Music strains: injured performers strike sour notes

Print More

Courtesy of MSU College of Music

The Musicians’ Wellness in MSU College of Music provides resources to injured students.

You’ve got to be tough to play music.

Stress as diverse as tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome and the anxiety from being forced to stop doing what you love all take a toll on musicians.

Music-related injuries are commonly associated with playing too much, according to John Hopkins University Magazine. Professional and student musicians often play four to eight hours per day, most of the time without any rest days.

An Australian survey of 377 professional orchestra performers’ found that 84 percent of those studied had experienced pain directly related to their profession.

Flint Local 432

The Flint Local is the longest running all-ages venue in the country.

But music-related injuries span genres. Members of marching bands routinely face ankle, knee, and neck injuries. Rockers and other performers brave the dangers of moshing and stage diving. Those are dangerous enough that venues like the Flint Local 432 in downtown Flint, Michigan have banned both practices.

The event coordinator of the Local, Sarah Johnson, said because the venue is intended to be a place where young people can explore music in a safe environment.

“Many people coming through our doors are attending their first live show,” she said. “Our attendees are equally likely to be 14 years old or 40, and
we have to be a place parents feel safe bringing or potentially leaving their kids.”

University of Michigan – Flint student Michael Puro, is a huge supporter of the hardcore and punk scene in and around mid-Michigan.

Black eyes, nosebleeds and blows to the head are common at intense and rowdy shows, he said.

But generally music injuries are related to the playing an instrument.

Central Michigan University bass performance graduate Kosta Kapellas has experienced injury firsthand and witnessed other students dealing with the physical and mental toll of playing music.

As an upright bassist, he has dealt with numerous finger injuries. And Kapellas has had back pain from hauling his 50-pound instrument around campus, he said.

“My fingers have been torn apart more times than I can count,” he said. “The back thing definitely knocked me out for a few days.”

Mental stress is also a consequence of being a musician, he said.

“I tend to find burnout super common and that tends to pop up a ton in music schools because of the crazy amount of work and demands the school puts on the students,” Kapellas said.

Injuries to musicians need a more nuanced diagnosis and treatment than standard trauma, according to Judy Palac, a Michigan State University music professor who chairs the Musician’s Wellness Team. Palac established the team in 2004 to be a better resource for injured students rather than simply visiting the school clinic, she said.

“Other doctors might say, ‘Well if that hurts just don’t do it,’ Palac said. “That’s not always possible for musicians.”

The team is comprised of music professors, physicians, physical therapists and psychotherapists. Their mission is to consult with and refer injured students to “appropriate treatment resources available on and off campus” as outlined on their website. They also research and promote strategies to reduce the risk of injuries among musicians.

Case studies have shown that treatments such as rest are “not to be considered a safe” method for many common injuries to musicians, Palac said. That is because taking a break from the activity doesn’t address why the injury occurred in the first place.

To combat this, she says the team holds a monthly “consult and refer clinic”.

“[The Wellness Team] provides no cost appointments to students who are having issues, so they can get the right care they need,” she said. “We don’t treat them or diagnose [students], we just try to send them in the right direction.”

While that his helpful, there is room for improvement, said Emily Roberts, a music therapist and doctoral student in music performance at MSU.

Courtesy of Emily Roberts

Roberts is in her final year of doctoral coursework at the MSU College of Music.

Many of the problems have to do with the lack of emphasis placed on health by music schools, she said.

The Musician’s Wellness Team “is really not very accessible, students really don’t know about it,” she said.

Even if they do, there isn’t much the team can do besides refer students to an additional physician, she said. And a musician’s health course was recently removed from the curriculum, further putting students at a disadvantage.

“The first step is education,” she said. “The musician’s health course was probably the most important course of my schooling, bringing it back is an important step. Hopefully from there, there could be a physician at the College of Music that could be there for [injured] students.”

Roberts wants the public to truly understand the physical demand of being a musician.

“One thing that people often forget is that we are athletes, and we train very specific muscles like athletes, so we get injured just like athletes.”