Performance-Related Injuries

Let’s start talking about them

Chloé Botha


Musical injuries are not an easy subject to talk about. 

It can honestly seem super depressing and all “doom and gloom”, but the purpose of this little blog post is just to give an overview of some of the common injuries related to making music. It might seem a bit scary, but many of these problems are preventable, and we need to know about them, and we need to talk about them.

To play a musical instrument well is no mean feat. Hours upon hours must be spent practicing and there is no “hack” to develop skills overnight or in a few weeks. It is a long-term kind of thing. Most musicians would probably not define themselves as athletes, and the surrounding world is not likely to either, and musicians don’t (generally) have bulging biceps or six pack abs to show that they do, in fact, put themselves under enormous physical and mental strain every day.

If you are a musician of any kind, you are 100% also an athlete. 

Various studies conducted over the last decade or so have reported music related injuries amongst musicians to be as high as 80%, with many of these musicians having to take several months away from their instrument or even change careers. So, why are we not talking more about this? Unfortunately, there has been years of misinformation associated with music related injuries, with people assuming that it is purely poor technique that causes injury or teachers telling students things like, “no pain, no gain” or “just push through the pain”.

There are numerous different types of injuries to which musicians are susceptible, and they are usually referred to as Performance Related Injuries (PRIs) or Performance Related Musculoskeletal Disorders (PRMDs). Common injuries experienced include, tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, cubital tunnel syndrome, muscle strains, bursitis, trigger finger, and myofascial pain syndrome. Most musicians experience pain in the upper body area, usually in the wrists and hands, forearms, elbows, shoulders, neck and upper back. Wind and brass players may also experience jaw or facial pain and singers may develop vocal cord injuries. 

Now, before you completely freak out about all these scary sounding things, let’s talk about a few of the ways to prevent and treat injuries. The old adage “prevention is better than cure” applies here, as it does anywhere else. Some prevention methods include,

  • Taking frequent breaks during practicing
  • Always warm up
  • Do not suddenly increase practice time 
  • Stretching at regular intervals during practice 
  • Making sure your instrument is functioning correctly and the right size for you
  • Being aware of tension and releasing it 
  • Playing with good technique and correct posture 
  • Not practicing if you are in pain!!

Treatment for injuries can include, taking painkillers or anti-inflammatories, physical therapy, supports such as wrist guards, exercises, steroid injections or surgery. If pain persists after you stop playing, continues for longer than 4 or 5 days or interferes with your ability to do other things, or you notice signs of inflammation seek medical help. It is not worth sacrificing your art for a few extra hours of practice. 

Speak to your teacher if you are noticing pain, and they should be able to help you find the source if it is a technique or tension issue, and work on quality over quantity in your practice sessions; try to be as efficient as possible in shorter amounts of time, rather than muddling on for 6 hours. 

Alright, this is some serious stuff to talk about. Keep in mind that injuries absolutely do not mean the end of your musical career, they are treatable and preventable. An injury does not mean you have bad technique or are a bad musician. Sometimes, it’s just your body or your mind telling you that you need rest. 

So, listen. 

Go for a walk. 

Have coffee with a friend. 

Do mental practice or score study.

Don’t let it get you down though, let’s rather try and open this conversation up and raise awareness and support each other as “music athletes”.  

For more some helpful tips on healthy musicianship, check out @the_functional_musician, @mindoverpractice, @thealignedmusician on Instagram!

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