Does It Hurt to Play? Natural Therapeutic Approaches to Musician Pain
Music is your passion. When you get in the groove, you don’t want to stop — you feel like you can play your heart out for hours. And then the pain hits and you wonder how you’ll make it through the end of the song, much less the end of the set.
Musician injuries like de Quervain’s syndrome, thoracic outlet syndrome, carpal tunnel and back pain can seriously get in the way of your enjoyment and ability to play music. And that’s a shame. You put in all this practice and hard work, but it just hurts too much to be able to deliver. Unfortunately, it can affect your playing — lock up your joints so you can barely strum a note.
Repetitive motion injury is common for musicians — 50 to 80% of musicians feel pain at some point during their playing. Some of the most common injuries suffered by musicians include:
- de Quervain’s syndrome
- thoracic outlet syndrome
- carpal tunnel syndrome
- RSI — Repetitive Strain Injury
- tennis elbow
- myofascial pain syndrome
- back pain
- neck pain
- shoulder pain
Sadly, the pain from these injuries leads many musicians down the path to pain pills, which can result in devastating, deadly addictions. But it doesn’t have to be that way. By approaching the way you play, position your body, and flex and stretch your muscles, you can avoid or lessen repetitive motion injury. You’ll be able to play better for longer periods — and you’ll enjoy it more. You’ll also avoid being forced to quit and spend precious time away from the instrument. Here’s how to play pain free, at the top of your skill level, for hours and love every minute of it.
Different Types of Musician’s injuries & How to Treat Them
Most musician injuries develop from repetitive movements and overuse. Some are the result of poor posture or pushing yourself too hard. Here are some of the most common musician’s injuries and how to treat them.
Tendonitis is the inflammation of tendons, most commonly in the hand, elbow, and shoulders. It is usually the result of repetitive motion, but it can also be caused by poor posture.
Be mindful of the stress you place on your tendons. Alter your positioning as you play — try not to stick to the same motion or posture. Take breaks when you have to.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by pressure on the nerves that run through the wrist. You’ll usually notice it as a numbing or tingling feeling, as if you just had a minor electric shock to the affected area. For musicians, it commonly occurs in the thumb, index, middle and ring fingers.
When you play, try to be as relaxed as possible. Take time to rest and stretch your hands. Even a little self massage can do the trick. Practice squeezing a stress ball or Chinese medicine balls — 2 mechanically balanced balls the size of golf balls that work great for massaging the fingers and hands.
De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis
De Quervain’s tenosynovitis is caused by overuse of the wrist. You can usually feel it in numbness to the thumb and index finger. The best way to treat it to use a brace or splint. You can always wrap the sprint up in a glove to maintain your stage image.
Bursitis is caused by irritation of the bursae (small, fluid-filled sacs) that cushion the bones, muscles and tendons near the joints. It most often occurs in the elbow and shoulder.
Try warming up and cooling down before playing. Get your rest. If in pain, avoid playing as much as possible.
Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
Cubital tunnel syndrome is a condition that occurs due to pressure or stretching of the ulnar nerve (or “funny bone”), which runs along the inner elbow. You’ll feel it as tingling or numbness in the fingers, weakness in the hand, and sometimes pain in the forearm.
Try to avoid bending or leaning on your elbow for extended periods of time. When resting, keep your arm as straight as possible.
Address the Pain Early
Pain is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong. Don’t ignore it. Pay attention to any discomfort you feel and address what is going on. When you notice it, change your posture with the instrument.
Always Warm Up
Being a musician is a lot like being an athlete — your core performance is based upon the repetitive use of muscles and joints. Like athletes, you need to stretch beforehand. If you are a guitarist, stretch the muscles in your fingers and hands. Stretch out your neck and shoulder muscles. Practice stretching the muscles in your legs, buttocks, and thighs.
When you are tired, you increase your risk of musician injury. Your muscles become sloppy. You slouch more. You’re less respondent to pain and don’t adjust for it. That’s why taking frequent breaks is so important. During practice, take a 10 minute break every 30 minutes. During performance, don’t push yourself too hard. Set breaks were invented for a reason. In between sets, be sure to do flexing exercises that can help your muscles adjust to the strain.
The Benefits of Massage Therapy
Working with a massage therapist can reduce pain associated from a musician’s injury, as well as prevent future pain. Massage works to unlock various tight muscles to provide release and relief. Learn also how to do your own massage using the rubber ball exercises taught in DrB’s book “Winners’ Guide to Pain Relief.”
Work with a Health & Wellness Therapist
A health and wellness therapist can address musician injury through a number of treatment approaches, including PRP injections, trigger point injection therapy, and stem cell treatments.