Why Professional Musicians Often Fall Prey to Injuries

It’s a tough life getting to Carnegie Hall, or pursuing a professional music career at any level. While musicians may not be on the same category as, say, window washers or police officers when it comes to injury risk, they do face a number of occupational hazards. Those hazards can result in their own brand of pain and injury severe enough to impact their performance or even destroy their careers.

Blame the Lifestyle and Attitude

Grueling schedules, heavy travel and extended practice schedules all take a toll on the musician, with the average musician playing his or her instrument for a total of 1,300 hours each year.¹ The demands of the job, the anxiety of performing and the environment in which musicians live and work add other stressors to the profession.

More stress can come from the lack of social support musicians may have, along with the lack of control they have over their schedules, travel plans or other aspects of their lives.² It’s not only their bodies that are getting a beating that lead to injuries. High levels of psychological and social stress have been likewise linked to the high rate of musculoskeletal complaints.²

And the attitude? Musicians are less likely to admit to pain and suffering compared to their non-musician counterparts.³ This can prevent seeking help at the earliest stages or even embarking on preventative measures that may sidestep the suffering from the get-go.

Blame the Repetition and Positioning

Endless hours of practice may ensure musicians play Bach without a hitch, but it can also put them at a high risk of suffering from a thing called CANS, or complaints of arms, neck and/or shoulders. Formerly known as Repetitive Strain Injury, surveys of professional musicians found CANS hits between 64 and 76 percent of all performers out there.⁴ ⁵

Where It Hurts

Envisioning how musicians hold certain instruments, such as a violin, makes it easy to see why some of the most common areas of complaint include the right hand, left elbow, shoulders, wrists, neck, mouth and jaw areas.³ Other complaints arise in relation to the bodily areas most strained while constantly playing particular instruments.

Some of the most common conditions that affect a wide scope of musicians include:

  • Overuse injuries
  • Back issues
  • Disc problems
  • Nerve entrapments
  • Tendon and muscle disorders, particularly in the shoulders and arms
  • Chronic pain, especially in the hands and forearms⁶

The mental stress, coupled with repetitive motions, consistent straining, contortions in posture, awkward instrument positioning and the excessive force often used during performance tend to eventually take their toll. Rather than viewing injuries or chronic pain as a given, however, classical musicians can seek relief, correction or even prevention with a regular Pilates practice. Our next post will tell you why.

How Pilates Can Help Musicians: Part 1 of 2

References

  1. Paarup HM, Baelum J, Holm JW, Manniche C, Wedderkopp N. Prevalence and consequences of musculoskeletal symptoms in symphony orchestra musicians vary by gender: a cross-sectional study. BMC Musculoskelet Disord2011;12:223.
  2. Huisstede BM, Wijnhoven HA, Bierma-Zeinstra SM, Koes BW, Verhaar JA, Picavet S. Prevalence and characteristics of complaints of the arm, neck, and/or shoulder (CANS) in the open population. Clin J Pain. 2008;24(3):253-259.
  3. Steinmetz A, Möller H, Seidel W, Rigotti T. Playing-related musculoskeletal disorders in music students-associated musculoskeletal signs. Eur J Phys Rehabil Med. 2012 Dec;48(4):625-33.
  4. Culf N. Musicians’ Injuries: A Guide to Their Understanding and Prevention. Tunbridge Wells, UK: Parapress Ltd; 1998.
  5. Rietveld ABM. Dancers’ and musicians’ injuries. Clin Rheumatol. 2013; 32:425-434.
  6. Horvath J. Playing Less Hurt: An Injury Prevention Guide for Musicians. Hal Leonard; 2010.