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Musicians and Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI) — Prevention in Hard Practice Sessions

According to some surveys done by the symphony orchestra, almost 64 to 76 percent of musicians face problems in their career to the point that their performance is affected, due to RSI. And this does not even include the number of those who had to give up on their careers entirely due to this. But what is Repetitive Strain Injury abbreviated as RSI and how does it happen? Are there any preventive measures to avoid this? How severe is this problem? Let’s find out!

RSI in Musicians; Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention 

You hit one key on your piano or move a single string of your guitar and the music is produced; we all know this is not how it happens. To create music, the musicians need to play their instruments repetitively and this is how they achieve perfection in their craft, i.e., through repetitive motion. Now musical instruments are not made keeping in mind the needs of the human body. Instead, they’re designed keeping in mind the needs of the music. 

RSI is the damage the human body receives as a result of the repetitive motion of any part of it over a long period; such as fingers, wrists, or shoulders. 

This damage usually impacts muscles, tendons, and nerves in the affected area. 

Although RSI does sound scary, it is common and can be treated, such as by taking therapy for musicians. It can be even avoided altogether by taking some protective measures and this article will tell you all about it. Let’s begin with the causes!

Causes Of RSI In Musicians

There are different causes of RSI in musicians. Some of them are general while some are specific. The general causes include:

  • Not warming up properly before starting a long practice session.
  • The body is in a state of fatigue due to constant traveling or playing
  • Lack of sleep
  • Not being in a fit state generally 
  • Poor health 
  • Not taking enough rest 
  • Playing in really cold temperature

As far as the specific causes are concerned, they are not hard to guess. Any action that makes you move in an uncomfortable, unnatural way, will result in an injury. Such as stressing your muscles with fast and repetitive motions which may sometimes require you to use a lot of strength, deviated wrist or arm positions, playing with raised arms for a long period, sitting, standing, or carrying your instrument in an asymmetrical posture, etc. 

If you are a musician, chances are that most of these factors are just a part of your life which multiplies the strain your body is receiving and thus increases the risk of having RSI to several folds. Although the good news is that most of these can be minimized, or even eliminated with just a little care. 

Symptoms Of RSI In Musicians 

RSI does not only affect your wrists or fingers. It can affect other areas of your body as well, such as the neck, shoulders, or elbow. There are many symptoms of RSI that you need to notice initially so that they can be treated at the very beginning. For this purpose, you need to listen to your body. Some of the symptoms include:

  • Pain while playing or performing day-to-day tasks. It can be mild to severe. 
  • Tingling and sensitivity
  • Part of your body feels tender or looks swelled up
  • You can’t hold or lift with the usual strength. Weakness of a certain body part. 
  • Throbbing or numbness

Treatment Of RSI In Musicians

As stated above, RSI is not hard to treat. Yet you must pay attention to what your body is saying and see your doctor as soon as possible after the injury so that more harm can be avoided. In case not go to a medical specialist immediately, the injury can get worse which may result in needing surgery, an increased risk of deformity, or even losing the arm altogether.  

The things that can be done to ease the pain temporarily include applying ice on the affected area and giving it as much rest as possible. When it comes to medicines, a combination of certain muscle relaxants, antispasmodics, and anticonvulsants will work best, as prescribed by your doctor. Steroid injections, such as cortisol, can also be proven to be helpful. 

When it comes to physiotherapy, different techniques can help; such as massage of the trigger points and getting hand therapy for musicians. Your therapist can also use different devices to help you with pain and for better healing; such as transcutaneous electric nerve stimulators and other pain-relieving devices. 

Prevention Of RSI 

The first step to avoiding RSI, especially during hard practice sessions is educating oneself about it. You need to learn what causes the RSI injury, what are the symptoms of it and what can you include in your daily routine to prevent it from happening. It is also important to not confuse RSI with some other injury or disease such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome although the same preventive measures would be applied if you are suffering from CTS.

The second step is to pay attention when your body shows signs of being tired, restless, or in pain. If your arms feel heavy or your fingers begin to get numb, it’s time to call it a day and take a rest. It is also important to know your limits and not to try to push too hard to go beyond those limits. If practicing for four hours a day is your limit, go for five hours at max if you need to but never exhaust yourself by working for, say, eight hours. 

Your sitting posture is IMPORTANT. Learn to sit in an upright position while facing forward, your feet should be comfortably touching the ground. The upright posture is the most balanced and less stressful position to sit in for long hours. It allows you to breathe properly and keep your body relaxed throughout. You can also get physical therapy for musicians from time to time to keep your muscles in a good condition. 

The last but the most injury-preventing strategy is to keep taking breaks. Although it is recommended to take a break every 25-30 minutes, you can stretch it to 45-60 minutes but not anymore. Moreover, everyone’s working capacity is different; the key is to avoid over-exhausting yourself. After the recommended time, get up from your seat, move away from your instrument, and stretch. Take a 10-15 minute break before you get back to work.   

Final Thoughts 

Physical injuries are usually the result of poor diet choices, undeveloped muscles due to not working out, and stressing yourself out to the point of exhaustion. A lot of physical injuries can be avoided by making changes to what you eat, by training and exercising to develop your muscles at least once a week, and taking proper rest. Also, observing the cues your body gives to you and following pain signals is more important than you think. If your pain or even mild discomfort does not go away by resting or changing your posture, keep in mind that it’s time to see the doctor, or perhaps an experienced occupational therapist like Heather of Healing Hand Therapy Center who will help you unlock your true potential by exceptional services so book your session today!


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