POSTED: January 11, 2009

Musicians - The Elite Athlete

Repetitive Stress Conditions Affecting the Hand and Upper Extremity Affect the Professional Athlete and Musician Alike

Excessive playing combined with poor physical posture, or positioning, can potentially end a musician's career; just as it can that of any football, basketball or baseball player.

Highly complex and skilled physical movements are required to play an instrument well. These repetitive movements put strain on the engaged limbs and make it vulnerable to injury if precautionary exercises and stretching are not performed. Just like an athlete, a musician must be fit and well-conditioned for optimal performance.

The peculiarities of playing an instrument make some musicians prone to particular physical problems. These problems are usually caused by; repetitive fine movements of the forearm and fingers, overuse of the same muscle groups combined with under-use of the opposing muscle groups disturbing balance, and stationary positions often holding the weight of a heavy instrument for a long period of time.

The most common complaints among musicians is upper back, shoulder and neck pain or hand and arm pain. Common injuries and conditions seen in musicians include tendonitis, bursitis and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Athletes would not suddenly start vigorous physical activity without warming up and stretching, because they know it is an invitation to injury. Musicians put similar athletic demands on their bodies and should also be committed to warm up and stretching exercises before and after playing. Various shoulder, back, forearm and finger stretches will not only relieve tension and warm up the muscles, but can also potentially prevent injuries.

There are other steps musicians can take to help prevent serious injuries. First, it is important to take a break every 30 minutes while playing. Constant tension and repetitive motion does not allow the body to flush away metabolic waste products, which become traumatic to tissue over time. Second, never play through pain; this will possibly make a potential injury worse. Many musicians think the pain will subside, but pain is the body's warning signal to seek help – ignoring it can lead to unstable joint environments, serious injury and possibly the early onset of osteoarthritis if not appropriately addressed.

Third, it is crucial to be aware of ergonomics. Ergonomics is a discipline focused on making tasks comfortable and efficient for the user, such as maintaining proper body posture. Lastly, seek the help of a qualified physician, who can help deal with current injuries and also help prevent future injuries.

Leading orthopedic surgeon Dr. Evan Collins is a member of the Center for Performing Arts Medicine (CPAM) specializing in the hand and upper extremity and treating some of the leading musicians in Texas. To learn more about Dr. Collins, see preventative exercises known as the Musician’s Six Pack and read about the latest advances in treatment log onto or call 713-441-3535 today.