Stay healthy, keep playing

To play and perform means keeping yourself healthy and safe. Whether you're transporting a heavy instrument, holding a lighter instrument in the same manner for an extended period of time, or engaged in a repetitive action, playing music can have an impact on your body. Check out the following information to keep yourself going strong for the long haul.

Protect yourself against injury and make work easier. Take a moment to consider what you are going to lift or move before jumping into the task. Over time, safe lifting technique can become a habit.

Lift with the legs & more

  1. Size up the load and check overall conditions. Don't attempt the lift by yourself if the load appears to be too heavy or awkward. Check that there is enough space for movement, and that the footing is good. "Good housekeeping" ensures that you won't trip or stumble over an obstacle.
  2. Make certain that your balance is good. Feet should be shoulder width apart, with one foot beside and the other foot behind the object that is to be lifted.
  3. Bend the knees; don't stoop. Keep the back straight, but not vertical. (Tucking in the chin straightens the back.)
  4. Grip the load with the palms of your hands and your fingers. The palm grip is much more secure. Tuck in the chin again to make certain your back is straight before starting to lift.
  5. Use your body weight to start the load moving, then lift by pushing up with the legs. This makes full use of the strongest set of muscles.
  6. Keep the arms and elbows close to the body while lifting.
  7. Carry the load close to the body. Don't twist your body while carrying the load. To change direction, shift your foot position and turn your whole body.
  8. Watch where you are going!
  9. To lower the object, bend the knees. Don't stoop. Make sure your hands and feet are clear when placing the load.

*Make it a habit to follow these steps when lifting anything--even a relatively light object--and you'll be in good shape for your next performance.

Health & safety resources

Brains, brawn, & bones

The neuromusculoskeletal system refers to the complete system of muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments and associated nerves and tissues that allow us to move, speak, and sing. This system also supports our body's structure. The "neuro" part of the term "neuromusculoskeletal" refers to our nervous system that coordinates the ways in which our bodies move and operate. The nervous system consists of the brain, the spinal cord, and the hundreds of billions of nerves responsible for transmitting information from the brain to the rest of the body and back again in an endless cycle. Our nervous systems allow us to move, to sense, and to act in both conscious and unconscious ways. We could not listen to, enjoy, sing, or play music without these structures. In fact, making any change in our approach to movement, particularly to the array of complex movements needed for the performance of music, means working closely with our nervous system so that any automatic, unconscious or poor habits may be replaced with healthy, constructive, and coordinate movement choices.

Basic protection steps for all musicians

  1. Gain the information about the body that will help you move according to the body's design and structure. The parts of the human body most relevant to movement include the nervous system, the muscular system, and the skeletal system. Muscles move our bones at joints. Our bony structure is responsible for weight delivery and contributes to the support we need to move with ease and efficiency. There is nothing inherent in the design of our bodies or are instruments that should cause discomfort, pain or injury.
  2. Learn what behaviors or situations put your neuromusculoskeletal health at risk and refrain from these behaviors and situations.
  3. Always warm up before you practice, rehearse, or perform. It takes about 10 minutes before muscles are ready to fire at full capacity.
  4. Monitor your practice to avoid strain and fatigue. This means taking breaks when needed, avoiding excessive repetition or practice time if you notice fatigue, strain or discomfort.
  5. Use external support mechanisms when necessary such as neck straps, shoulder straps, proper bench or chair height.
  6. For vocal health, be sure to drink plenty of water, at least 8 glasses a day and limit your consumption of caffeine and alcohol. Avoid smoking.
  7. Be aware that some medications, such as allergy pills, may dry out your tissues. Be aware of side effects and consult your physician if you have questions.
  8. Maintain good general health and functioning by getting adequate sleep, good nutrition, and regular exercise.

*Note: This information has been adapted from the NASM-PAMA documents on Musicians' Health and Safety.

Additional info on musculoskeletal health

Andover Educators - Body Mapping
A Painful Melody:Repetitive Strain Injury Among Musicians
Musician's Health
Janet Horvath - Playing Less Hurt
Gia Publications - Literary Resources
Musicians and their Health Care - A Musical America Special Report
Feldenkrias
The Musician's Way
Musician's Health Collective
Alexander Technique
Stretching Activity Guide Aimed at String Players