Page last updated at 23:08 GMT, Saturday, 10 May 2008 00:08 UK

'I couldn't pick up my bow to play'

By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Fenella Barton. Photo Credit: Lisa Marie Mazzucco
Fenella delayed going to the doctor

Fenella Barton is a highly successful international violinist, but just a couple of years ago her hands were so crippled with arthritis that she sometimes could not lift her bow to play.

She worried she might have to stop playing and had to cancel some concerts.

Over a two-year-period the 44-year-old musician's symptoms grew worse, until finally a fellow musician urged her to get treatment in the US which proved highly successful.

Next month chamber musician and recitalist Fenella takes to the stage, with pianist Simone Dinnerstein, at the Wigmore Hall, London, to raise funds to help others suffering with arthritis.

Symptoms moved

"I just wanted to help raise funds for research; there is so much to look into to treat rheumatoid arthritis from homeopathy to treatments," she said.

"I would just urge people who have any symptoms not to procrastinate like I did."

I have been incredibly lucky
Fenella Barton

Fenella first started having problems in April 2004, but initially put the symptoms down to other causes, such as running, wearing the wrong shoes, or practising her violin for too long.

"I think it crept up on me in ways I did not notice," she said.

"At first it was as if I had pulled muscles in my arms, then it was my knees, then my feet, and the muscles in my groin. I can remember waking up and my neck and knees and feet were quite painful.

"It was quite difficult to walk. I had to walk on the side of my feet because it was painful."

But it was not until it started to really affect her playing that Fenella became really worried.

"To begin with it was not affecting my violin playing, but then gradually it went to my hands and my shoulders," she said.

Fenella Barton and Simone Dinnerstein. Photo Credit: Lisa Marie Mazzucco
Fenella and music partner Simone

"I remember that before one concert I could not lift my arm.

"I could not play on the G string and even with ice packs and pills it really was quite a struggle.

"I thought that I may not be able to play in the future, but I was always searching for a solution to the problem which I thought that I would find eventually.

"As an instrumentalist, a violinist, you can get aches that are quite normal. I had done a CD recording in September 2004 and thought it was that. You can get aches in your hands and I thought I had simply overdone it with hours and hours of recording - 11 hours one day.

"But I remember wakening one night and I could not open my hands properly because they were so stiff. And I thought then that I must have arthritis or something."

Worrying diagnosis

Fenella said that although she now suspected that it might be arthritis that was still reluctant to admit it and put off going to her doctor, preferring instead to have physiotherapy.

"I delayed longer that I should have done," she said.

Eventually she saw her GP and then saw a number of different rheumatologists - each of who gave her a different prognosis.

"By that time I was finding it hard to do anything, even getting out of bed, or getting into the bath because I could not bend my legs. I found it difficult to pick up a blanket or turnover in bed," she said.

"I was not practising. I would be going to rehearsals and just surviving. Sometimes I could literally not pick up my bow or move my hand so I just had to cancel the concert or get someone else to do it," said Fenella.

Her concert partner, Simone Dinnerstein, suggested an American rheumatologist she knew in Boston, who had worked closely with musicians in the past.

And in January 2006 he confirmed that Fenella had rheumatoid arthritis (RA) - an auto-immune disease in which inflammation causes the destruction of joints around the body - and suggested she take the drug, methotrexate, also used in the UK.

The results were immediate and after just one six-month course, Fenella was considered sufficiently recovered enough to stop the treatment.

"I have made an incredibly good recovery," she said adding that she is now keeping her condition in check with diet and remedies such as fish oils.

"I have been incredibly lucky,'' said Fenella.

Treatment regime

Alan Silman, professor of rheumatology and medical director of the Arthritis Research Campaign, said: "Methotrexate is the gold standard, probably most commonly prescribed drug for people with mild to moderate rheumatoid arthritis, and helps thousands of patients live a reasonably normal life.

"Drugs treatments for inflammatory arthritis have improved exponentially in recent years, and although there is still no cure, the condition can now be much more effectively managed."

Concert tickets are available from the box-office on 0207 935 2141.

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