Injury prevention in music

By Kendra Johnson, Arts Editor  (Photo by Jonathan Soder/The Bison)

As music students draw near to mid-semester jury performances and junior and senior recitals, many of them increase the amount of time they dedicate to practicing their instruments.

“Piano performance majors are required to practice three hours each day, but many practice more than this when preparing for a recital, and total playing hours often exceed this as they are also accompanying choirs or lessons and playing for other events,” associate professor of music Dr. Michael Dean said.

The practice is necessary for students to gain the proficiency level they will need to be able to perform well at the collegiate level.

However, an increase in practice can sometimes be accompanied by an increase in injuries.

According to Christine Guptill and Christine Zaza, in their article “Injury Prevention: What Music Teachers Can Do” in Music Educators Journal, “Research in performing arts medicine has demonstrated that approximately 25 percent of music students experience a playing-related injury.”

These injuries range from mildly annoying to quite serious.

“Injuries to the upper extremity (hand, arm, and shoulder) are common in musicians,” Guptill and Zaza wrote.

“These include overuse problems, strains and sprains, inflammatory conditions (e.g., tendonitis, tenosynovitis), nerve compression problems (e.g., carpal tunnel syndrome), and other neurological conditions, such as focal dystonia.”

Students may reduce their risk of such injuries by following basic safe practice guidelines and by remaining in close communication with their instructors. Making a small adjustment to the way students approach their practice sessions can have a large impact on their overall physical health as musicians.

“If students are practicing in large blocks of time, that promotes tension and repetitive stress injuries,” Dean said. “It is best to break practice into smaller sessions throughout the day.”

Students can also change the way they organize each practice session to farther minimize any risk.

“Warming up both large and small muscle groups before practicing is important as well to help prevent injury to cold muscles,” Dean said.

Taking the time to take care of themselves and practicing positive habits, both in their practices and in their everyday activities, allows students to maintain all areas of their health and creates safeguards against potential injuries.

“Getting enough rest and eating well are important,” Dean said. “Your body needs time to heal itself from micro tears that take place even when one is practicing well. Performance practice is a strenuous mental and physical activity, and one must take care of oneself in order to perform one’s best and avoid any number of issues. It is also important to keep notice of one’s body usage, both at the instrument and away from it. When one begins to become fatigued, one’s technique may become less efficient or even harmful.”

Music faculty at educational institutions such as OBU are able to assist their students in preventing injuries by monitoring the students’ technique.

“Even if practicing only a small amount of time, improper or inefficient technique can cause injuries as mentioned above,” Dean said. “It can be difficult and frustrating to alter one’s fundamental technique, but it is worth the time and effort rather than risking injury by continuing to use a potentially harmful technique.”

Faculty also guides students in finding the correct ways to practice safely.

“We do our best to instruct our students about proper technique, taking care of themselves, and how to structure their practice sessions throughout the day,” Dean said. “Proper body usage and how to avoid injuries is a part of our regular curriculum.”

However, in some instances, faculty are only able to help students if the students are willing to say they need the help. Instructors may not always be able to tell that a student is struggling with physical pain while practicing, so it is crucial that music students are open and honest with their instructors about any discomfort that might be occurring during practice or performance.

The fi rst thing students should do when experiencing discomfort is simple.

“Stop,” Dean said. “Before continuing to practice there are several questions to ask and answer. Is it a specific passage that is causing the problem? Have you been practicing too long? Is it possible that the cause is actually something away from the instrument and practicing has only brought it to the fore?”

The next step is clear communication with the student’s music instructor. Students should never hide discomfort, because toughing through it in silence could make the injury and pain even worse.

“When a student experiences discomfort, they know they can come to me right away – we will ask a lot of questions, explore their music and their technique, and we will make a plan of how to solve the issue,” Dean said. “Continuing to practice in the same manner will likely only cause the problem to worsen.”

With proper communication and preventative action, students can minimize their risk of injury and speed the injury recovery process should an injury occur.


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