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Home » Resources » Health » Overuse: How to Avoid Injury

Overuse: How to Avoid Injury


Most musicians will experience discomfort while playing at some time during their careers. One of the most common causes of pain among musicians is an overuse injury. These often affect the wrists and arms or neck and shoulders. Overuse injury is defined as a breakdown of tissues (muscles, tendons, or ligaments) that have been stressed beyond their physiological limits.

Common Injury Symptoms

There are many types of overuse injuries. Some of the more common overuse injuries and symptoms are:

Carpal tunnel syndrome: characterized by a tingling sensation or numbness of the thumb, index, and middle finger.

Tendinitis: inflammation of irritation in the tendon (or muscle attached to the tendon).

Bursitis: inflammation of tendons, muscles, or skin.

Quervain’s Tenosynovitis: pain on the inside of the wrist and forearm.

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome: characterized by pain, swelling, or puffiness in the arms and hands, neck and shoulder pain, muscle weakness, difficulty gripping objects, muscle cramps, and tingling or numbness in the neck and shoulders.

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome: pain in the upper extremity such as arm, elbow, and hand.

Overuse injuries are classified as acute or chronic. An acute injury might occur suddenly during a period of time when a musician is intensely working on a new technique or difficult piece of music. A chronic injury is one that takes place gradually, often becoming worse over the course of weeks or months.

Preventative Measures

Here are some preventative measures to help you play healthier and avoid overuse injuries.

Get in shape and stay in shape. Tight, weak muscles that get little exercise are more susceptible to all types of injury. Musicians who are squarely focused on their career and practicing their instrument may be less likely to take time out for general physical fitness.

Warm up before playing. Warm bodies are much less likely to be injured. Don’t just jump into playing or practicing your instrument. Take time to warm up your neck, arms, shoulders, and back with some simple movement before sounding your first note. For example, perform some slow shoulder shrugs, head rolls, side bends, and twists. Only after your body has warmed up, should you warm up on your instrument by playing some scales, etc.

Pace yourself. If you suddenly jump from practicing three or four hours per day to eight hours per day, you are setting yourself up for injury as tissues try to compensate for the sudden increase in activity. Also, the more tired you become, the more likely you are to slip into adopting poor posture or technique. Take frequent breaks. Try taking a 10-minute break for every 30 minutes or so of practice. Pay attention to your body. Never play when you are exhausted.

Avoid sudden changes in your habits. Suddenly switching from one instrument to another can lead to injury as your body tries to adjust to new positions. Try to implement a new instrument over a period of time and gradually build up playing time. Also, additional strain could result from a change in the nonmusical activities in your life. Everything from raking leaves to moving house can cause strains that affect your resilience and stamina for playing your instrument.

Pay attention to posture and technique. Be aware of the proper technique for your chosen instrument and check yourself in the mirror. You may be leaning to one side or slumping your shoulders without even realizing it. Also, pay attention to how you carry your instrument. Don’t carry it with only one hand or hang it from one shoulder. When hauling heavy equipment always use proper lifting techniques.

Relax. Tension, both physical and psychological, can lead to strain and injury. Excessive tension—pressing too hard on strings or gripping drumsticks too tightly—causes muscles to work harder than they need to. If the stress is psychological, consider a stress management program with biofeedback training.

The number one treatment for overuse injuries is rest. But, if pain persists it is best to consult a doctor who can diagnose your injury and suggest the best treatment options.