Why is it that Musicians Suffer Such an Extraordinary Amount of Physical Discomfort?
There are several elements peculiar to playing an instrument which makes
musicians particularly prone to physical problems.
- Stationary positions, often holding the weight of a heavy instrument for
long periods of time.
- Fine movements of the forearm and fingers.
- Overuse of the same muscle groups, with under-use of the opposing muscle
Consequently, muscle imbalances develop over time, which can lead to pain and
discomfort. Here's why:
SO WHAT IS MUSCLE IMBALANCE?
Muscles work together in groups to perform all movements. Some muscles have
more of a stability or control role (such as the back and shoulder muscles),
while other muscles have more of a mobility or power role (such as the forearm
and fingers). These muscles must co-ordinate together appropriately to integrate
precision into a movement. Bad habits and sustained positions change the way the
stability (or control muscles), and the mobility (or power) muscles work
together. Often, in the musician, the muscles which hold our posture firm,
suffer, and the strain is shunted down into the arm, which works harder to
Imbalances in the musician can develop over time and are usually a result of
overuse of the arm muscles and under-use of postural muscles.
By correcting these muscle imbalances you can optimise the potential and
efficiency of your body, and have a significant effect on pain reduction.
The body uses muscles with which it is familiar. Just as a familiar piece of
music may be remembered by listening to a bar of the piece, the body uses
memorised movement patterns, which often involve either inappropriate muscles or
the right muscles in inappropriate sequences. By changing the dominance of
muscles in the body and re-balancing movements, not only will you be less
susceptible to discomfort, but your endurance and technique will benefit.
CONSEQUENCES OF CORRECTING MUSCLE IMBALANCE:
- Significant reduction in injury levels.
- Improved endurance, control and co-ordination.
- Great posture (which is always a most attractive asset!).
WHY DOES IT OCCUR?
Mobility or power muscles have 'workaholic' tendencies, and will often 'take
over' from the stability muscles. The stability muscles have a tendency to go on
holiday, and this combination of muscle characteristics can mean that the
muscles do not control the joints at the right time.. To restore the balance of
the stability and mobility muscles, we need to get the stability muscles working
again, they need gentle persuasion.
The brain learns to use the muscles it knows best, so if your dominant
muscles are better known by your brain, they will work harder and create more
and more of an imbalance, unless you bring the others back from holiday to
counter-balance the situation. Strength training exercises do not fix
imbalances! They just make the imbalance stronger and harder to break.
IDEAL BODY CONTROL
The stability muscles are vital for controlling the trunk and pelvis, to
provide posture control, balance and smooth co-ordination. They provide a stable
base to enable the mobilising muscles to provide rapid movement, without
With imbalance, the efficiency of the muscle system is compromised and
technique becomes less accurate and co-ordinated, IN SPITE of our strength and
flexibility. In these scenarios it takes more energy and effort in practice. The
natural tendency of the body, is to do what is familiar and resort to the
dominant and often stressed muscles.
With imbalance, muscles will be activated in the wrong order
or at the wrong time, such that the most familiar (usually short or workaholic
muscles) will be over used in preference to those less familiar but more
important stability muscles.
Depending on your instrument, musicians suffer different imbalances, but
remember, it is still very important to keep loose.
We at the Edinburgh Physiotherapy Centre are specialists in the treatment of