Here is something we developed for young musicians on an intensive week-long course of orchestra playing - based on personal experiences of injury and remediation.
Christchurch Itinerant Teachers of Music
National Secondary Schools Symphony Orchestra
Avoiding Musicians’ Injuries
Many orchestral musicians, both young and old are experiencing serious postural problems which pose a long-term threat to their continued involvement in music performance.
This summary is designed to alert players to potential problems and forestall them; to identify the risks from playing; to prevent the onset of problems; to identify the initial warning signs;
to takeeffective “self-help” remedial action; to seek professional help where necessary.
Risks mainly come from:
the unnatural postures instruments require players to adopt (e.g. violinists’ left hand).
long periods of static posture and muscular tension
poor furniture, poor posture, weak musculature
Preventing the onset of problems:
be physically fit - strong back and abs
choose or adapt furniture for good support
sit erect - maintain the lordosis (inward curves) in lower back and neck areas
use a natural playing position - avoid sharp bends in joints such as wrist and neck
use a support for heavy instruments
change position from time to time
relax muscles regularly
adopt counter-stretches to dissipate tension during rests while playing
sore back, neck or shoulder
pain in forearm or hand
tingling sensation or numbness in hand
weakness in hand or forearm
What is causing the problem?
most problems stem from split discs pinching nerves where they exit between the bony segments of the spine
another localised problem comes from muscular “poisoning” which occurs when muscles held under tension, naturally generate toxins which cannot be flushed away because of restricted blood-flow.
less common is inflammation from overuse, restriction, or deterioration of the tendon sheaths extremely rarely, nodes or long-term injury of the tendons or joints may be due to arthritis or a traumatic injury or chronic OOS.
correct posture especially neck and lower back; reverse stretches; back strengthening exercises sit-ups with rolled newspaper under spine (move it progressively from neck to lower back); spinal rotations; yoga or physio postures such as “squares”, “wall locust”.
Find a good sports physiotherapist or preferably one who deals with musicians’ injuries.
Avoid injections (cortisone, gold); surgery, invasive operations, pins, etc.
Remember it took months to get into the state your are in - it may take at least a few weeks to correct old habits, restore split discs, strengthen your spine and regain your fitness. You will experience some mild pain from stretching and feel tightness initially down back of legs, in palms, arms, chest and back.
Do not continue if pain is severe or persists. Listen to your body. Work gently and increase over time.
Avoiding Musicians’ Injuries - Some Basic Postural Exercises:
1. Arm Stretch
Reach arms above head and interlock fingers
As you exhale, soften shoulders and extend arms. Squeeze elbows together
Exhale and push base of index finger up, pull base of little finger down.
Exhale and become aware of the increased hollow in your low back.
Tuck your bottom in and flatten the lower back.
Concentrate on making a hollow in your upper back (you may feel some pain between your shoulder blades).
Breathe freely while holding the pose.
2. Wall Lean
Stand 20 -3 cm away from the wall, feet parallel, knees straight but not locked.
Reach hands up wall as high as possible - hands spread wide. Maintain contact with base of index finger and thumb.
Lean into wall - you may even wish to rest your head against the wall.
Tuck bottom in, flatten lower back so only upper back is leaning significantly into wall.
Concentrate on small region between shoulder blades.
Try to take your sternum (mid-chest) and upper back towards intersection of floor & wall.
3. “Prayer” Square
Elbows quite close together on table or sill. Clasp hands, palms together, up at right angles.
Allow head to drop through. Soften inner shoulders. Roll out arms shoulders.
Feet hip width apart. Knees straight but not hyper-extended.
Push into base of big toe and roll out thighs. Aim for right angle at hip.
Lengthen body away from arms. Begin to turn backside towards ceiling.
Push away from wall and lengthen. Aim to gain hollow in upper back. Flatten lower back.
Pull shoulders down and into lower back.
Work through check-list again. Hold pose for 10 -15 breaths.
4. Square Against Wall
Similar to “prayer” square above.
Place hands against wall around mid-chest height. Middle finger vertical.
Spread hands wide. Push into base of index finger and thumb.
Roll out shoulders. Soften neck.
Aim to make a right angle as for “prayer” square.
Lengthen the spine. Backside towards ceiling. Pull kneecaps up.
5. Wall Locust
Lie on stomach face down on floor, feet flat against wall.
Tighten backside and thighs.
Interlock hands behind back and lift, arching back and reaching back towards heels.
Do not rest hands on backside. Press sacrum and backside downwards.
Hold for 10 -6 seconds. Breaths will be shorter and sharper in this position.
6. Roll and Stretch
Side lie, inner shoulders down, back straight, knees crooked, hips at 90 degrees to body and weight of top hip over bottom hip, arms out straight, palms matching, inner shoulders down.
Leading with head, leave lower arm on ground and take upper arm over to other side of body.
quietly stretch for 20 breaths each side
Acc Booklets (free)
The Athletic Musician - Barbara Paull & Christine Harrison pub PAULLINK Toronto
Christchurch New Zealand
Bassoonist / Teacher / Conductor