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The Affliction of the Musician

In today’s society, music is often taken for granted. Those who perform the music are ignored for their talents and little sympathy is given when a musician becomes injured. In their search for help, those who fail to understand the complexity of the situation lead many musicians astray. A musician’s injury can only be understood if the ethics of the musician are completely understood before the reason for the injury, the type of injury, and the recovery process can be determined.

The musician is an extraordinary person, with a different set of rules placed before them in their life. Many musicians begin their craft at an extremely early age, in the hopes of not wasting any opportunity to get ahead of the competition (Kogan 11). Practice provides the means to advance the level at which one plays, or at least to keep one at a constant level of performance in order to become the best (Kogan 11). Pain is often encountered during practice, rehearsals, or even performances, but the attitude of “no pain, no gain” has always prevailed. An increase of health problems has brought greater awareness of the battle with the old principles of perseverance (Grosklos 28). Along with the physical pain of the injury, the fear of isolation also becomes an issue for musician, as music is their creative output (Zurier 46). Many instructors of the musicians emphasize prevention of injury, but few of them act upon this idea, even though it could have helped the musician in the long run (Grosklos 31). The ideas that are emphasized for musicians often appear confusing, contradicting, and different from any other set of rules laid before other people.

A musician can become injured through many different means. Practice can become very physically harmful for a musician (Mastroianni and Norris 28). Constant playing, even with pain, is necessary in order for the musician to stay on top of their repertoire and the competition (Kogan 12). Previous health problems may cause or trigger physical problems associated with the musician’s craft (Mastroianni and Norris 28). The weather, especially cold temperatures, can cause muscles to become more susceptible to injury, as cold temperatures cause muscles to contract and become rigid, rather than flexible, when the musician is using them (Pursell 46). Injuries to the musician can be caused by many different factors, situations, and circumstances.

Musicians most commonly injure a muscle affiliated with the instrument of which they play. Injuries are often irritated by stress and the stress involved when a musician must cancel a major performance due to injury is astronomical (Kogan 101). Most injuries that musicians have are called repetitive motion injuries, due to the repetition involved in playing an instrument. A great deal of force is involved in playing an instrument, causing increased pressure on the nerves, tendons, and muscles of the musician (Zurier 47). Another kind of injury is called Meniex’s disease, which is often found in wind players. Normally this disease is associated with dizziness, ringing in the ears, some hearing loss, and pressure in the ears (Wolff 12). Approximately 10% of musicians with injuries are found to have dystonia. Although no cause is known for this disease, extensive practicing and the refined movements of the musician often agitate it (Iltis 38). Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is another common injury among musicians. It is caused by the repetitive motion of the hand, which causes the decrease of space inside of the tunnel in the wrist. This decrease in space causes the median nerve in the wrist to be compressed and cause pain (Grosklos 28). The musician often injures a muscle commonly used in the playing of their instrument.

Hearing loss is an extraordinarily common ailment among musicians. “In a 1991 study of members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra over half of the musicians had significant hearing loss. A similar study revealed that over one fourth of high school seniors who participate in band had some hearing loss as well” (Wheeler 10). Earplugs are the easiest form of hearing loss prevention by reducing the sound level to the ears of the musician in the first place. Many musicians dislike them, however, custom-fitted earplugs are now being sold, which allow for all frequencies of sound to be heard (Wheeler 12).

Recovery is the final step once a musician has been injured. Many physicians make uninformed guesses about the injury and recovery process for a musician. This can cause the career of the musician to be threatened or even lost entirely (Mastroianni and Norris 29). The best assistance that the musician can receive is collaboration from the medical professional and the private teacher of the musician in order to get the musician back to performing in the best possible fashion (Mastroianni and Norris 29). A common recovery route suggested is the cancellation of performances, practices, and rehearsals, however, these can cause the career of the musician to be jeopardized and is not a recommended course of action (Mastroianni and Norris 30). A decrease in intensity and time spent on practice is a very common occurrence when a musician is injured. The private teacher must work with his student to prioritize the musician’s obligation, along with supporting the student through the agonizing process of recovery and rest from playing (Mastroianni and Norris 30).

The reason for the injury, the type of injury, and the recovery process of the musician can only be determined if the demands on the musician are also entirely understood. The complexities of the musician himself, along with the unique problems of his trade, can cause numerous mistakes in making a proper diagnosis. Physicians who do not understand the musician, his lifestyle, or his situation can cause the situation to get worse. Injury to a musician can be a threat to both his career and lifestyle, while also causing him to become isolated from the world without his creative source of expression.

The following resources were used.
Grosklos, Hollie Jo. “A Flutist’s Understanding of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.” The Flutist Quarterly. Spring 1998: 28-31.
Iltis, Peter, W. “Excessive Practicing May Cause Muscle Tremors, Focal Dystonia.” The Instrumentalist. Sept. 2002: 38.
Kogan, Judith. Nothing But the Best. New York: Random House, 1987.
Lieberman, Julie, L. You Are Your Instrument. New York: Huiksi Music, 1991.
Mastroianni, Thomas and Richard Norris. “Performers, Teachers, and Medical Practitioners: Working Together To Promote Wellness.” The Musical Mainstream. July- Sept. 1993: 28-33.
Menuhin, Yuhudi. The Compleat Violinist. New York: Summit Books, 1986.
Menuhin, Yuhudi and William Primrose. Violin and Viola. New York: Summit Books, 1976.
Pursell, John, O. “Cold Weather Performance Tips.” ITG Journal. Jan. 2001: 46.
Schwoebel, Sandy. “The Painful Right Hand.” Flute Talk. Nov. 2002: 13
Wheeler, Catherine. “Custom Earplugs For Musicians.” Flute Talk. Dec. 2001: 10-12.
Wolff, Edward, A. “Medical Corner.” ITA Journal. Apr. 2002: 12.
Wolff, Edward, A. “Medical Corner.” ITA Journal. July 2002: 16.
Workman, Darin. “Injury Prevention: The Teacher’s Responsibility.” Percussive Notes. June 1999: 57.
Zurier, Steve. “Damage Limitation.” Double Bassist. Autumn 2002: 46-50.

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