Musician’s Focal Dystonia: A mere neurological disorder? The role of non-organic factors in the onset of Musician’s Focal Dystonia: an exploratory Grounded Theory study

Anna Detari, Terry Clark, Hauke Egermann

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Musician’s Focal Dystonia (MFD) is a task-specific, neurological disorder with poorly understood pathophysiology, affecting highly skilled musicians, ending successful careers. Studies found neurological changes in the sufferers’ brains, which presumably occurred via negative neuroplasticity, however, surprisingly little is known of what triggers these changes. Recently, non-organic risk factors, such as maladaptive psychological traits and preceding trauma have been suggested by a handful of studies, but the field has not yet been explored in detail. The aim of the study was to identify and describe the non-organic factors which might contribute to the onset of MFD. Due to the study’s exploratory nature, a qualitative constructivist Grounded Theory (GT) design was chosen, with the goal of generating a theory that emerges directly from the data. 15 MFD sufferers (5 females, mean age = 36.1) were interviewed for the study. Apart from previously suggested traits, such as anxiety and perfectionism, we found that the educational environment might also be influential. Many participants studied in a negative emotional climate, faced unattainable demands, and were instructed to focus only on the technical aspects of their playing. Consequently, they developed unhealthy practice strategies and negative perfectionism and these problems were often accompanied by negative emotional coping and maladaptive health behaviours. In addition, many participants experienced trauma before the onset of the condition. These findings support the theory that MFD is a multifaceted condition that could partially originate from non-organic factors. It also suggests that the environment – especially the educational approach – might be more influential than previously thought. This might have further implications not only for prevention and research but for the treatment strategies as well. It is likely, that opposing a purely medical procedure, an interdisciplinary approach would enhance the currently used therapies and would increase the possibility of the rehabilitation of the suffering musicians.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Music, Health, and Wellbeing
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022

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