Your health with Physio & Therapies: Too much at stake for musicians

Musicians are a special risk group for repetitive injuries
Musicians are a special risk group for repetitive injuries

After a summer of full on sport, the Proms concerts have reminded me that Musicians are at as great a risk of injury as sportspeople, so for those musicians out there this one’s for you!

Nagging ache in your thumbs, every time you practice the piano? Stabbing pains in your forearms after a long rehearsal? Hands that have become increasingly clumsy or numb? Waking up at night with pain in your arms, or your back, or your neck?

Well, it’s just a part of being a serious musician and after all, you can’t stop practicing - there’s too much at stake, and music is your life!

If this sounds familiar read on.

Musicians, even more than office workers, are a special risk group for repetitive injuries and many develop physical problems related to playing their instruments; and if they are also computer users, their risks are compounded and complicated.

I have treated many people where computer-induced tendinitis was very much aggravated by their guitar or violin playing but the good news is that physiotherapy can help!

Incorrect posture, non-ergonomic technique, excessive force, overuse, stress and insufficient rest contribute to chronic injuries that can cause great pain, disability and can end careers.

But while these problems are unfortunately common, it’s NOT an unavoidable part of being a musician. Modern medicine and physiotherapy in particular can help you resolve your occupational injury and recover your ability to play.

- How can you help yourself?

Evaluate your technique. Just like sportsmen, musicians often need to reduce force, find postures that keep joints in the middle of their range of motion, use larger muscle groups when possible, and reduce body usage that involves fixed, tensed positions.

- Always warm up. 

Athletes do not abruptly start vigorous physical activity without warming up and stretching because they know it is an invitation to injury. Musicians are putting athletic demands on small muscles and should similarly be religious about warming up before practice or performance.

- Take breaks to stretch and relax. 

This means both momentary breaks every few minutes and longer breaks every hour or so. This may be the single most important thing to remember. Constant tension and repetitive motion does not allow the body to flush away metabolic waste products and this is traumatic to tissues over time. Even in the middle of playing a piece you may have a moment to relax a hand or arm to restore circulation. The marathon rehearsals that musicians pride themselves on have great potential to hurt! Emerging research on athletes reveals that overtraining actually decreases performance. Try two or more shorter rehearsals in a day rather than one long, intense session and limit total time on your instrument.

- Pace yourself. 

It is very common for musicians to notice injury when they are preparing for concerts, attending courses or heavily involved in a number of musical groups; not surprising, because all of these can radically increase your playing time and exceed the limits of your body. Learning to pace yourselves and learning to say “no” to some playing is critical.

- Consider your other activities. 

Your problems may be caused or aggravated by other things you do frequently. Computer use is a notorious example but sports, carrying children, hobbies and excess effort/tension in other daily activities may have enormous impact too.

- Listen to your body. 

Pain is your body yelling that it’s in big trouble, but learning what is comfortable or awkward for your body before you’re in pain may prevent injury. Physical re-education using preventative Physiotherapy,  Alexander Technique, Massage, Tai Chi, Shiatsu, Yoga, Feldenkrais, stretching or dance classes all may be helpful.

- Check out your Instrument. 

Are you using an instrument that is too large or awkward for you? Is it set up optimally for you? Tiny differences in playing action or tension can make a huge difference. Could you use lighter strings or reeds? Is there a strap or stand that could make playing less stressful? If it’s big and heavy, like a double bass, can you get a cart to help transport it? If it is a new instrument, especially a larger one, you need to take time to adjust to it before you plunge into intense use.

- Get Medical Help. 

“No Pain, No Gain” is a disastrous policy for a musician. Don’t put off seeking treatment if you are in pain. In a couple of sessions a physiotherapist can loosen up stiff joints and teach you specific exercises for your problem and often we will ask you to bring your instrument with you, if possible, so we can watch you in action.

To book an appointment for Physiotherapy, Massage, Alexander Technique or Shiatsu call us at Physio & Therapies on 01706 819464.