Although the subject is often avoided, most musicians have dealt with a playing-related injury at some point in their career. For some, the injury is temporary and simply needs to be worked through, while for others it can mean the end of their career. Like it or not, prevention and treatment of playing-related injuries is something that should be discussed, especially among string players who are at the highest risk for a number of repetitive strain problems. In this article we’ll cover the most common types of playing-related injuries among string players and some tips for playing through your injury while still remaining sensitive to it.
What Are the Most Common Types of Injuries?
Since violinists, cellists, and viola players primarily use their neck, shoulders, wrist, arms, and back to play their instrument, these are where the most common injuries occur. Shoulder injuries are particularly threatening since string players extend their arms out in order to bow their instruments. Violinists and violists in particular contract the muscles in their left shoulders to support their instruments, and often complain of pain or tension in this area. And muscle pain and tenderness are just the beginning. Injuries can range from tendonitis and frozen shoulder to nerve entrapment, slipped disks, and in extreme cases minor hearing loss. Making music can be very rewarding, but it’s more physical than you may think. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to ease the strain.
Note: before taking any advice on this list into consideration, please consult your doctor. In some cases, your doctor may recommend taking a break from playing so your injury has time to heal.
If you’re playing through an injury, you’ll need to be strategic with your practicing. Be thoughtful and creative, and sit down with your music instructor so you can work out a practice plan that’s specific to your injury. Mindless repetition of passages can be more detrimental than helpful, and depending on your injury, certain exercises should be avoided altogether. Sometimes you won’t even need your instrument to practice, and simply thinking through your orchestra part or studying the music is enough. As with time spent practicing when you’re in full health, the more you engage your mind with music the better. If your doctor has recommended that you take some time away from your instrument, keep your mind engaged with music books, movies, and theory.
Pay Attention To Your Body
If you don’t know why or how you injured yourself, find out. Your music instructor and doctor should be able to determine the source. Once you know the source, learn how to prevent it from happening again in the future. Whether you injured yourself due to poor posture or over-extension, make it a point to be aware of your body as you’re practicing. When standing, make sure you’re distributing your weight evenly between your feet. If you sit, make sure your feet are flat on the floor and your back is straight. You should be able to stand from a sitting position without spending too much time adjusting your weight. If it helps, install a mirror in your practice area and watch yourself while practicing. Some musicians have no idea how horrible their posture is until they see it for themselves. This practice shouldn’t stop once your injury is healed, either.
While you should always be taking breaks during playing and practicing to prevent overextending yourself, this is especially important when you’re playing through an injury. Stretch before you play, when you wake up in the morning, and never skip over your warm-up exercises and drills. Don’t forget to breathe. Stress and anxiety can make an injury worse, and letting yourself relax will improve your life in general. Consider taking yoga classes or meditating, as mental clarity will do wonders for your mind and body. Drink lots of water and, if your doctor recommends them, don’t forget to take your vitamins daily. Depending on your injury, incorporating certain vitamins and minerals into your diet can help speed up the recovery process.
Consider Special Treatments
While this is something that should be discussed with your doctor, you may wish to consider certain treatments, like regular massage therapy, acupuncture, or visits to the chiropractor. It can be incredibly frustrating to play through an injury, and some of these treatments may help ease the pain or prevent future injuries. Just remember, in most cases the injury is only temporary and you’ll be back to normal in no time. While some injuries are severe and could end your time as a musician, these instances are rare and usually occur in string musicians who have been playing for decades. As previously mentioned, you’ll be back on your feet in no time with the help of your doctor and music instructor. Good luck!
Want more advice? Check our Tips to Get the Most From Your Violin Lessons.