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Changing His Tune

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[Minnesota Medicine, January 01, 0001] Guitarist Billy McLaughlin has a story to tell, and he wants to make sure everyone he encounters hears it. Even before taking the stage at the Guthrie Theater, where he performed in front of a full house for the Society for the Arts in Healthcare’s annual conference in April, the 47-year-old guitarist brings up a digital video recording that chronicles his struggle with focal dystonia.

Focal dystonia, a progressive neurological condition marked by tightness and involuntary contraction of muscles in the wrist, neck, fingers, arms, and other parts of the body used repetitively, is not a rare phenomenon among musicians. Although no formal figures are available, researchers estimate that between 5 percent and 10 percent of musicians may experience some degree of focal dystonia, says Jennine Speier, M.D., a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician and medical director of the Performing Arts Clinic at Abbott Northwestern Hospital’s Sister Kenny Rehabilitation Institute in Minneapolis.

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