Avoiding Repetition Injuries
- by Chad Ebert
For many musicians, pain, discomfort and injuries are a part of their daily lives. Some musicians seem to constantly battle repetition injuries while others seem to be impervious to these ailments. How is it that some musicians can consistently practice the most demanding repertoire for hours at a time, day in and day out and never seem to have even the slightest bit of pain or fatigue. Meanwhile, others struggle to play for more than a few minutes without crippling pain.
I was one of those musicians that fell into that 2nd group. By the time I was 16 years old I was practicing piano an average of 4 hours a day and it didn’t take long before I started having issues. It started as pain in my elbow, then it made its’ way to into my wrists and fingers.
At first it was manageable, I would just take some ibuprofen and lay off the practice for a few days. I made it all the way till college with this routine of anti-inflammatories and rest before the pain got so bad that I had to take an extended break from playing.
I took a full three months off and while the pain went away, it came back within hours of returning to my old practice schedule.
A quick internet search revealed that I wasn’t alone. Lots of musicians were dealing with the same issues, but the real question was why? What was different about what I was doing vs. those who never seemed to have any problems?
The answer was in how I was moving my body when I played. My technique was causing me to use my body in a way that it wasn’t designed to move. For the average hobbyist this probably wouldn’t have been a problem, but for a professional musician doing thousands of repetitive movements in each practice session, the compounded strain was more than my body could handle.
Many professional musicians have a story just like mine. Despite studying under very accomplished player and teachers. The reason for this is that much of the technique that we are taught is solely focused on our instruments and doesn’t take into account the mechanics of how our bodies actually work.
When our technique is in alignment with our mechanics, playing becomes effortless and often our technical ability reaches new heights! Through my own playing and private teaching, I’ve seen this play out numerous times.
There are several different methods that can be of great use to musicians. Alexander technique is extremely helpful in correcting pain in the back, shoulders and neck while Andover technique or Bodymaping works very well in raising your kinesthetic awareness. For pianists, the Taubman technique is a great way to learn all of the proper fine motor movements involved in the lower arm and hand. It is the combination of these three disciplines that lead me to make a full recovery and has taken my playing to new heights!
Chad Ebert is a music educator and author of the Music Parent's Handbook. His life-long mission is to improve the lives of others through music education. He teaches privately in Powell and Lewis Center, Ohio.