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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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,
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!
- 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!
- 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
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
health website. It may really help your music career!