“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain (Bob Marley).” This may be true for the listener, but what about the performer? Playing a musical instrument can lead to bad postures and compensations that can compromise your ability to perform at your fullest potential. I have treated various musicians for neck, elbow/wrist, shoulder, and back problems due to hours spent practicing and performing in poor posture. It is easy to get captivated by your own music and lose good body position. For beginning musicians, it is also common to want to constantly look down at your instrument creating a strain on the neck. As a guitarist myself, I find a constant struggle with trying to maintain a good posture while playing. Those pesky bar chords require a lot of stretching with the fingers and can often lead to compensations of postures to achieve the position. Not to mention the awkwardness of holding a bulky instrument. It is easy to slouch down and play guitar, but there is a price to pay later, a price that builds over time.
When you are sitting or standing in a bad posture, your muscles are constantly fighting to support your body and bring it back into a good position. Over time, these muscles start to develop adverse physiological changes and restrictions creating that nagging pain or ache. Add in the weight of your arms and, for some, the instrument you may be holding, and you are creating a recipe for disaster. Once a muscle is being held in an improper position for periods of time and then stressed (as when playing an instrument), trigger points (irritable spots within the muscle) and taught bands of tissue begin to form. These structural changes can create decreased blood flow to the muscle and misalignment of muscles creating a compromise of the muscle’s performance. “Tight” muscles can also create a strain on the joints of the neck, back, shoulder, and elbow causing pain in these areas as well.
Being a musician requires long hours of practicing and performing. This can be very hard on the body, especially if you do not have the correct posture or muscle strength and endurance to support a better posture. Playing an instrument also requires overusing muscles. If these muscles aren’t at their strongest and flexible, injuries can occur. Good posture, muscle strength, and muscle endurance can place your body in better positions advantageous to your performance and health.
Below are some useful tips and tools that can be used to help restore good posture and muscle flexibility.
A physical therapist can observe your posture while playing your instrument and help you make the needed corrections. They can also provide you with needed strengthening exercises to balance out each joint used for playing your instrument and promote better ability to hold good posture. Most musicians suffer from overuse injuries. Having good strength of the muscles used in playing an instrument, as well as the correct supportive muscle strength, can help decrease the prevalence of overuse injury. Furthermore, a physical therapist with a manual therapy background can help restore muscle flexibility needed for playing your instrument. This can be done through various hands-on techniques including trigger point dry needling. At ISSA Physical therapy, we welcome musicians of all levels and instrumentation. I, like you, have a huge passion for music and want to help keep you playing. Yes, the show must go on, but you don’t have to compromise your body or be in pain to do so.