Fingertip Cracks and Splits Prevention and Treatment

In the middle of winter, Matthew Tifford a cellist had a week of intense rehearsal. He felt he was completely prepared for the Hansel and Gretel performance at the former Baltimore Opera Company.

However, disaster happened…

Tifford recalls that time when his callous split opens on the left index finger. He was loading his cello in the car on the way to the opening night performance when the disaster happened. He said that was the worst split on the finger but good thing there was a drug store on the way, so he bought liquid band-aids. It got him through a matinee and two evening concerts. Tifford says it was terrific.

It can be irritating for non-musicians to have fingertip splits. But it can be a severe obstruction for musicians in making music. And in the worst possible time such as right before opening night, there cracks strike. According to Tifford, that unfortunate time for him was not a coincidence. He said he had many hours spent in playing which is one of the major factors that produced the splits. Tifford noted that if you are looking ahead for performance and are working hard for it, the risk of having cracks on your fingers increases.

Your geography is your destiny when it comes to cracks. Of course, the cold climate you are living can wreak havoc on your instrument as furnaces dry out the inside air. In Maryland winters, splits are just normal. This will also damage your fingers. According to Tifford, it is natural to have callouses if you are playing stringed instruments. But those callouses can split or crack if it becomes too dry.

Prevention is the best way

The problem with cracks or splits is perplexity for young musicians. Good thing we have experienced musicians who are willing to share a huge grab bag of tricks and tips to prevent or treat splits.

Todd Ehle, a violinist, now lives in a high humidity place, the Gulf of Texas, where it’s relatively rare to have fingertip cracks. But it’s very dry in the place where he grew up, in Colorado and also in Wisconsin where he had his first teaching job. According to Ehle, it will more likely develop cracks if you pound your fingers down harder to play with technique. That is why the left hand tension and having skin care are those which you have to pay close attention.

Ehle’s advice is that during winter months, you need to religiously apply Bag Balm ointment and if you are doing the dishes, always wear rubber gloves. Cracking will worsen if the fingers are exposed to water for a long time. Just like what one of Ehle’s students did, you can put Vaseline before going to sleep and wear fingertip gloves called finger cots overnight. He says there’s another thing that will work the same and that is by applying hand lotion and putting on white cotton gloves.

If things get bad, there’s another better solution, and that is applying New Skin. This product provides your skin a protective layer to shield from the strings.

Some musicians have other kinds of crack prevention self-care. They say that according to research blood circulation problems can occur due to sleep deprivation, which increases the risk or cracking and chapping. Circulation can be improved by exercise even just by having a brisk walk. However, according to some musicians, sleep, and exercise, though they are both good for the health, they don’t seem to have good effects on fingertip cracks.

Cures by Region

Since the problem often depends on the region the musicians are located, prevention and cures will be based on such. In North Dakota, the issue according to Denese Odegaard, a local string teacher is the appearance of painful skin cracks on the side of the fingernails. She said she would usually have them which lingers all winter.  But since she started applying O’Keeffe’s Working Hands cream, she saw significant improvements.

In Louisiana, Annie Young-Bridges a violinist and teacher says that cracking is not an issue in other places she lived where the weather is damp. She said this happened to her when she was in North Carolina and Texas before. Her best defense was putting on healing lotions during daytime and wearing gloves. She also discovered that using an antibiotic ointment, band-aids or diaper rash cream is very helpful overnight. In South Louisiana, Young-Bridges said that have Boudreaux’s Butt Paste.

Some musicians like violinist Charles Laux have not experienced this particular problem at all. According to him, he never had this problem or heard about it in his students in his 20 years of his string teaching career. He is currently teaching at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, but he was teaching and residing in dry areas like Las Vegas, Nevada before.

The worst case of cracks

There are cracks that musicians would call “the show stopper.” It may be one single crack, but it’s the worst of all, and it could literally stop the musician from playing. In worst cases such as this, musicians have no other choice but to use their seemingly unorthodox emergency solution: the Super Glue.

The Super Glue may seem to be effective in closing huge cracks but medical strongly experts’ advice against this especially on deep cuts. Other side effects and irritation of the skin may occur. Something else might carelessly and accidentally glue to your injured finger. But violinists frequently used this in small amounts, to seal minor cracks for just a single drop. There is a product that has a Super Glue-like substance called Dermabond. US Food and Drug Administration approved the use of this for medical purposes, but according to Tiffort, it’s highly expensive.

As for Tifford, Super Glue works for him for years. He had been using it with no problems for superficial cuts. He says he would settle for it than the liquid band-aid which when you applied it to fresh wounds it stings badly. But the Super Glue doesn’t sting at all. Tifford added that the pain of the crack could cause severe hindrances to the musician’s playing, depending on the placement. In that case, no lotion can help that. But with a Super Glue, you can be back to playing within minutes without having the pain.