Sadly musicians have an increased risk of developing repetitive strain injury. Many factors contribute to this including less than ergonomic instrument design, high stress levels when performing and relentless lengthy practice sessions. My first piece of advice to any musician who thinks they’ve developed repetitive strain injury is don’t panic! Whilst this infliction can be physically very painful and mentally crushing, it is a sign from your body that change is required. With the right energy and commitment the healing process can be a time of positive reflection and will only serve to benefit you in the long run.
There are many more problems causing repetitive strain injury in musicians than a short article can cover so I am going to focus on one in particular which I’ve found prevalent. This is tension in the neck and shoulders. When we’re worried about performing, scared of making mistakes or over worked and stressed this often manifests physically as tightness in the shoulders. Over time this puts pressure on the nerves and tendons running down your arms and into your hands. For many musicians with repetitive strain injury, simply removing this tension can go along way to relieving the symptoms. The first step to achieving this is to sit and relax. Focus on breathing in the tension in your shoulders and then letting it go as you breathe out. As you do this, say in your head “my shoulders are relaxed”. After practicing this for a few weeks everyday, you can begin to try and maintain the relaxation as you practice. It sounds simple, but you will find a great deal of concentration is required to really focus on letting go of the tension. This process alone can be very therapeutic.
You will probably find the tension comes back soon after you’ve begun practicing as your attention is diverted back to playing. Don’t worry. Simply stop, do the relaxation without your instrument, and then come back to it. It will take time and patience, but after a while you will begin to feel more relaxed whilst playing and start to lessen your risk of repetitive strain injury. Naturally when playing for extended periods you may find the tension begins to come back. Not to worry, as long as you learn to recognise this and act appropriately, you will be able to look after your body.
As previously mentioned, repetitive strain injury in musicians is provoked by a number of factors. This article is a brief introduction and it would be advisable to see a number of medical professionals to gain many points of view. Regardless, it is important to remain as positive and calm as possible in order to achieve recovery.