Musicians’ Union: Pain prevention

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Working as a professional musician, you should think of yourself as an athlete too, according to physiotherapists who treat music-related injuries

Most of us sit through the Olympics or Commonwealth Games in awe of the athletes who devote their entire lives to winning gold. But working as a professional musician, you should think of yourself as an athlete too, according to physiotherapists who treat music-related injuries.

It’s Not Unusual

The most common problems are caused simply by playing for too long, and are often made worse by incorrect technique or posture. It is so easy to overlook the effects of frequent long journeys, cold or badly lit rehearsal spaces, and the physical effort of repeatedly lifting and carrying heavy instruments and equipment.

If not treated in time, these can lead to focal dystonia, which causes parts of the body to stop working normally. It has been known to make musicians’ fingers twist or curl involuntarily, or fail to respond entirely. Focal dystonia does not necessarily hurt, but it is essential to seek treatment the moment that it is noticed.

However, the cause of music related pain isn’t always obvious. Arm pain, for example, could stem from overused fingers, underdeveloped shoulder muscles or tension in the back of the neck.

Take Notice Of Pain

Most music-related problems do cause pain, which conversely is good because it makes people seek help. Never ignore pain or any difficulties with your movement. Physios can usually treat pain quite simply at an early stage, using techniques such as massage and ultrasound. Tailored stretches and exercises can also help to heal the injured part and strengthen its supporting muscles.

Be Proactive

Always warm up before playing and cool down afterwards. Take a brisk five-minute walk before a performance, to improve blood circulation to your muscles and relieve stress.

Do stretching exercises every day and, while sitting down, before the performance itself. The right daily stretching and strengthening routine can counteract the damage caused by posture or playing.

Constantly check your posture and playing techniques. Variety of movement is important. Vary your position if you are sitting for a long time. Consider seeing a specialist, such as a physio with a music background, to see if there is something you should or should not be doing.

Athletes and dancers have coaching throughout their professional lives, so postural problems or faulty movements are picked up and corrected. For musicians, especially freelancers, these are usually only picked up after the pain starts. 

Don’t leave it too late. If you feel pain or think something is wrong, MU members should contact the British Association for Performing Arts Medicine (BAPAM, bapam.org.uk) for free advice.


The Musicians’ Union has been protecting the rights and interests of working musicians for over a hundred years, and 30,000 professional and student musicians currently benefit from the MU’s comprehensive range of services. These include career and business advice, rights protection, free instrument insurance, free contract and partnership advice, £10 million public liability cover, legal advice and assistance, plus access to a network of musicians of all ages across the UK. For anyone serious about being a working musician, whether in the live arena, in the recording world, as a teacher or writer/composer, the MU gives musicians a voice – individually and collectively – to help nurture and improve the industry and to ensure that every member has the support and protection they need.

More info: www.theMU.org. Follow the MU on Twitter: @WeAreTheMU.

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