Tips to Prevent Injuries as a Musician

News from the Actors Fund

Volume 119, No. 3March, 2019

Dr. Aviva Wolff

Dr. Aviva Wolff

The Actors Fund is your one-stop shop for almost any kind of service you can imagine. We offer counseling – both one-on-one and in groups – as well as information on all kinds of social services, including health insurance, housing, substance abuse, financial counseling, food stamps and more. Despite our name, the Actors Fund is open to musicians as well as actors and all entertainment professionals. Most services are free to Local 802 members. Contact us at (212) 221-7300, ext. 119 or or see

What can musicians do to improve performance and prevent injury? On April 4, Dr. Aviva Wolff will explore steps musicians can take to prevent injury in a free workshop at the Friedman Health Center. Dr. Wolff is an occupational therapist clinician and researcher with over 20 years of experience working with musicians to maximize their performance by avoiding injuries.

The work demanded of musicians is intense, and the repetitive nature of playing music opens musicians to be at a greater risk for occupational injuries. Fortunately, many injuries are avoidable by understanding risk factors and engaging in healthy habits and safe practice.

Here is a list of six factors that may be contributing to your musculoskeletal pain or injury. Learn how to avoid these causes and what you can do about it.


Musicians are especially prone to overusing the small muscles of the hand and arm from long and demanding playing and performance schedules that require high repetition, and rapid, complex, coordinated movements. Too much playing without proper pacing and rest breaks can strain your muscles and cause injury.

What can you do about it?

Physical warm up: Warming up your muscles before playing increases the blood flow to the muscles and allows for playing longer with less pain and fatigue. Try jogging in place for 1 to 2 minutes or doing several jumping jacks to get your blood flowing prior to playing.

Rest breaks: Take a minimum 10 to 15 minute break every hour. Use your break to do some gentle stretches or get up and walk around to relieve muscle tension and give your joints a rest.

Mindful practice: Alternate repertoire and focus on problem passages. Don’t cram. Supplement physical practice with mental practice and “shadow practice” to preserve your endurance.

Smart practice: Vary the repertoire and gradually increase intensity and playing time. This is especially important after vacation or injury. Stagger playing schedules throughout the week and give your body one day a week of complete rest.


Changing your instrument or your playing routine without gradual practice can put extra strain on muscles and tendons that have not been conditioned properly.

What can you do about it?

If you are playing a new instrument, or changing your technique or learning a new demanding repertoire, proceed slowly. Gradually increase the intensity and playing time to give your muscles a chance to adapt to the new demands.


Instruments in poor condition with leaking valves or bad keys require extra force to generate sound that in turn can lead to musculoskeletal pain and injury. If your instrument has not been properly tuned, or if it needs repair, you may be using your muscles more than necessary.

What can you do about it?

Make sure your instrument is properly tuned and repaired and has the right dimensions for your body. Consult with a specialist who can make recommendations about instrument modifications to make playing more comfortable and safer.


Prolonged awkward playing postures place excess force across muscles and joints that can lead to musculoskeletal pain and injury.

What can you do about it?

Practice good body mechanics. Proper posture and body mechanics place less stress on the joints and muscles and allow for longer and more efficient playing. Consult with a specialist who can make recommendations about posture and position and can prescribe stretches that are specific to your instrument and performance demands.


The high pressure and performance anxiety associated with the demands of a busy performance schedule can contribute to stress which in turn can exacerbate normal aches and pains.

What can you do about it?

Stay calm. Panic and anxiety can increase normal aches and pains. If you feel an ache or pain, do not panic. Rest and ice. Most minor injuries disappear after a short rest or a few days. If your symptoms persist, seek medical attention from a specialized provider. If you are unable to rest because of a performance commitment, seek attention from specialists. They may be able to show you taping techniques or other short term strategies to provide temporary support and relief until you are able to rest.


Poor playing environment with inadequate temperature, space and light can cause muscle strain and lead to injury.

What can you do about it?

Pay attention to the environment: Make sure you are practicing in a room that has the right temperature and adequate space and light.


Even with the best practice habits, sometimes pain and injury occur. Remember, most minor injuries last two to three days. Always respect and pay attention to pain. Rest and listen to your body. If symptoms do not disappear after several days, seek attention from a healthcare provider who specializes in musician injuries.


To learn more about healthy best practices from Dr. Wolff, join us on April 4 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Friedman Health Center, 729 Seventh Ave. RSVP required: please check in at