focal dystonia, Bell’s palsy, which doctors offer surgery on lip tears, how difficult it is to diagnose what’s actually wrong with an embouchure, much less to find a medical professional who both can help and lives nearby.

Reaching out to medical professionals

Sometimes, though, too much Googling leads to more positive and productive results. I’ve found that if I do one thing every day to look for answers or support, I can focus more on the idea of recovery and getting better, and less on self-recrimination, anxiety, or simple frustration.

I called the oral surgeon who worked on my baby tooth extraction. The receptionist said she’d ask the doctor if he knew anything about lip muscle injuries, and would get back to me. She called back one day later, and told me that he really only works on teeth,  gums, jaws, that sort of thing, and really couldn’t say anything about the other tissue in the mouth area. I’d kind of expected this answer, but still felt glad I called, if only to have an answer of sorts. The receptionist also suggested that I might try my general practitioner.

I haven’t contacted a GP yet, because I’m not quite freaked out enough to think that this would prove helpful. (I envision a GP being unsure what’s going on, feeling around the lip but really unable to say anything one way or another, other than recommending a specialist who might or might not be able to say anything more conclusive).

Yesterday, I had the permanent bridge put on my teeth, the last step in what’s been a too-long process of getting one part of my mouth fixed up. The dentist felt around my gums and lip tissue, and said nothing felt odd or strange, except the inflammation around the gums by the temporary bridge as well as some lymph nodes feeling enlarged (which could have been because of the excess pressure during playing, and I’m not sure if she meant in the gums or lip area).

Emailing Helpful People

More than anything else, I know I won’t be able to do this — get back into the horn, and do it right — without help from supportive people, and that’s been key to not going absolutely bonkers these past couple of weeks.

I’ve reached out by email to Lucinda Lewis of She advised me to take even a couple months or longer off from practicing entirely, to give the chops a good chance to heal and rest, and we could take it from there if things still felt more “broken embouchure” and less “all healed up.”

Through Googling, I stumbled onto the website, the blog/website of Jonathan Vieker, a trumpet player who’s been through his share of lip rehabilitation, and we’ve had some very helpful email exchanges, particularly about how to stay positive during this process.

I also contacted a trumpet player friend/colleague at the college here, to ask if he knows anything about embouchure injuries. We’ve had some good conversations both over email and, this morning, in person, both about what caused the embouchure to fall apart, as well as possibilities for resting, and eventually getting back into playing again.

Focusing on Other Projects

Finally, I’ve also been attempting to focus on other projects, particularly creative projects, which will hopefully engage the same part of my brain and make the waiting-to-play-again pass more quickly.

There’s a sewing project that’s long overdue, so I’ve cranked up the air conditioner in the attic where the sewing machine is, and am trying to make headway with that project. I’m not much of a seamstress (usually I have to rip and redo and go buy something, and try again, and often, break the machine), but it feels good to be doing something creative.

Even better than sewing, though, I’ve been getting back into a couple of writing projects that been long on the sidelines, and that feels good and productive.  Both of these activities exercise the creative part of my brain, which goes a long way to keeping my mind on the right track.

One Day at a Time

I’m trying to focus on the big picture, and not on every little thing that’s going on. I do think taking one concrete, proactive step each day to reach out and find support has helped (certainly much more than Googling), as has focusing on other projects. With luck, this too shall pass, and before I know it, I will be on the road to regaining strength in my chops, with eventual playing to boot.

I'd love to hear your thoughts!