Overuse injuries are common among musicians, just like athletes. But specialized medical treatment, long available to athletes, is beginning to make long-term recovery possible for many musicians who might otherwise have stopped playing.
The most common overuse injuries among musicians occur in the upper limbs. They are often diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis or bursitis of the shoulder or elbows.
Many musicians remain silent about the pain they feel, fearing it will change how people judge their performance. In some cases, the pain becomes so intense that they are forced to stop playing altogether.
Dr. Serap Bastepe-Gray was a classical guitarist when she developed an overuse injury in the mid-1990s. She struggled to find treatment and instead developed her own rehabilitation program. This prompted her to relaunch her medical career.
In 2015, she founded the Johns Hopkins Center for Music and Medicine. Its mission includes promoting the health of musicians. This is part of a growing field focused on preventing and treating overuse injuries in musicians.
According to Bastepe-Gray, 4 out of 5 professional musicians will suffer an injury during their career. Only one will fully recover. Two will continue to play but never fully recover. The other will stop playing.
“Obviously, if 80% of musicians face injury and it has dire effects on the musician, the idea that they’re going to get hurt, go to the clinic, get treatment and go back to playing doesn’t work.” , said Bastepe-Gray. told the Baltimore Sun in 2017.
Overuse injuries in general are often treated initially with rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Physiotherapy, injections, and the use of a splint to speed recovery can also be used. In more severe cases, surgery may be required.
There are four stages of an overuse injury: pain after physical activity, pain during physical activity that does not limit performance, pain that limits performance, and chronic, persistent pain even at rest . The earlier a pain is treated, the less likely it is to become a chronic condition.
Musicians are more vulnerable to overuse injuries when they go too quickly from short practice sessions every few days to long days filled with rehearsals and gigs. A failure to rest and recover properly also leads to injury, as does poor posture and form when playing.
Tomo Fujita, a professional guitarist and associate professor at Berklee College of Music in Boston, told NBC News that more time needs to be spent discussing injury prevention. Music schools and educators don’t spend as much time as athletic trainers teaching specific ways to prevent injuries, he said.
“It needs to be emphasized more and not just something you can get a newsletter about every three months,” he said.
Like athletes, cross-training is recommended for musicians as a way to reduce the risk of injury. Plus, instead of specializing at an early age, musicians can stay in better shape by playing multiple instruments, experts say.
Over the years a range of treatments have been developed to help musicians deal with injuries.
Physical therapist David Shulman, a former clarinetist and saxophonist, began specializing in treating musicians with repetitive strain and overuse injuries more than 30 years ago in the Baltimore area. It uses a variety of therapeutic methods, including massage, electrical stimulation, moist heat, and trigger point therapy, which release or soften muscle knots.
At Hopkins, Bastepe-Gray created a prototype smart guitar that can measure the force a player uses to strum the guitar. The goal is to train musicians to adapt their technique if they exert too much or too little force on an instrument. This can not only minimize the risk of injury, but also improve a musician’s performance, she said.
Aviva Wolff, a hand therapist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, has developed a new approach to treating pain in the hands and arms using technology more commonly used in professional sports and to treat mental disorders. movement like Parkinson’s disease.
Wolff attaches motion sensors to musicians and uses multiple cameras to study the biomechanics of their playing. This way, she can identify any abnormal hand or body placement, or poor posture, that can aggravate an injury. She then uses the data to create individualized treatment plans for patients based on their movement needs.