Musicians – Small Muscle Athletes

I once read an article about musculoskeletal pain among professional musicians. A survey of several thousand symphony musicians revealed that approximately 80% of them suffered from either chronic or intermittent pain directly related to their profession. The highest incidence was reported among the violinists. This was not surprising since they not only hold their instrument in a position that is challenging to the muscles, but they spend more time playing than any other instrument in an orchestra. Other instruments often get breaks or play only intermittently but in most orchestral pieces, the violins play most of the time.

Musicians are small muscle athletes. Their profession requires endurance, strength, and precision. The right kind of massage can help them play with less pain and more agility.

When muscles are tight, movement is inhibited. When muscles are in pain, they become tense and there is less control. Maintaining maximum range of motion and eliminating pain allows a musician to play in comfort and can improve performance.

I’ve worked with a number of musicians over the years and they fascinate me. Those of us sitting in the audience marvel at their skill, but we seldom think of the endurance they must have to play for hours without a break. I once worked with a couple of conductors and, until that experience, never thought about what it must be like to stand with your arms raised in the air for a couple of hours. Try it, especially while making short, quick, precise movements. It’s not easy.

Each instrument has their own challenges. Horn players can get spasms in the muscles of their cheeks and lips. Violinists suffer from neck and shoulder ache. Guitarists, banjoists, and mandolin players will get pain in their forearms or elbows.

A good massage therapist who understands these problems can go quickly to the source of the pain and begin to dissipate the tension and discomfort. They cannot only help to relieve the acute pain, they can help a musician to continue to play without pain in the future.

Regular massage therapy really should be a part of every professional musician’s life. It will improve their performance, help them to play with comfort and ease, and extend the length of their career.