Musicians: Can you overcome playing-related pain without drugs or surgery, and then keep it from coming back?
You’re a musician and you’re getting pain or discomfort when you play. Research suggests that 39-47% of musicians experience playing-related pain1, so if this is you, you’re not alone.
Maybe you can’t practice for as long as you’d like, maybe you’ve had to reduce your repertoire. Whatever’s going on, this time it’s not getting better on its own.
You may have put off seeing someone about it because you’re worried about what it could be and what it could mean. Maybe they’ll say you need to stop playing in order to get better. Maybe they’ll say you need surgery (in which case you won’t be able to play for a long time while you recover).
I get it. You can’t just stop playing. Not only is music your life, it’s also your livelihood.
You don’t want to get a reputation as someone who pulls out of performances, but you also don’t want your career to be cut short because of an injury that keeps getting worse.
The thing is, the longer you leave it before you get treatment, the worse the problem is likely to get, the more likely you’ll need treatments like injections and surgery, and the more likely you won’t get better at all.
In my practice, I see a lot of people who have had not had great results with cortisone injections and surgery. Sure, mostly that’s because those who get good results don’t need to see me, but there are a lot of people who don’t. Personally, I think of these interventions as last resorts when all other treatments have failed, but they’re usually they’re the only thing doctors will offer, after painkillers.
So if you don’t want to have to stop playing, but you want to avoid medications, injections and surgery, you need another option. That’s where I can help.
What you can expect from treatment with me
- Firstly I’ll look at your posture and playing technique to see if there’s anything there that could be contributing to the problem.
- Next, I’ll teach you how to alter your practice routine so that you can continue playing without causing more damage.
- Then I’ll treat you using techniques like acupuncture and massage to soften tight muscles, reduce inflammation2 and reduce pain without drugs or surgery. As an added bonus, these treatments are really relaxing so you can unwind and get a break from the stress of everyday life.
What if I can’t help?
This approach can be really effective for a wide range of painful conditions, but it won’t always help everyone (no treatment ever does). So, if I think you will benefit from more structural manipulation, I’ll refer you to someone else who can help. If I think you really need conventional treatment, I’ll suggest you see your doctor.
What should you do?
If you experience pain when you play, and especially if it’s been going on for weeks or months, you should see someone immediately. If you think I might be a good fit for you, contact me to book a consultation now. If you don’t know me yet, you can learn more about me here.
Even if you don’t get pain now, it’s a good idea to think about your practice routine. Here are a few basic guidelines to keep it healthy and get the most out of your practice time:
- Warm up and stretch before you practice. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a full body workout, but a few minutes of gently increasing your circulation and getting the muscles and joints moving is a good idea. The kinds of stretches and exercises that will be most important for you will depend on your playing posture and instrument, but exercises that work with the fingers, arms, shoulders, hips, core muscles and spine are always useful. If you come to see me, I’ll show you which exercises are most suitable for you.
- When you start practicing, start with slower, gentler playing before working up to faster, more forceful playing. This is part of the warming up process.
- Take short breaks every 20-30 minutes. During these breaks you might take a couple of minutes to do some more stretching, relaxation and breathing exercises, mindfulness practice or something similar. This will also refresh your attention so you can return to your practice with renewed focus and make sure you’re getting the most out of your time. You could also spend the time learning or thinking a bit more about the composer, the piece of music, the lyrics, or what emotion you want to put into the music.
- Take longer breaks every hour or so. Have a snack, take a walk in some fresh air, take time to completely step away from your practice if you can. Again, this will keep you refreshed and focused when you are practicing. It’s better to spend a shorter amount of time with focused attention than to practice for a longer period of time while your mind is wandering. This way, you’ll learn music quicker, make less unnecessary mistakes and not be repetitively using tired muscles so much.
- If you take a long break from practice (for illness or holiday, for example), take at least a few days to build up the amount of time you practice and the complexity of the repertoire again. Your muscles will have become less conditioned while you weren’t playing, and will need some time to get back in shape. It’s at times like this that you’re more prone to injury, so take it gently.
- Pay attention to your playing posture. You might also want to watch yourself playing in a mirror or on video. Notice if you habitually hold any tension anywhere and work to relax that area.
- If you do all of these and start to get any pain, don’t leave it too long before you get someone to look at it. Many pain-related conditions will only get worse and cause more damage the longer they are left untreated.