''Being a musician can be an accident,'' Mr. Goebel said in quaintly accented English, impatiently steering the conversation back toward music. What he seemed to mean was, ''Being a musician is an accident waiting to happen.'' —The New York Times, 1996
Let’s face it, most of us don’t regard a career in music as particularly “dangerous.” But like many other skills and hobbies, singing or playing an instrument can take a toll on your physical well-being. In this article, I’ll be doing my personal best to better prepare your body for a life and career in music by describing common ailments that affect instrumentalists and vocalists around the world, and what to do to prevent them from knocking at your door sometime down the road.
Common injuries for instrumentalists
Depending on the instrument, musicians are at risk for many types of instrument-based injuries. Different types of injuries can display themselves if proper technique hasn’t developed, or the musician simply wears their body out practicing or performing too much (called overuse injuries).
Some common injuries that string instrumentalists and drummers have previously grappled with include:
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome - Tingling sensation or numbness in fingers
Cubital Tunnel Syndrome - Pain in the upper extremity (arm, elbow, and hand)
Tendinitis - tendon inflammation from overuse or wrong posture
Bursitis - Inflammation or irritation of tendons, muscles or skin
Quervain's Tenosynovitis - pain on the inside of the wrist and forearm
Most of these conditions are caused by overuse, repetitive strain, not warming up properly, wrong posture, or wrong positioning of the body, arms, legs, hands, fingers. Usually, it’s a combination of all or some that quickly lead to dull or sharp pain when playing your instrument. It’s not uncommon for other activities, such as using a laptop or a computer, to increase the chances of getting repetitive motion injuries when combined with practicing your instrument.
The easiest way to let yourself succumb to one of these injuries is by failing to shape good habits when you first start playing an instrument. By following professionals’ advice and forming good habits early on when learning an instrument, you can train your brain to play your instrument correctly and protect your muscles and joints from chronic illnesses.
If you are one of the many (like myself), who never had the chance (or skipped the opportunity) to learn your instrument professionally or take classical lessons, then I highly recommend you evaluate the way you play your instrument. Start at square one: what is the proper technique is for playing your instrument?
By forcing yourself to warm up before performing, take plenty of breaks, stretch, and maintain good posture, fingering, and technique while practicing, you can actively extend the life expectancy of your music career.
Learn how to prevent injuries while playing the piano.
Learn how to prevent injuries while playing the guitar.