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by Dr. Timothy Jameson (c) 2004
Doctor of Chiropractic
Castro Valley, CA

Many musicians have heard horror-stories about comrades who were excellent performing artists until they developed a repetitive strain injury to the arm or hand. Then their career either temporarily stopped or was finished due to this debilitating injury. Why are musicians prone to these injuries? What can be done about them? In this article you will learn why your hands and arms are at risk for injury, and what you can do to help prevent problems from developing in the first place.

In my experience working with hundreds of people who have suffered RSIs, there's a common trait among them. It is the "I thought the pain would go away" concept. Many musicians are out their (maybe yourself) who are currently attempting to play their instrument, even though their arms, elbows, shoulders, or neck are killing them. You have to realize that pain is your body's warning signal. It is like the oil light in your car. If the oil light goes on, do you simply say "let's see if that will turn off by itself. It can't be that important." That would be ludicrous, wouldn't it? Eventually, the engine would dry out, heat up, and for all intensive purposes seize up and be destroyed.

Are you letting this happen to your body? Are you letting the signs and symptoms of a major malfunction in your body, escalate to the point of total
destruction? I'm sorry to say, but I usually see musicians who've reached this point. They come in my office in desperation, stating they can't play anymore because of the pain, and their career is ruined. Don't let this happen to you!

Let's first begin to understand why the body malfunctions. There's some basic information you need to know about the body. I'll keep it simple and
as short as possible.

  1. Your nervous system (the brain, spinal cord, and all the nerves that branch off the spinal cord) controls EVERYTHING in your body. This includes muscles, organs, glands, tissues, cells, immunity, hormones, etc. Let's put it another way - there's nothing that occurs in your body without the brain
    controlling it.
  2. The nerve system is the "life force" of the body. It literally supplies life to the muscles, tissues, glands, and organs. Without this life-supplying nerve input, your tissues disease and eventually die. Ever see what a spinal cord injury does to a person? That's a pure example of a deadened nerve system.
  3. Insults to your body, in the form of physical stresses, chemical stresses, or emotional stresses can "blow fuses" and irritate the nervous system. This causes abnormal signals to reach the tissues, organs, and glands. Let's break down these types of stresses and how they relate to musicians:
    • Physical stresses: (things that physically stress your body) Bad posture while playing your instrument, prolonged playing times without breaks,
      playing in one position (sitting for example) for a long time, previous car or motorcycle accidents, birth injuries (as a baby), quickly ramping up practicing times due to an upcoming gig or recital, being out of shape & overweight, sitting at computers for a long time, playing computer games hour after hour.
    • Chemical Stressors: (things to knowingly, or unknowlingly put into your body), drugs and alcohol, prescription drugs, fast food, vaccines, toxic
      chemicals in your environment (like chemicals you're exposed to by work or at home), a bad water supply.
    • Emotional stressors: (stuff you're thinking about) getting that recording contract, composing and finishing songs by a deadline, record company execs being a pain is the ***, family stresses, relationship stressors, job stresses other than your music career, death of loved ones, relocating, being on tour without family or loved ones nearby, and finally your negative thinking AKA "stinkin' thinkin'" I bet you never thought that all these things mentioned have a direct impact on your body!
  4. Continued physical, chemical, and emotional stressors will short-circuit your nervous system and lead to things called "spinal subluxations". "A spinal what?" you ask? A subluxation is a misalignment of a spinal bone(s) that exerts stress on your nerve system. This leads to malfunction of the
    tissues that affected nerves supply, in some cases muscles, in some cases organs, and in some cases, both!
  5. These continued stressors will eventually lead to symptoms due to repeated stress on the nerve system. Prolonged, uncared for stresses will lead to disease, disability, and eventually a shortened life-span.

So let's summarize in a real, practical situation that every musician can understand. You feel that you're in pretty good health, except for the fast food (chemical stress) that seems to be part of your lifestyle lately. You know that you're not eating right, but hey, there's this recording deal that you have to provide music for. You're spending 8 to 10 hours a day composing music, (physical stress) sitting at your guitar and piano. That certainly doesn't give you time to fix good meals. What's worse is that your girlfriend (or boyfriend) is hounding you because you don't spend enough time with them. (Emotional stress) Your dad recently had a heart attack, and your torn because you can't spend enough time with him right now. (emotional stress) You're finding that one or two beers isn't sufficing anymore. Drinking a six-pack is becoming part of your practice sessions. (chemical stress) To top things off, your back is beginning to hurt after playing guitar for more than a few hours, so you begin taking some ibuprofen every day to make it through the sessions. (chemical stress)

Now do you see what I'm getting at? Your health is a conglomerate of YOU. What you're eating, taking, saying, doing, and hearing. YOU ONLY DEVELOP AN INJURY WHEN THESE CONTINUED STRESS FACTORS BEGIN TO BREAK DOWN YOUR NERVOUS SYSTEM AND CAUSE YOUR MUSCLES, ORGANS, AND GLANDS TO DISEASE.

So, let's consider your injury, if you have one, at this point in time. Look back at this list of stressors and see which ones you've experienced lately.
And it doesn't have to be within the past month or two. This list can go back to birth! Complicated you say? You're right. When a person walks in my office with an RSI, we have to investigate that entire person's life to find out what stressors led him/her to this current symptom. In many cases, even though the pain is in the arm, the actual nerve stress that is leading to the symptom can stem from the brain stem, neck, upper back, and lower
back. You have to investigate the whole body.

So what can you do now that you understand this better? First, work at relieving stressors in your life. (That's not easy) Second, if you think
your life stressors have taken their toll on your body, then visit a chiropractor to determine if your nervous system is shutting down, or is working at half-mast. Third, if you are having active RSI-type symptoms, don't wait - run, to a chiropractic office for a complete eval and treatment. For a list of chiropractors who have experience working with musicians, go to my web site, www.musicianshealth.com/CPAN.htm.

For more information on helpful hints to avoid injury, visit my Musician's health website. It may really help your music career!

Do you have questions for Dr. Jameson about your health-related problem? He now offers phone consultations at a rate of $75 USD per call, 1/2 hour maximum time per call. Calls must be paid in advance by credit card.  Contact his office at 510-582-5454 to schedule and pay for your consultation.


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