Feeling good in our bodies by exercising, stretching, and eating right all sounds great, but until we start to experience the benefits, it’s all speculation. The only sources of change that we can hold reliable are the ones that we experience. The more often we experience a change, the more the body responds to address this change. It works like a self-experiment where we try and sometimes fail to find the things that work for our health.
Musicians are a fickle group of people—constantly subjecting themselves to a mix of activity and inactivity. Theirs is a sedentary lifestyle that relies heavily on immersion in their art and exclusion from the outside world. The constant hours of practice and positioning preconditions the body for more—including their propensity for seclusion and independence.
The Weight of the World
As a Bodyworker and Musician, the principle of Wolff’s law comes to mind. It states that “… every change in the form and the function of a bone or in the function of the bone alone, leads to changes in its internal architecture and in its external form.” (courtesy of freedictionary.com)
In other words, when people who broke a bone, back in the days when they were bedridden and their fractured bones were immobilized, bone density would change and atrophy would set in.
The same applies to astronauts who come back from extended stays in space. Since space renders us weightless (not altogether accurate, but enough for our purposes), our body does not receive the stress it needs to keep up bone density.
The stress that we put our body through translates very directly to the shape and size that it becomes. Another way to think about this is to picture the 250 pound body building marathon runner. Don’t exist, do they? Each activity requires different kinds of muscle fibers and conditioning for one wouldn’t lend itself well to the other.
How does this translate to the Musician?
With conditioning that the body is put through, muscles, bones, connective tissue, as well as other structures throughout the system have to respond in suit. If the body keeps doing one motion over and over, it’s likely to get aggravated and sore. (i.e., one practice session for 2+ hours) This can develop into repetitive strain injuries (RSI’s for short). This is an umbrella term that refers to a number of conditions like Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Cubital Tunnel Syndrome, Tennis and Golfer’s elbow, as well as others.
The road for the musician isn’t as direct or laid out as it is for the Athlete even though more books, articles, and studies are treating the performing artist as an “upper extremity athlete”. Where the athlete usually gets their pain and aches sorted out, the musician will be less inclined to seek preventative options.
The answer is usually education in the form of the self-experiment. Since there aren’t “musician trainers” that massage and condition the artist for their instrument, the Internet can give so much information on stretching, exercises, nutrition, etc. for musicians. Despite the upfront cost, find a professional who can help you out. Then try them out. The road isn’t as concrete as it is for athletes, so it can be overwhelming for the musician. But the cost of reactive medicine (surgery, injections, rehabilitation) is much less than preventative exercise and bodywork.
Professionals to Consider
CSCS Personal Trainers: Finding personal trainers with a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialty (CSCS) would be very beneficial because they know how to train specifically for different kinds of athletes and professions.
Chiropractic: Seeing a chiropractor would surprise most musicians—they aren’t just about cracking your back. Good ones work soft tissues and can get you back into playing shape very quickly. Keep a look out for Active Release Technique (ART) certified Chiropractors since ART is touted as the gold standard of soft tissue (muscular) work.
Massage Therapy: A Structural Integration or Orthopedic Massage Therapist isn’t going to just draw shapes on your back, but rather find what your body does on a regular basis, and try to condition the body to continue.
Building a team for your wellness makes the overall process a lot less like shooting in the dark. Jump into the self-experiment and find what works for you.
Yours in Music,
Sean Peters, LMT
Certified Orthopedic Massage Therapist at
(617) 266-6810 or (617) 859-0007