Feb 2015 07

The musician as athlete

By: Dave Wheeler

If you're passionate about playing music then you know that long hours of practice can often leave you aching in very specific muscles.

If left untreated these can lead to overuse injuries which can affect, and even stop, your playing.


pic by gameanna @ freedigitalphotos.net


Let's take a look at the sort of overuse injuries that different instrumentalists might typically encounter:



The muscles that control the opening and closing of fingers (and thumbs) can become overworked and sore when you practice new pieces or new techniques. This is classic repetitive strain injury (RSI).

If left untreated, though, tendinitis can follow.

With poor posture, the shoulders can become hunched, meaning that the upper shoulders and neck are kept in a contracted position. This leads to shoulder and neck ache, and possibly headaches.


String players

If your wrist position isn't perfect when playing - especially if it's flexed (bent) too much, then the 9 tendons that run through the tunnel at the wrist can become enlarged and trap the nerve that runs their too. This is known as carpal tunnel syndrome.

Holding the violin or viola is a one-sided affair and means that the muscles on that side of your neck and shoulder can become hypertonic (over used), whilst those on the other side can be weak. Sorting out these sort of postural imbalances can help relieve the aches and pains that you've become used to.


Woodwind players

Depending on your instrument, typical injury patterns can vary:

  • for flautists and bassoonists strain on the right shoulder can cause pain as the muscles are held in a shortened position
  • for other woodwind players, the muscle flexor pollicis brevis which brings the thumb and second finger closer together can become strained from bearing the weight of the instrument.


Brass players

For most brass players, the biggest problem is overuse of the fingers on the right hand


Posture and playing

Whether you're sitting or standing when you play, if you're in one position for a long time, then your back can start to ache quite badly. 

Whatever your posture type (kypotic lordotic, flat back, sway back


Sports massage for musicians

The dedication of musicians to practice with the constant repetition of similar moves means that they use their bodies in the same way as athletes.

The techniques of sports massage can help relieve the repetitive strain injuries of musicians:

Analysing and working on your posture, which is part of remedial massage therapy, can also help deal with those aches and pains associated with maintaining one position for hours at a time.

As ever, if you think I can help, give me a call.