By Drew Worden
A study* from 1987 sampled 2,212 musicians and found that 76% reported medical conditions and performance related injuries affecting their performance. Specific to university students, a similar study conducted at the University of Rochester revealed period prevalence to be at 8.3 per 100 instrumentalists. As demands for musical execution at elite levels have increased over the last 28 years, these numbers are expected to be modest** by modern standards.
Elite athletes and dancers work with coaches, trainers, physical therapists, and sports psychologists on a regular basis to optimize performance and reduce their risk of injury; elite musicians however, who are at the same if not greater risk, have fewer resources available for injury prevention and performance enhancement.
I started The Healthy Musician Project with a team of physical therapists at the Eastman School of Music because I believe musicians should have access to injury prevention and Health & Wellness strategies even if they don’t have the opportunity to work with medical professionals on a regular basis.
The Healthy Musician Project (THMP) provides strategies for injury prevention and performance enhancement specifically for musicians. We take the massive amount of Health & Wellness advice and research out in the world and distill it into digestible, meaningful information, custom-tailored for performers and educators. Our team is comprised of medical doctors, physical therapists, and active musicians all specializing in Performing Arts Medicine.
THMP is unique because we offer this information in as concise and user friendly ways as possible. For instance, we’ll share current research with our audience, but we translate all the medical jargon and boil down the article to its most relevant points for musicians so it can be easily read in just a few minutes. We’ll share movement routine videos on our website, but they’re not featuring your stereotypical sweat-glistened fitness models pumping iron. They’re real musicians and artists and we’ve customized the exercises to be 1) low impact so you don’t have to worry about further injury, and 2) anytime/anywhere so you can do them literally anywhere you have the space of a yoga mat.
We decided to digitize this content because we want to make it as easy as possible for musicians to start making healthy changes in their life. Whether it’s reading a quick blog about nutrition, or trying out a 4 minute warm-up for pianists before you start practicing, there are little things we can do everyday to prevent injury and perform our best. We’re also transparent about who’s offering the information, so if users ever have questions, they can reach out directly to the physical therapists or musicians on our team for advice.
My initial interest in Health & Wellness came from my own performance related injuries. I played a lot of intense marching percussion and drum set as a lanky teenager with poor posture and ended up making bad habits for myself that found their way into all aspects of my playing and daily life (working at a computer, poor posture while driving, carrying a backpack and instruments, etc.). When I got to Eastman for grad school and my performance demands increased, so did the problems with my arms and hands. I made a few appointments with the physical therapists on staff at Eastman because I needed to decrease the discomfort and pain that had started affecting my playing. The treatment was extremely effective and I ended up learning a substantial amount of information regarding human anatomy, body mechanics, mobility exercises, stretching, and specific movements that would increase my stamina, flexibility, and ultimately my sound production at the instruments I love to play. Before physical therapy (PT), I was developing habits in the day-to-day that weren’t allowing me to reach my potential in my music making. In many ways, the instruction in my PT appointments and the pedagogy in my private lessons with Professor Burritt at Eastman were addressing similar issues — just using slightly different language and approaches. The whole process of training simultaneously with experts in both fields was fascinating.
The way we take care of our bodies and the music we make are connected in a pretty fundamental way, but despite this connection we’re all aware of (consciously or subconsciously), it’s easy to get complacent about how we prep our bodies for the demands of our music making. And since we don’t always have access to expert healthcare professionals specializing in the treatment of performing artists, the more readily available we can make musician-specific information about neuromusculoskeletal health, mental health, hearing health, and vocal health, the better music we’ll make and the better our lives will be. That’s the dream anyways. Okay, now I have to finish my stretching routine and get back to practicing.
*conducted by the International Conference of Symphony Orchestra Musicians (Fishbein 1987); UR Study (Cayea 1998).
**Moreover, both studies are limited by sample bias and underreporting. Ostensibly, this is due to various stigmas surrounding an injured performer as potentially “damaged goods.”
Drew Worden earned his Master’s Degree in Percussion Performance & Literature and the Arts Leadership Certificate from the Eastman School of Music in 2014. He is also the recipient of post-graduate internship funding for his role as UHS Health Promotion for Musicians Intern/Specialist during the 2014-2015 academic year.
Connect with Drew on Twitter @D_Worden