A top drummer from Anglesey who feared unbearable elbow pain would force him to give up playing for good is aiming to get back on stage after specialist treatment.
After years of working as a session musician in the UK and abroad, Mark Thompson was distraught to think his music career was behind him when his elbow joints deteriorated to the point where he could no longer play.
But specialised treatment from Spire Yale hospital’s consultant hand and orthopaedic surgeon Mr Prash Jesudason has given Mark new hope for the future and the potential to once again return to the music circuit.
He said: “I cannot thank Mr Jesudason enough, I feel so much more upbeat. Just the fact that I’m rehearsing again is a positive result, as I really had thought I’d reached the point where I’d have to pack away the drum kit for good.”
Mark, who lives with his family in Holyhead, was struck with what fellow musicians refer to as ‘drummer’s elbow’ but is more commonly known as ‘tennis elbow’.
It had become so severe that it was disturbing his sleep and on waking in the mornings he even had difficulty picking up his tea cup for a breakfast brew.
He said: “That was the last straw. The pain in my elbows from just the simple action of holding the cup was excruciating and it was seriously affecting other tasks routine to daily life. When I was driving I couldn’t pull up the hand brake on the car without severe pain.
“I tried everything – painkillers, physiotherapy, acupuncture, ultra-sound treatment, cortisone injections – but nothing worked.
“It had started slowly, with one or two niggling pains as I was playing the drums, but over the last two years it got gradually worse, until it reached the stage where I couldn’t play properly at all. I felt I was letting down my fellow musicians by not being able to give my best performance. It was a nightmare for someone like me who has been involved in music since my youth.”
He was referred by his GP for an orthopaedic assessment and chose to go privately to Spire consulting rooms at Abergele, a satellite of the Spire Yale Hospital in Wrexham, where he saw Mr Jesudason, himself a talented musician.
Mark, who is also a producer and DJ as well as a drummer, said: “It was so reassuring to speak to someone who clearly understood the depth of my passion for music and took on board my reasons for not wanting to give up the drums.
“He suggested a treatment involving surgery on both elbows, which didn’t surprise me. By this stage I knew in my heart that surgery of some form or another was probably the only answer to reducing the terrible pain.
“But I was certainly reassured and impressed with Mr Jesudason’s approach. He was not only concerned with eradicating the pain, but he wanted the best possible outcome for me as a drummer. He was genuinely concerned that I get back to a stage where I was able to play again.”
He is already feeling substantial improvement and is again able to practice the drums at home in his soundproofed attic studio.
Mr Jesudason explained how the procedure involved treating the tendon around the outer part of the elbow joint which attaches the wrist extensor muscles to the bone.
Chronic irritation from repetitive gripping and loading of the extended wrist can wear out this tendon, leading to microscopic tears that don’t heal. This is what happened in Mark’s case.
He said: “By inserting needles into Mark’s elbows, tiny lesions were created in the tendon and soft tissues around the bone. The lesions serve to stimulate a healing response, by recruiting white blood cells to clear up the degenerate tendon, in essence, kick-starting the tendon to repair itself. The ideal outcome is to facilitate tendon healing and improve the pain.
“I am very pleased that there has been significant improvement in Mark’s condition and he is able to pick up his drumsticks again.
“As a pianist myself I have a keen interest in disorders which affect the hands, wrists and elbow joints of musicians who often put in years of intensive playing, rehearsing and performing, which can take its toll on the joints.
“I am always happy to consult with them and where possible make it my mission to help resolve some of the conditions they face in the most effective way for them to continue playing.”
Mark said: “I am thrilled with the results of the treatment so far. There is still a way to go and I have to be careful not to do too much too quickly. But it feels amazing to be able to play again when I had resigned myself to the thought that it might never be possible. I am even beginning to think about the possibility of live performances again, which is a miracle!”
A self-taught drummer, he first started performing in a band with a group of friends 30 years ago.
He laughed: “They were thinking of putting together this band and were scouting round for a drummer. So I chirped up that I was a drummer, and they gave me the job. But the truth is I wasn’t a drummer, I couldn’t even play. However, once they gave me the job I thought well I better get to work and teach myself the drums!”
Mark put in hours of practice and became increasingly more proficient until he began to get regular session work in addition to playing with different bands of his own.
He said: “I did eventually get some tuition, but only at a bit more of an advance level, after I’d already taught myself enough to find work. Music is something that you never stop learning and the more musicians I hung around with the more I learned new techniques and ideas. I even started to teach the drums to others a bit, as they say the best way to learn more about something is to teach it.”
Mark has played drums in USA and Germany as well as the UK. He and wife, Gillian, a singer, met when she was performing with a Dolly Parton tribute act.
He said: “We bumped into each other as she was coming off stage and I was going on, with a band which was the next act after her.”
They lived for many years in London where they were well known on the local session music scene, before they moved to Anglesey, where they now enjoy the local country life with their two daughters, Matilda, five and Molly, three.
Mark said: “We love it here and it’s great for the kids. When you live in London you tend to think that everything is down there. But it’s been fantastic here on Anglesey. The island and North Wales has its own thriving music fraternity and we love being a part of that.”