Has Stress Got You Down?

Musicians' Assistance Program

Volume CV, No. 7/8July, 2005

Cindy Green, LCSW

Musicians are athletes. Exercising your body is vital to successfully producing intricate and professional sounds in performance. Like any athlete, a musician is at risk for injury. This month, we’ll look at repetitive stress injuries and what you can do to avoid them.

Musicians will frequently experience physical irritation or discomfort while playing. Pain is the body’s warning signal. It’s like the oil light on your car and you need to pay attention. Like an athlete, musicians often continue to work through the pain, ignoring the possibility of a potentially debilitating condition. Prolonged stress on your body without attention can lead to serious injury.

What happens to your body with repetitive stress is related to the nervous system. When there is recurring stress to a specific area of the body, the nervous system can short circuit, leading to a misalignment of spinal bones and that exerts stress on the nerves, and subsequent malfunction of tissues, muscles, organs or all three.

Repetitive strain injury occurs as a result of movement and posture. Repetitive movements and overuse of specific body parts causes strain. Primarily, damage occurs to the nerves, muscles and tendons. The injuries can occur all over one’s body including hands, arms, shoulders, back, neck, or legs. Pain, weakness and numbness are commonly reported. Several physical stressors can contribute to this type of injury. Poor posture, playing for long periods of time with no breaks, previous injuries or just being generally out of shape are all possible scenarios.


Chemical stressors can also contribute to injuries; the obvious culprits are drugs and alcohol. Other chemicals, not so apparent, can also pose a risk. These may be found in fast food, junk food, a prescription drug or chemicals you may be exposed to in the environment. Not surprisingly, emotional stress also impacts our bodies. Everyday anxiety about booking gigs, dealing with family issues or simply accomplishing daily tasks can take their toll. These stressors, which are not unusual, can put a musician at risk for injury.

There are ways to manage the stress to reduce the chances of harm. For those musicians who do not have primary care physicians or health insurance, the Al Hirschfeld Free Health Clinic provides free health care to uninsured and underinsured documented entertainment industry professionals between the ages of 18 and 64. Located at 475 West 57th Street, the clinic offers urgent care, primary care and specialty care with low cost referrals to a wide range of specialty clinics and practitioners. Call (212) 489-1939 for more information or to make an appointment.

Also, the Louis Armstrong Music & Health Clinic at Beth Israel Hospital serves the unique health care needs of musicians and performing artists, linking performance-related ailments to medical and clinical music therapy services. On staff there are a medical director, a team of music therapists and specialized doctors who can attend to the physical and emotional needs of the musician and performing artist. The Louis Armstrong clinic will work with musicians whether they are insured or not. Call (212) 240-2704 for additional information.

Continue to stay aware of your body on a regular basis. Pay attention to physical, chemical and emotional stressors and manage them. If you’re feeling like your stress or anxiety has become unmanageable, or if you need help connecting with services for an injury, please call the MAP office at (212) 397-4802. We are here to help your plan for health.

The office of the Musicians’ Assistance Program is your one-stop shop for musicians’ health. We offer counseling – both one-on-one and in groups – as well as information on all kinds of social services, including health insurance, food stamps and more. All services are free to Local 802 members. Contact us at or 212-397-4802.