Wellness and Occupational Hazards
Being a performing musician is a lot like being an athlete in terms of the intensity of stresses on the body. Unfortunately, many musicians will experience an occupation-related health issue or injury at some point in their careers. These types of occurrences can be devastating to a musician, with steep financial, physical and emotional costs associated with such events. Education and awareness, especially self-awareness, are key in avoiding such problems and dealing with them when/if they arise. Occupational injuries for musicians can take many forms, including musculoskeletal, vocal, hearing-related, or psychological.
It is important for musicians to be mindful and take steps to minimize behaviors that could lead to chronic, recurring injuries that could jeopardize your professional abilities. Some tips to help with this are:
- Always warm up
- Take periodic breaks to relax
- Be aware of how you feel
- Pay attention your technique and posture
- Never just “play through” pain
It is important to be highly vigilant regarding activities that could increase your risk of injury. Activities might include:
Music-Related Risk Factors
- Change in technique
- Change in instrument
- Additional time spent practicing (for example, before a big performance)
- Ongoing performances or practice without sufficient rest and recovery
Non Music-Related Risk Factors
- Other activities that fatigue the body, such as typing or gaming
- Activities that carry a risk of injury, such as skateboarding
- Periods of intense stress, fatigue, or emotional upheaval
- Poor physical fitness or nutrition
If you start to experience pain, or a sense that something is wrong, while practicing your instrument, don’t “push through it.” You should:
- Immediately cease the activity that is causing pain or is uncomfortable
- See a medical professional
- For repetitive stress pain, such as tendonitis or carpal tunnel syndrome (or elbow pain from lateral or medial epicondylitis), try RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation), but also seek professional medical attention.
A recovery program should be designed in close collaboration with a medical professional.
- If recovering from an injury, ease slowly back into a practice routine. Start with a very small amount of practice time per day, and increase your daily practice time in small increments.
- Pay close attention to your body and any pain or tension you may be experiencing.
- Consider supplementary therapy such as massage, Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais Method, counseling, acupuncture, yoga, etc. Be sure to discuss these with your health professional before commencing the activity.
Protection of hearing should be paramount for any musician. It is estimated by the World Health Organization that over 360 million people globally are suffering from debilitating hearing loss. Hearing loss is generally permanent; therefore, prevention is essential.
There are three general ways to protect against hearing loss. You can:
- Turn it down (if you have control over the sound source)
- Leave the vicinity of the noise
- Protect your ears—use earplugs or safety earmuffs.
It is important for musicians to stay mentally healthy as well as physically. Many of the psychological issues experienced by musicians—uncertainty about the future, depression, performance anxiety, general anxiety, etc.—are highly treatable. Students should not hesitate to seek out the services of the various resources available to them.
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