How to Avoid Musicians' Injuries

A guitarist playing for a crowd.
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Musicians, especially if you're a beginner, are prone to injuries. Injuries vary depending on the instrument you play and how you play it. If you are thinking of learning to play a musical instrument or if you're the parent of a budding musician, it is very important to know the common types of potential injuries and how to prevent them.

The Joys and Pains of Playing an Instrument

String Instruments
String instrumentalists are prone to injuries on the back, shoulders, and neck. Injuries will vary depending on the particular string instrument being played, its height, weight and whether the musician is seated or standing while playing it. String players often complain of muscle stiffness, pain, soreness, tension or numbness in the fingers, hand, wrist, neck, jaw, back and shoulders. Sometimes even the abdominal muscles and respiration is affected. The most common is overuse or "Repetitive Strain Injuries."

Wind Instruments
Wind instrumentalists are prone to ear, nose, throat, mouth, lips, neck, shoulder and arm injuries. Some specific injuries are laryngoceles, which results from excess pressure to the larynx, and retinal hemorrhages, also due to too much air pressure.

Percussion Instruments
Percussionists often complain of back, shoulder, neck, hand, wrist, fingers and arm pain and tension. Some of the most common injuries of percussionists are tendinitis and carpal tunnel syndrome which can both result in excruciating pain if left untreated.

Specific Injuries

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome - Characterized by a tingling sensation or numbness of the thumb, index and middle finger.

Tendinitis - Inflammation or irritation of the tendons due to overuse or wrong posture/position.

Bursitis - Inflammation or irritation of tendons, muscles or skin.

Quervain's Tenosynovitis - Characterized by pain on the inside of the wrist and forearm.

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome - May be either neurological or vascular; characterized by pain, swelling or puffiness in the arms and hands, neck and shoulder pains, muscle weakness, difficulty gripping objects, muscle cramps and tingling or numbness in the neck and shoulders.

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome - Pain in the upper extremity such as the arm, elbow, and hand.

There are many more potential injuries that are related to playing an instrument, most of which are caused by overuse, repetitive strain, wrong posture and wrong positioning of the body, arms, legs, hands, fingers, etc. while playing an instrument. It is very important to consult a doctor if you are experiencing aches and pains or if you feel you're in danger of serious injury.

Tips on Preventing Injuries

Don't skip your warm-up exercises
Like any sport or exercise routine, our hands, throat, mouth, etc. needs to be conditioned before playing an instrument.

Observe proper posture
Make sure you are seated, standing or positioned correctly in relation to your musical instrument. Good posture doesn't only prevent back and neck pains, it will also help you play your instrument more efficiently with less strain.

Evaluate your instrument
Determine whether the size, weight or shape of the instrument is right for you. Decide whether you would need an accessory to make playing your instrument more comfortable, such as a strap, cushioned stool, lighter strings, etc.

Take note of your playing technique
Music teachers would often stress that the best way to stop bad playing habits is to not start having one. There are correct positioning and playing techniques you must learn and be aware of before playing your instrument. Ask your teacher, read books, research, familiarize yourself and practice it from the start to avoid developing bad playing techniques.

Listen to your inner music
Our bodies are very intelligent, they let us know when something is wrong or if a certain body part or organ isn't functioning well. Listen to your body. When your arms are feeling tired and strained from playing -stop and rest. When your back and neck are starting to ache - take a break. When your throat is starting to get sore - take a breather. It's true that practice makes perfect, but too much practice can be potentially dangerous. Take regular breaks, pace yourself do not force yourself.

If symptoms persist, consult a doctor
Lastly, if you fear you're in danger of injury or have injured yourself, don't wait, consult your doctor immediately. Most injuries are treated easily when caught early.

With these in mind, we wish all of you a happy and safe music playing!