Medical Problems of Performing ArtistsMedical Problems of Performing Artists

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Primary Bowing Tremor: A Task-Specific Movement Disorder of String Instrumentalists

Richard J. Lederman
From: Medical Problems of Performing Artists: Volume 27 Number 4: Page 219 (December 2012)

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Abstract: Fear of a tremulous or unsteady bow is widespread among string instrumentalists. Faulty technique and performance anxiety have generally been blamed. The cases of 4 high-level violinists and 1 violist, 3 women and 2 men, with uncontrollable bow tremor are presented. Age at onset was from 16 to 75 years, and symptom duration 8 months to 20 years at the time of neurological evaluation. The degree of tremor varied with type of bow stroke and even the portion of the bow contacting the string. Only 1 patient had a slight postural tremor of the opposite limb. In 3 of 5 the tremor was task-specific; the other 2 had mild and nontroubling tremor with other activities. The tremor appeared to worsen over time but then seemed to stabilize. The characteristics of this tremor appear to be distinguishable from the features of both essential tremor and focal dystonia; comparison is made with representative string players afflicted by these other disorders. Analogy of this tremor is made with primary writing tremor, a well-defined task-specific movement disorder also sharing at least some features with both essential tremor and writers' cramp, a focal dystonia. Hence, it was decided to call this primary bowing tremor. Clinical features, family history, diagnostic studies, and responsiveness to treatment of primary writing tremor are discussed to emphasize the similarity to primary bowing tremor. This appears to represent a previously unreported form of task-specific movement disorder of string instrumentalists.

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