by Jamey Mann, Catoctin School of Music
Injuries for musicians are common and something all teachers and students must take seriously. A student ignoring pain or a teacher not paying attention to a student’s technique may have dire consequences in the future. Most recently Steve Vai (one of world’s best and accomplished guitarist with over 4 decades of experience) suffered an injury in his left hand which required surgery. While getting treated for the left-hand injury doctors found an issue in the right rotator cuff. This is also an injury from playing which was made worse by years of neglect.
If injuries can occur in a player of this caliber, then we all must be mindful of our playing health. Health issues such as carpal tunnel syndrome, Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, and Thumb arthritis can develop from playing with too much tension or poor posture. Injuries are not just limited to the hand’s injuries can happen to the back, neck, and shoulder from poor posture.
Musicians need to regularly evaluate technique and overall health and wellness. Often during the busy pace of life, we can start to lose sense of our own wellbeing. This means we ignore pain, rush things and get stressed out which leads to tension. This is true for the accomplished professional, hobbyist and new student. The following are tips to help understand pain and prevent injuries.
- Discomfort, muscle soreness, or pain related injury– Pain is our bodies way of telling us something is wrong. However, different types of pain are telling us something different. Discomfort occurs often when a student is doing something that might feel a little different, maybe a new fingering or technique. This is not quite pain but feels strange when doing something we are not used to. Often this is nothing to worry about and with practice will works itself out. Muscle soreness is something everyone experiences from exercise, sports, or an instrument. While most muscle soreness is harmless, it should not be ignored. This is your body telling you that you need rest. Ignoring the signal and pushing through can lead to injury. Sharp shooting pain, sudden weakness, or tingling sensations are signs of an injury. If students feel anything like this, they should stop, consult a doctor and their teacher. Resting may alleviate this type of pain. However, this type of pain will return periodically getting more intense each time until the source of the injury is addressed. It is important for students to consult their doctor and evaluate technique with their instructor.
- Evaluate Technique– We all must evaluate ourselves critically. At least once a month I take one lesson to concentrate on my students’ technique. I watch to make sure they are not playing with too much tension, check left hand thumb position, make sure joints are not contorted, and address sitting position. I ask questions about practice habits and sitting situation at home. Often a students practice situation at home is completely different than in your teaching studio. This will lead to technique issues and inconsistent progress. I discuss the importance of good technique and discuss different ways to improve it (even if they have heard it 100 times!).
- Prevention- I want my students to think of themselves as athletes on a micro level. Although playing an instrument is not a sport, we ask our fingers, joint, lungs, and lips to do things the average person will never do. Therefore stretching, warming up, and icing (joints or muscles) should all be part of your practice routine.
- Strength- Although I do not believe you have to be an athlete to play an instrument, building strength helps in preventing injuries. The stronger an individual is the less likely they are to get an injury. This is true in sports and music. I believe all students should have an exercise/strength training routine. This not only helps in the prevention of injuries but also help with mental clarity, concentration, and endurance.