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Taking a Look at Musicians' Injuries : Page 2 of 2

Ouch! It hurts when I play (but don't you dare tell me to stop!)

Taking a look at musicians' injuries

continued from page 1

And lastly, it is so important to realize, especially for freelance artists, that you can't just tell them to take a muscle relaxant, and take a few weeks off. If these people took a few weeks off, they wouldn't have a roof over their head or food on the table. While it's occasionally absolutely imperative that a break be taken, most of the time I take a holistic approach to treating performers and change and fix what we can, within the obvious limitations of current gigs and upcoming events.

Q: What's the most common injury that you see in your office?

A: In my office, there is a tie for the most common injury. The first is upper back/shoulder/neck pain — I lump these together because those terms can mean the same thing to a lot of people — often someone will come in and say that their shoulder hurts and point to the pain, but to me what they're pointing to is actually their upper back or lower neck. This one is often a function of poor posture or poor practice ergonomics. If we can figure out how to improve the overall posture and ergonomic situation then this tends to resolve quickly.

And the second most common injury is hand and arm pain. You would not believe how many people walk into my office with numb and tingly hands and fingers — which can be very scary if you're the one to experience it — to find out that the problem isn't actually their hands and fingers at all, but it's a little further up the arm and can be quite easily treated once properly diagnosed. Or they come in with tennis elbow — but they have never held a tennis racket in their life! In my office, I call tennis and golfer's elbow "musician's elbow" because it is a repetitive strain injury. It is really, really common and surprisingly easy to treat.

Q: What can musicians do to prevent injury?

A: First of all, don't be a hero! There is just no reason to practice for hours on end without a break. Always remember to take a little break for every 30 minutes that you are playing. Secondly, don't play through pain. The pain signal is there to tell you that you are doing something wrong. Playing through it is not going to get you anywhere — other than in more pain and in worse shape down the road. Thirdly, be aware of your ergonomics. If you sit to play, does your chair fit you properly? In rehearsal, do you have to strain at all to see both the stand and the conductor? Are your arms contorted oddly in order to be able to play properly? This is not good. And lastly, seek the help of a professional who can not only help you with the injuries that you are currently dealing with, but can help you avoid future injury and optimize your overall performance.

You can find out more about Dr. Sarah Mickeler and her Toronto-based chiropractic practice concentrating on musicians' injuries at www.drsarah.ca.

To echo Sarah's advice, please pay attention to any pain signals your body is sending you! Admitting you're having a physical problem doesn't make you any less of a musician — it means you're a very smart musician with years of playing ahead of you! •

This article was originally published on the Muses Muse Songwriter's Resource website (February 2005) www.musesmuse.com.

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Linda DessauLinda Dessau helps artists enhance their creativity by addressing their unique self-care issues. More »

3/30/05