Common Musicians’ Injuries and Their Causes
Musicians’ injuries can plague individuals from all music-playing backgrounds: from the solo-loving guitar player to the most passionate cellist. For those who are just dabbling around with instruments, it may seem difficult to tell the difference between common aches and pains that accompany the learning process and genuine injuries caused by repetitive strain. Those who have played for a long time, however, may be no strangers to musicians’ injuries yet may never understand the precise cause of the pain and the proper course of treatment to seek. The following sections explain three types of musician’s injuries that frequently plague musicians.
Musicians’ injuries caused by misuse are much more common than one might expect. It’s easy to overextend one’s muscles when succumbing to the invigoration that can strike while playing an instrument. Regardless of the instrument that a person plays, there are factors that could contribute to the development of strains, knots, and overextension (tearing) of muscles. This can occur when parts of the body perform unnatural movements or hold positions that are not comfortable. Over time, muscle groups may begin to develop some of the classic signs of misuse. The symptoms that one might feel as a result of misuse include tension, most likely in the shoulders, back, neck, jaw, and fingers, knotting and/or cramping, stiffness, and restricted movement.
Virtually any musician can develop these symptoms although the muscles most likely to be affected will depend on the instrument that is being played and any unique or specific movements that an individual might habitually use. Bobbing or tilting the head while playing may result in neck and upper back pain. Hunching over an instrument is likely to produce upper and lower back pain as well as shoulder stiffness. Holding the arms at an elevated or unnatural position may cause muscles and ligaments in the shoulder to become strained or torn. Pain caused by misuse of muscles and joints of the body is best corrected by allowing the body to rest. Unfortunately, this condition will persist unless the individual addresses his or her specific issues and attempts to adopt less strenuous habits while playing.
Overuse, or repetitive strain, is probably the single most common of all musicians’ injuries. This is a condition that will crop up after hours of constantly playing an instrument. Obviously, the only way to perfect a piece of music is to practice, however lack of frequent breaks and relentlessly drilling oneself to perfect his or her playing will soon result in some serious aches and pains. Overuse can affect almost any part of the body depending on the instrument that one plays. Long-term conditions for those who play wind instruments can include pressure-related pain in the eyes, ears, and nose as well as stiffness of the fingers and shoulders. Individuals who play the violin, for example, may develop neck and should spasms, a chronic “crick” in the neck, reduced hearing in one ear, and even jaw pain caused by long-term exposure to vibrations. Drummers may develop shoulder and wrist pain as a result of shock sustained by repetitively hitting the drums.
Over time, injuries like this will eventually prove more difficult to treat because the damage is often extensive, especially in cases where the condition has developed over the course of several years with little or no treatment. This is often the result of gradual muscle, ligament, or tendon injury that worsens over time. Because the pain may not be immediately detected, the individual may simply play on through the discomfort until eventually the pain builds in intensity until one can no longer ignore it. Rest is the best remedy for overuse of muscles and joints. The use of anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen or naproxen will help to reduce swelling and stiffness and will take the edge off of one’s pain. To prevent a reoccurrence of the injury it will be important to adjust one’s practice/playing schedule so that frequent breaks can be made to stretch and change positions.
Poor posture is another potential cause behind musicians’ injuries. Similar to misuse, the individual may be suffering muscle, bone, and joint discomfort as a result of bad posture. The way that a person sits or stands while playing and the angle that is being used to play, particularly where the arms are concerned, will have a profound impact on how well the body holds up to hours of maintaining a single or set of positions. Hunching, leaning to one side, craning the neck, tilting the head, and lack of support for the head and neck are common “bad positions” that will eventually cause muscle strain and bone issues.
Rest, gentle massage, pain killers, and muscle relaxers may be helpful in alleviating the symptoms of poor posture but these are only temporary remedies. The only way to prevent re-injury is to train oneself to use a more comfortable posture and to enlist the help of supportive devices such as a comfortable chair to support the back and neck, a brace for the lower back, or even a neck support device for those who play an instrument that requires the head to be tilted.