Saturday, November 10, 2012

Musicians and Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI) — How to Practice Hard and Stay Healthy

Have you ever heard serious musicians likened to competitive athletes? It’s a worthy comparison in many ways. Just like world-class swimmers or football players, dedicated musicians spend years training, honing their technique, and practicing hours a week so when the time comes, their skills are sharp and their focus is tight. And, just like athletes, musicians can get injured doing what they love.

For many musicians, physical problems come in the form of repetitive stress injuries (RSIs). Resulting from improper technique, over-exertion, or just bad luck, RSIs can often start as a stray ache or pain, and if not dealt with correctly, can get worse and become debilitating. If you come to this article already experiencing discomfort while playing your instrument, though, fear not. A great majority of music-related injuries can be treated with proper care.

Here is how you can keep yourself playing music in a healthy way for years to come.These tips are from David S. Weiss MD is a Clinical Associate Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at New York University School of Medicine.

Pay attention to your body and Take break
The major mistake musicians make is that they don’t listen to their bodies and their arms," says Dr. Weiss. "Even if you’re not feeling pain, if your arms feel tired and heavy, take note, and take a break. It’s the same as walking – if I walk for four hours on cobblestone streets, my calves might not exactly hurt, but they’d likely feel tight and overused. That’s when it’s time to stop and take a rest – before the pain starts."

Take a lesson
Even if you’re a completely self-taught musician, if you start feeling symptoms of overuse, consider investing in a lesson or two with an experienced, trained teacher.

Treat yourself like an athlete
Just like athletes, musicians use their bodies for their livelihood. Musicians should understand that their sound isn’t coming just out of their instruments," says Dr. Weiss. "The sound comes from the neck, shoulders, and arms, and then from the instrument. Often, musicians will divorce themselves from the physical aspect of playing and ignore the fact there’s a body between their creativity and their instruments."

Exercise away from your instrument
Keeping your entire body strong and flexible can go a long way towards ensuring that you’ll be able to play music for decades, says Dr. Weiss. "Cross-training and aerobic exercises are good. Even walking briskly – with good posture, and not slouching – can be great. Using an elliptical machine, swimming, jogging, and biking are good, too. You want to work up a sweat and use your muscles, but not in the fine-tuning way that you use them when you play an instrument."

Know when to see a doctor
"If there’s actual pain that interferes with your playing, seek medical attention," advises Dr.Weiss. Simple advice – but also remember to be diligent, even once you enter the examination room. "Be aware that a lot of physicians don’t know a lot about musicians and may want to tell you to keep playing, but just take anti-inflammatory medicine."

While such treatments can help in the short term, if there’s a greater issue with your technique or lifestyle that’s causing you problems with your instrument, no number of pills will fix what’s wrong. "You have to think about what a doctor’s advice means," he says. "You don’t just want to be covering up the pain. Painkillers can mask symptoms."


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