Overuse Injuries: Everything You Never Knew

Everything You Never Knew About Overuse Injuries

Overuse injuries are very common in musicians, especially string players. The term gets thrown around a lot, but it may not be something you know much about. They can happen to anyone, and the good news is that a little prevention along with good habits can go a long way.

Before we dive in, please remember: we aren’t doctors, and this blog shouldn’t be a substitute for medical advice.

What Is An Overuse Injury?

An overuse injury is any injury caused by a repetitive motion or strain.

What Causes An Overuse Injury?

There are multiple culprits, but they all cause the same thing–tension Your teacher talks about getting rid of it for a reason! There are a few common things that cause tension:

  • Bad Position or Set Up. This can lead to your body compensating when you play, which leads directly to tension.
  • Too Much Playing. DON’T PANIC! This means a couple of different things:
    • You are playing too long with no breaks. Your body needs a chance to recover in order to avoid injuries–just ask any athlete!
    • You are trying to play or do too much after a long break. Suddenly practicing for five hours straight after not playing for two weeks doesn’t do your body any favors.
  • Stress. This means both physical stress on your body and mental stress.

How Can I Prevent Overuse Injuries?

  • Incorporate a warm-up routine beyond scales and etude. Warm up your body by stretching, doing yoga, or whatever works for you.
  • Exercise. Get your larger muscles engaged and as a bonus improve your overall health as well!
  • Check your setup with your teacher, especially violinists and violists.
  • Doing longer practice sessions? Take frequent breaks (your mind will thank you too) and build up to longer playing sessions.
  • Do your research: books like Playing (less) Hurt by Janet Horvath are a great resource.
  • Become more aware of your body with things like Body Mapping and Alexander Technique.

I Think I Have An Overuse Injury. How Do I Fix It?

  1. Go see a doctor, preferably one who works with musicians and understands their unique needs. Don’t put it off–the longer you wait, the harder it becomes to deal with any potential problems.
  2. Communicate with your teacher. Let them know what’s going on and make a game plan. This could include changing your setup, adjusting your schedule, or if necessary scheduling some time off to recover.
  3. Be patient. Know that rushing back in before you’re ready can have bigger consequences down the road.
  4. Find support. Injuries are hard to cope with as a musician, especially when they interfere with playing for a prolonged period. You aren’t alone. Find others who have dealt with similar situations and, if you feel it’s appropriate, find a professional to talk to.

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Silvija Kristapsons

Silvija is a violist and works in the marketing department at Johnson String Instrument.

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