The performing arts — though no one is scoring points — can be as strenuous as sports, leaving musicians prone to overuse injury.
While most people associate overuse injuries with sports, they are as serious for musicians as they are for athletes. Dr. Nicholas F. Quarrier, who runs a screening clinic for injured performers at Ithaca College, says “Musicians must be viewed as athletes. Each performs a task that requires strength, flexibility, coordination, and agility! All which are components of a true athlete.”
If the work of a musician is as taxing on the body as that of athletes, then their injuries should be addressed with the same seriousness as sports injuries.
Slow and painful
Overuse injuries differfrom acute injuries in that they do not occur from the “result of a single, traumatic event,” writes Stop Sports Injuries. Overuse injuries, instead, are caused by the body being overworked for an extended period of time.
According to a study published by the Journal of Athletic Training in 2012, 29.3 percent of injuries reported by collegiate athletes were overuse injuries.
A report published by the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) states that “20 percent of the current ICSOM musicians have a particular medical problem.” The ICSOM was the first to investigate the injuries of musicians in 1988. An article titled “The occurrence of musculoskeletal complaints among professional musicians: a systematic review” supports the argument that musicians experience medical problems due to their work; several studies that included a total of 5,424 musicians proved “lifetime prevalences range between 62 and 93%.”
Athletic injuries in college
It is a running debate as to whether or not universities and colleges should offer free physical therapy to student athletes and cover their players’ insurance in case of injury.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) increased coverage for college athletes by implementing the Catastrophic Injury Insurance Program which “is one of the most comprehensive sport-related programs of its kind,” writes Juanita Sheely, NCAA Director of Travel and Insurance. Still, injuries can create lofty expenses for students, as the NCAA only covers expenses when “medical costs exceed $90,000.”
Injuries experienced by athletes can be life threatening, making insurance coverage from universities far more necessary in sports than in the arts. But while overuse injuries may not actually threaten the life of a musician, they can be career-ending.
If universities invested in physical therapists for both musicians and athletes, injuries would be less frequent and less likely to be career-altering. Athletes have rehabilitation support available to them, whereas musicians — though prone to injury — do not.
Juilliard is currently the only music conservatory that provides occupational physical therapy for all of its performing arts students. The Juilliard website reads “Free physical therapy is available to all students on an appointment basis.”
Lurking in unsuspecting tasks
Many overuse injuries can be acquired while doing mundane activities. For instance, carpal tunnel and tendonitis (musculoskeletal disorders) are prolific in those who spend the majority of their time typing. Typing requires the use of muscles and tendons in one’s arm – the same parts of the body used to play the piano.
While typing may not seem like a cause for injury, much less a sport, it can cause the same symptoms that a tennis player will experience in their elbow. Tendonitis iscommonly referred to as ‘tennis elbow’ and ‘golfer’s elbow.’Both carpal tunnel and tendonitis are some of the most common injuries in string players and pianists.
According to a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine in 1989, 75 percent of musicians surveyed reported upper extremity symptoms largely attributable to overuse.
These injuries prevail, hurting athletes and musicians alike. Singers have also been known to develop vocal injuries. Mariah Carey and Adele both suffered injuries that forced them to take time out of the spotlight in order to heal.
Can the arts be considered a sport?
Alexa Sueda, Honolulu based doctor in Obstetrics and Gynecology, MD, debated whether or not music should be considered a sport.
Sueda contemplated why the arts, though they require agility, stamina and other qualities mentioned by Quarrier, are not considered athletic. She concluded that “It’s money. Sports are a huge money maker.” By investing money in physical therapists for athletes and not for artists, universities are making a “business savvy” decision. “They have to protect their players, the arts are not supported nearly as much as sports,” Alexa added.
Awareness is key
Whether or not music is considered a sport, what is most important is for musicians to be respected for the time, effort and pain they each sacrifice and endure for the sake of entertainment and beauty.
As the Juilliard Journal put it, “They train to land that tourjeté safely, not to overdo keyboard finger exercises, or to project properly vocal sound for eight shows a week without ending up in treatment for laryngitis.” Musicians and athletes alike push their bodies to perform and, as a result, both suffer injuries that can threaten their careers.
We need to support those who compromise their well-being for our entertainment – rally behind the athletes and artists who bring beauty and excitement into the world.