Avoiding Injury

Notes on Repetitive Strain Injuries and Tendonitis

Repetitive Strain injury is a common problem among musicians of all instruments and is something that is not always addressed by teachers, especially those who have never experienced any problems themselves. Unfortunately, as well a lack of advice available to people suffering from these problems there is a lot of denial in music colleges and the music profession in general where injuries are concerned. If it hasn't happened to your teacher then why should it happen to you? This is the attitude taken by many of us which is the wrong way to think! Having twice suffered through tendonitis I feel equipped to deal with this problem now and also to advise others on what to do and how to prevent this issue from becoming such a problem.

How does tendonitis occur?

Injuries can occur when you come back to playing an instrument after a break of a week or more from playing or by overplaying in a schedule which is too demanding and therefore putting too much pressure on the same muscle groups. Doing too much of anything without a rest is bad for your body. This means that if you have a 2 hour gig, then that is enough for one day for your arm and no other practice should be attempted. Also, by doing lots of cleaning, lifting, typing etc on the same day you will increase your chances of injury, so the types of activities that involve more stress on the same area should be avoided. Looking after your body by thinking about the demands you put on it and not doing too many activities involving the same muscle groups will help to lessen the chances of injury. All age groups are at risk of injury if they do not look after the body parts used (ie arms, necks, backs, shoulders etc) when playing their instrument.

How can I prevent a repetitive strain injury?

Preventing an injury in the first place is the best solution for us musicians, you can make a full recovery from tendonitis but this can take months of patience and physio therapy, it is far better to prevent the problem in the first place. Here are a few steps to avoid injuring yourself:

  • Make sure the instrument you are using is set up suitably and is ergonomically friendly. Using a neck strap prevents unnecessary tension in arms but you need to be careful that you don't injure your neck through poor posture. Make sure you sit or stand correctly and use a mirror to look at your posture.
  • Stretch arms, neck and shoulders before and after you play your instrument.
  • Never play for longer than 25 mins without a 5 minute break. It is vital to rest and stretch in that break should you need to play for longer than this length of time.
  • If you feel pain - STOP!
  • Use ice after playing if you are playing in a long performance or if practicing longer than you usually practice for, or if you feel pain. Apply ice wrapped in a towel, or a frozen gel pack to the muscles that you've been using.
  • Always make sure your muscles are warmed up before you play - use a heat pack in cold weather or if you feel fatigued before you start to play.
  • If you have a break in your normal practice routine of longer than a few days then make sure you build up from 2-5 mins a day and increase by 2-5 mins each day. If you feel pain from a sudden increase then listen to your body.
  • Seek professional advice if the pain you are experiencing is frequent, make sure they understand you are a musician as tendonitis can effect many professions and can be treated in a number of different ways, some of which are of no use to musicians as the injury is a very specific one.