With the endless hours of practice they put into perfect their skills, musicians are much like professional sports athletes. And just like them, the more they practice to improve their craft, the more the rapid and repetitive movements they make while playing their instrument take a toll on their bodies.
Multiple studies have found that between 50% and 80% of musicians experience performance-related musculoskeletal disorders (PRMDs). Guitarists may complain from chronic neck and back problems, resulted from playing the guitar in the same position for prolonged periods. Bassoon players, who have to hold the 8-10 pound instrument at an angle, may develop severe injury in their hand, wrist, neck, and shoulder. Keyboardists and orchestral musicians, reportedly the most affected group, are prone to pain and injury resulting from the postural demands of these instruments.
Of the professional orchestral musicians surveyed in a 2012 study, 84 percent said they had experienced pain and injury that “had interfered either with playing their instrument or participating in normal orchestral rehearsals and performances.” 58 percent reported experiencing such pain and injury at the time of the survey, linking their disorders to their work, while 28 percent had missed at least one day from work for such affections in the last 18 months. The most affected areas of the body were the back, the right upper limb, and the neck. Of all those who reported at least one episode of pain or injury in the past months, less than half said they had fully recovered.
What happens is, every time a musician plays his instrument, the muscles used to play the instrument get stronger and tighter while the opposing muscles get weak and remain underdeveloped. In time, this forms a significant imbalance in the body, putting stress especially on the spine, joints, muscles, and wrists, and causing one or more of the following disorders: carpal tunnel syndrome, bursitis, cubital tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, vertebral subluxation, Quervain’s tenosynovitis, and others.
There are also several risk factors that may increase the occurrence of musculoskeletal injuries in performing artists, including:
- Environmental factors: inadequate lighting, playing in cool temperatures, poor instrument fit, improper surrounding environment.
- Physical demands: awkward postures, repetition, prolonged activities with inadequate rest, exertion, vibration.
- Personal characteristics: posture, strength, endurance, flexibility, existing health conditions, nutrition, psychological state.
Who Can Help Musicians?
Professional musicians know that playing a musical instrument may lead to injury and pain, and most of them accepted this reality when they chose this career path. However, when the pain, weakness, reduced range of motion, numbness, tingling, and other symptoms suddenly appear and threaten to put an end to their careers, they rarely find relief in the treatments offered by conventional medicine. Rest and reducing playing time are the most common treatments recommended by medical doctors and physical therapists, none of which are really options for people who earn their living playing an instrument.
The answer to the debilitating pain of musicians comes from chiropractic care, which not only corrects spinal and joint misalignments, but also restores the balance of body function within the nervous, muscular, and skeletal systems. Chiropractic treatment for PRMDs starts with a systematic observation of the musician and his interaction with the instrument, to determine the tension and pressure of the painful area. A complete musculoskeletal examination is also carried out to evaluate the range of motion, joint strength and mobility, neck, shoulders, and spine.
A number of therapies are employed by chiropractors to identify, analyze, and correct misalignments and relieve the pressure applied on the nerves, and they include heat and ice therapy, electrical nerve stimulation, ultrasound therapy, massage therapy, soft tissue mobilization, and spinal decompression. The goal is the same: remove nervous system interference and restore original alignment to allow the body to heal and function at its full potential.
Musicians who receive chiropractic treatment report improvement in their musical performance, quicker reaction time, greater energy levels, less muscle fatigue during activities, decreased tingling and numbness in their upper limbs, and decreased pain in their shoulders, neck, and back. For the treatment to be even more effective, it should be accompanied by several changes to activities performed and the surrounding environment, including:
- Carrying out ergonomic and postural adjustments: use straps to support the weight of heavy instruments, alter keys on woodwind instruments for easier use, adjust chair height and seating for improved support and comfort.
- Outlining an appropriate program of rest
- Optimizing proper warm-up and warm-down
- Ensuring proper hydration and correct diet
- Relaxation training
- Physical conditioning
As a musician who is serious about his craft, you should know that working through the pain will only provide short-term relief from the pain and instead aggravate the underlying cause of the problem. The sooner you contact a licensed chiropractor and receive adequate care and rest, the greater your chance to limit the disastrous physical, emotional, and financial effects that performance-related musculoskeletal disorders may have on your life.
About the Author
Dr. Marc Browner is the Founder of iChiropractic and Wellness in Naples, Florida. A graduate of the University of Florida in 1991, he earned his Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Life Chiropractic in 1995. In private practice since 1998, Dr. Browner is a member of the Florida Chiropractic Society, the Florida Chiropractic Association, and he attends continuing education seminars, classes, and workshops to remain abreast of the most current treatment methods and technological advances in the field.