Would a world class violinist play his instrument without tuning it?  Of course not!  So, why don’t musicians also tune their bodies prior to playing?

There is increasing awareness of the medical problems of musicians.  Due to the high physical and psychological demands of being a musician many studies find a high prevalence of work related musculoskeletal disorders in musicians, ranging form 73.4% to 87.7% with string players who have most of these problems.  Instruments such as the violin, viola, cello, base and guitar tend to cause the greatest problems for musicians.  However, many other types of instruments can also pose dangers to the human body— just watch the movie Whiplash to see!

Early Specialization By Musicians

We all have witnessed that 12 year old phenomenon play Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major with seeming ease.  The cut-throat competition in the performing arts pushes children to specialize at a much earlier age, just like many of today’s young athletes.  This however comes at a cost.  There is growing concern among many rehabilitation experts that early specialization of an activity that requires the same motion over-and-over again causes overuse injuries or repetitive stress injuries to developing bones and soft tissue.  The number of kids complaining of injuries playing an instrument is as high or higher than those competing in athletics. Now jump ahead to musicians over the age of 40 and the injuries are staggering as shown above.  So what is the solution?  If a child wants to be the best at an instrument or wants to be the best at a sport, practice is essential.  However, taking care of the body with a proper wellness program is the only way to prevent a life filled with pain, injury and disappointment.

How Do Injuries Occur?

As stated earlier, most musicians suffer overuse or repetitive trauma injuries of the soft tissue structures whether they are young or old.  However, an adolescent is at greater risk for injury because of growth spurts.  During a growth spurt, bones grow first and the soft tissue becomes very tight trying to catch up.  When tight soft tissue structures are combined with hours of repetitive movements, the soft tissue (fascia) can become extremely tight which can lead to strains and micro-tears.  In adolescence these repetitive movements can cause injury to the growth plates of the bones as well.  To compound the problem further, all instruments have a certain amount of weight.  There is a term called light viscoelastic forces which is the deformation of viscous and elastic materials.  One gram of weight (a penny) when sustained for a period of time can move a tooth.  This is exactly how braces work.  Now imagine the impact of holding a 500 gram violin for hours at a time.  Is there any wonder string musicians suffer neck and back pain?

Common String Injuries

To specify by instruments, violinists and violists complain frequently of neck and upper extremity pain because of their posture which involves holding their instrument between the chin and shoulder and performing repetitive movements of the arm, elbow, wrist and fingers.  This posture and repetitive motion can cause tendonitis, carpal tunnel, thoracic outlet syndrome and TMJ disorders just to name a few.  On another note, people that play the bass often complain of back pain because they have to stabilize the instrument with their trunk and play the entire time with the trunk leaned forward.


Wellness Program For Musicians

So, what is the answer… stop playing, give up on a dream?  No, the answer for all musicians is to participate in a wellness program to offset the physical demands of being a musician.  The answer is to perform a proper warm up prior to playing and to always perform specific (to your instrument or activity) myofascial stretches and ELDOA immediately following the session, which is the prime time to remodel the soft tissue of the body.  Unfortunately most athletes and musicians do nothing post activity.  In some cases as little as 5 minutes of myofascial stretching and ELDOA a day could make or break the problem facing the musician.  It goes without saying that every wellness program must also include diet and lifestyle modifications to be successful.

H3 Is Passionate About Music

If pain is keeping you from your dream of playing an instrument or if you want to increase the longevity of your playing career, H3 can help.  Contact H3 today at 954.566.0585 or email us at info@hellmanholistichealth.com and continue to play that sweet music. For even more information check out my blog “A Must Read For All Musicians“!

Better Body. Better Music. Better Life.

Dan Hellman, MSPT