Have you ever experienced pain or discomfort as a result of your music making?
If you answered yes, you’re not alone.
Musicians and Injuries
As I describe in The Musician’s Way, musicians frequently incur injuries, particularly to hands, limbs, backs, necks, vocal cords, and ears.
In fact, based on the data gathered by researchers worldwide, it appears that more than half of all professional musicians, at some point in their careers, endure music-related maladies that sideline them temporarily.
Some performers even become permanently disabled. Students, too, are at risk.
Fortunately, research also indicates that almost all of these occupational injuries are avoidable.
Below is a condensation of the injury-prevention guidelines found in The Musician’s Way:
The Twelve Habits of Healthy Musicians
by Gerald Klickstein
1. Increase playing or singing time gradually
2. Limit repetition
3. Regulate hand- or voice-intensive tasks
4. Manage your workload
5. Warm up and cool down
6. Minimize tension
7. Take breaks
8. Heed warning signs
9. Take charge of anxiety
10. Keep fit and strong
11. Conserve your hearing
12. Care for your voice
#1 – Increase gradually: To avert overuse injuries, restrict any increase in your total playing or singing time to a maximum of 10-20% per week (see: TMW, p. 12).
#4 – Manage your workload: Respect your physical limits and ask a mentor for advice before you take on an overload of duties (p. 243).
#5 – Warm up: Pages 37-39 present a six-step process for warming up thoroughly and efficiently.
#6 – Minimize tension: Two sections in Chapter 13 – “Balanced Sitting and Standing” & “Meeting Your Instrument” – depict how musicians can form easeful habits. Forty-one photos are included.
#7 – Take breaks: In solo practice, play or sing no more than 25 minutes before pausing for a 5-minute respite. The Musician’s Way features six restorative movements that help to invigorate breaks (p. 75-82).
#8 – Heed warning signs: Injury symptoms can be subtle, as are the social issues that come into play when unwell musicians who are expected to perform need to rest instead. Pages 237-241 untangle these topics.
#9 – Take charge of anxiety: Anxiety doesn’t just scuttle musicians on stage but also impels some to overpractice to the point of injury. Strategies to neutralize anxiety interweave throughout The Musician’s Way and come to the fore in Part III.
#10 – Keep fit & strong: Music making requires mental, physical, and emotional vigor. Healthy musicians, therefore, mind their nutrition, rest, exercise, and other self-care needs much like top athletes (p. 245-246).
#11 – Conserve your hearing: Strategies that thwart music-induced hearing loss are summarized in my post “Hear Today. Hear Tomorrow” and fleshed out on pages 277-291.
#12 – Care for your voice: A section titled “Voice Care” encapsulates vocal hygiene under seven headings (p. 268-277).
The Musician’s Way presents extensive guidelines for musicians to grow their musical skills and prevent occupational injuries in the process. Dozens of photos are included. Read reviews.
© 2009 Gerald Klickstein
Glad to hear that you found the post helpful, Moria, but I’m sorry to hear that you experience pain or discomfort from playing your flute. I hope that you’ll promptly inform your flute teacher about your physical symptoms and also visit your campus health center to get a medical evaluation.
Flute playing involves many actions than can produce strain, so please check out Chapters 12 & 13 of The Musician’s Way for guidelines on the prevention and treatment of playing-related injuries.
Hello! I’m a student at Clarion University of Pennsylvania, studying to be a music educator, and I have a concentration in flute. I really enjoyed reading this post because I actually have a problem with discomfort in playing sometimes. Being a flute player, my hands and wrists actually tend to end up in some pain after playing, as well as various times. Reading this will be able to help me now, because the pointers on taking breaks, but increasing practice time may help to stop or at least decrease the pain on the backs of my hands. That would be the worst thing in the world to me, is losing my ability to play. This is a great post, and I’m really glad I found it.
Well said, Anne. Thanks for contributing.
Good article. Many thanks for posting and sharing.
I like to elaborate on point 10 – keep fit and strong. This is not emphasized at conservatory — where I’ve seen many young students pick up smoking and have no regular physical exercise.
I can’t over emphasize the importance of having a healthy and fit body. Sure, when you’re young, you don’t think about it. But that’s when you should start otherwise injuries will appear easily and last long.
My guitarist partner and I both train regularly: weight lifting, aerobics, yoga, etc. In the Netherlands, we cycle and walk everywhere.