Physiotherapy and Body Awareness for Musicians

Athletes and dancers understand the importance of taking care of their bodies. Musicians, not so much. This lack of attention can lead to career-ending injuries. ABC Radio National interviewed a group of physiotherapists who work with musicians.  The topic: The biomechanics of playing music, and the associated injuries.

The Australian National Academy of Music

The Australian National Academy of Music is the top musical training institute in Australia. “It’s like….well, what the AIS is to sport, ANAM is to music,” notes Amanda Smith, host of  “The Body Sphere” radio show. Cellist Howard Penny initiated this health program for musicians, with the goal of teaching musicians that  “the hardware does not stop with the instrument.”  The body deserves  the same sort of care and maintenance that musicians give to their instruments, but it often gets ignored.

Bronwen Ackermann

Bronwen Ackermann author of “The Musician’s Way,” is a clarinet player and physiotherapist. She started her physiotherapy career in sports medicine, but now focuses on physiotherapy for musicians. Ackermann notes that many instruments, like the violin, are asymmetrical. She therefore does off-instrument work to correct the resulting muscle imbalances and postural issues.

Her recommendations: work with the muscles that support your playing – not those that are already over-used.  The core muscles, upper back and hip muscles all need adequate care. “ Musicians do need to use their legs a lot more than people realise because in weight shifts and balance when you’re playing it very much underpins that mobile support,” she explains. Howard Penny agrees. Musician tend to focus on injuries to their extremities, such as the hands and wrists, “but the extremities cannot function if the bigger body picture isn’t organised efficiently.”

Focal Dystonia

Ackermann has also researched the effects of physiotherapy on a musician’s most dreaded condition: focal dystonia. This syndrome creates a neurological disconnect between the hand and the brain. In her pilot study,  she presented  a 47-year-old male professional cellist experiencing left focal hand dystonia. The patient  attended a 10-day period of intensive sensorimotor retraining. At the end of the 10-day period, discrimination of finger movements had improved, as did the results on the dystonia rating scale.

Matthew McGeachin: The Trombone

You hold the trombone with your left hand. This places all of your weight on the left side  of your body. As such, your left shoulder remains stationary, causing you to lean in to the instrument. Some people refer to this collapse into the instrument as “trombone lung.” In response to the increased pressure, the back of the shoulder tenses up. This chronic tension eventually causes neck and shoulder injuries.

McGeachin has seen marked improvements since he joined the musicians’ health program. He attributes these changes to his pre-performance warm-up, which includes stretching, breathing exercises and exercises that open up the ribcage.

Are you a musician experiencing chronic pain? Make an appointment with one of our physios!

Call Happy Physio on (08) 9272 7359 today!