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?
- 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.
- 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.
- Be patient. Know that rushing back in before you’re ready can have bigger consequences down the road.
- 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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