For many musicians, repetitive performance injuries may be more feared than stage fright or a hostile audience. Such injuries can destroy a musician’s career. And yet the more you practice to improve your music skills, the more the small, quick, repetitive motions you must make to play your instrument take a toll on your body.
Numbness and pain can develop in musicians who spend years playing instruments in ergonomically poor positions, repeating small movements. Playing the guitar in the same position for hours can result in chronic back problems. Holding a bassoon awkwardly may cause severe injury. In fact, each instrument can potentially cause its own specific problems.
Chiropractors have traditionally had trouble gaining the respect of medical doctors – but chiropractic treatment seems to be gaining in popularity and acceptance as people increasingly are gaining significant relief from their discomfort.
Drs. Jan Teitelbaum and Siri Smith are a husband-and-wife team of chiropractors who have been in practice on Manhattan’s Upper West Side for 22 years, and have cared for many musicians. A patient once called to refer his singing instructor, who was experiencing severe pain during a teaching session. They made a house call, and their treatment enabled the instructor to regain his functioning and complete the day’s schedule. As they continued to care for him over the next few months, he noticed a remarkable benefit – not just to his health, but to the process of singing. This instructor subsequently decided he would only accept new singing student who were under chiropractic care, since he had concluded that it makes a significant difference in the ability to relax one’s neck. He saw no reason why a professional singer would want to sing without the “chiropractic advantage.”
Teitelbaum and Smith also care for many cello students who come for help with back pain resulting from their playing positions. One patient, a bass player, commented that he could “hear the music clearer after an adjustment.” They also care for many violin and viola players, guitarists, drummers, keyboard and piano players.
Some musicians come in for relief of specific pain that they are experiencing at the moment. Some come in because they understand that the position they assume while playing stresses their body; they are seeking to offset this stress and prevent further problems from developing. Still others come in as part of an overall wellness program, incorporating chiropractic care along with exercise, proper nutrition and rest.
Chiropractic care is reportedly simple, yet it is profound in its ability to help your body regain and maintain its health. Teitelbaum and Smith thoroughly analyze their patient’s posture, movement patterns and range of motion to detect areas of dysfunction in and around the spine. Problems with spinal dysfunction usually go beyond being sore or stiff. Spinal dysfunction often indicates areas where your spine is causing stress on your nervous system. That is, spinal dysfunction leads to neurological stress, which weakens your health and makes your body more prone to break down. Chiropractors can locate and often correct these areas of spinal dysfunction, so that your body begins to function better and you start the process of regaining your health.
Chiropractors deal with the structural relationship between the nerve tissues and the spinal column. The spine is designed for flexibility, strength and protection of the central nervous system, which controls all bodily functions and movement. Misalignments of the bones of the spine can impinge on nerves and distort the flow of nerve impulses, causing malfunction.
A number of different chiropractic methods exist. Teitelbaum and Smith are certified in a technique called Pettibon Spinal Bio-mechanics. They evaluate and analyze the spine with an understanding of physics and how gravity and distorted postures can stress areas of the spine, ribs, shoulders and hips. Specific adjustments are used to offset these distortions. They also make recommendations as to what you can do, both while you are playing and before and after playing, to keep the stress from returning. They teach their musician clients exercises to offset the repetitive stress placed on certain joints while playing a particular instrument.
Elizabeth Andrews, a British chiropractor and author of the book “Healthy Practice for Musicians” (Rhinegold), urges that you warm down when your performance is over. A true warm-down should be a mirror image of your warm-up, preventing injuries, chills and cramps, and removing the buildup of waste products from muscle use. She suggests that musicians use up excess adrenaline by continuing to play for a short while, gradually slowing down and becoming calmer.
If you do nothing else, Andrews suggests that you reverse the movements you make while playing with mirror image stretches. If, when playing, you have to bend a joint forward, counteract that with a stretch backward. If you have been sitting hunched over, stretch your shoulders back. If you twist your arms, neck or torso, twist and stretch the other way, depending on the movements your instrument requires. These 10- to 15-second stretches, plus a few good deep breaths, are all that is required to bring your muscles back into balance.
Drs. Jan Teitelbaum and Siri Smith will be the presenters at the MAP office’s next monthly networking meeting on Monday, Jan. 22, at 2 p.m. They will discuss how you can regain and maintain your health through chiropractic care. Come and learn how to ease your back, shoulder and neck pain. Find out about joint lubrication, why it is so important to maintaining joint health, and how it can be done in just a few minutes a day.
Material for this article came from: written communication from Drs. Jan Teitelbaum and Siri R. Smith, chiropractors; www.impulse-music.co.uk/healthypractice/book.htm: “Healthy Practice for Musicians” by chiropractor Elizabeth Andrews; www.post-gazette.com/magazine/20000624people6.asp: “Chiropractor helps relieve musicians’ pain caused by repetitive stress.”