Dr. Yariv Maghen, an orthopedic surgeon at Somers Orthopaedic Surgery & Sports Medicine Group in New York, wrote an interesting article discussing the fact that many musicians, whether they’re professionals or amateurs, suffer from RSI:
Playing an instrument is physically demanding and practice and performing often require many hours a day in stressful positions that can cause pain, numbness, weakness, or lack of control in the wrist, hand, fingers, arm, elbow, shoulder, and neck.
The most common repetitive strain injuries among musicians are tendinitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. Tendinitis, the swelling or inflammation of a tendon, usually affects the wrist in musicians. Overwork under conditions of high muscle stress leads to tearing and abrasions of the tendon and pain usually made worse by repetitive motion.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by compression of the median nerve that passes through the carpal tunnel in the wrist. It stems from excessively subjecting the finger and wrist flexor muscles to repetitive and/or static flexion. If the flexor tendons become inflamed, the swelling presses on the nerve causing progressive symptoms of numbness and tingling in the hand or fingers, pain, reduced dexterity and reduced grip strength.
Dr. Maghen says: “There are many more potential hand injuries that are related to playing an instrument, most of them caused by overuse, repetitive strain, poor posture and incorrect positioning of the hands, fingers and arms. Most can be treated effectively with rest and by correcting posture and positioning, especially if addressed at the first onset of symptoms. But if allowed to progress, these injuries can be physically, psychologically and even financially devastating to musicians. So preventing injury in the first place should be foremost in every musician’s mind.”
Dr. Maghen goes on to offer a number of tips for musicians, covering, broadly, positioning — proper body position and posture — and conditioning — preparing your body for the rigors of playing music.
This is not all that different, from say, an office worker who spends much of their time on a computer — they need to use proper technique, and they need to keep their bodies in the proper condition to perform the work.
He concludes: “It is important that all musicians listen not only to the music but to their own bodies. Proper attention to positioning and conditioning will increase the opportunity for musicians to play and focus on making beautiful music without pain or discomfort.”