In this blog article I break down 9 myths related to performance-related pain and injury.
Myth #1: I didn’t break a bone or tear a ligament, there is no way I can be injured!
In 1998, a study was published that defines a performance related injury as, “any pain, weakness, numbness, tingling, or other symptoms that interfere with a musicians’ ability to play their instrument at he level they are accustomed to.” If you are experiencing any of these symptoms on or away from your instrument and it is affecting your ability to perform, you could be going through a performance-related injury.
Myth #2: Pain is a natural side effect of aging
Not necessarily. Your body is built to last 110 years. While pain can accompany age as the body and mind beings to break down from a lifetime of use, there is a difference between nuisance pain from physical degradation and chronic pain due to misuse or mistreatment such as poor movement quality, daily health and wellness habits, stress, or other factors. Regardless of someone’s situation, there are ways to improve quality of life even if pain can’t be 100% prevented.
Myth #3: Chronic pain is just part of my life.
When you're experiencing chronic pain, it might seem like it will be never ending. There is also talk you've been diagnosed with chronic pain, it will stay with you forever. Regardless of your diagnosis, Chronic pain CAN be preventable up to a certain point. Thinking that pain will be there everday is also self-fulfilling prophecy. As a society, I challenge us to stop pretending there is nothing we can do. Research has suggested that there are tools available such as mobility, flexibility training, strengthening, self-myofascial release, PNF, Rolfing, VooDoo flossing, or meditation that can be used to help improve quality of life and perception of pain. You have more power than you think.
Myth #4: No pain no gain
As a musical community, this mindset has been constantly challenged and is headed in the right direction. However, I still have conversations with musicians (both young and old) who ignore the pain, push through discomfort, and end up experiencing chronic pain or developing an injury. Playing an instrument should NOT be painful, nor should it cause physical distress. Sure, you may feel tight, sore, or tender, but these symptoms are of the natural process of breaking down and repairing muscle tissue. If you have a teacher that is advising you to push through the pain, ignore the pain, or say it is part of the process of mastering your instrument, it might be time to start asking how sustainable this approach is and perhaps look towards a new mentor that is invested in your health and wellbeing.
Myth #5: Pain requires medical help.
This is a concept that is relatively new and may come off as controversial. A question I have been asking myself and other movement/medical professionals is, “at what point should someone see a medical professional? In my opinion, pain is WAY to common to be thought of a medical problem and many people think of it as a regular part of the human experience. Many people also use damaging self-soothing methods such as ibuprofen, alcohol, opiates, THC, etc. to take the edge off and manage their symptoms. Part of my job is to help educate musicians on their habits, movement, and develop a toolbox of self-maintenance options they can use on a daily basis to both improve the symptoms and function of their health. You have the capacity to make positive changes to your body, mind, and life if you choose to do so. However, if pain is so bad that you can’t go to work, play your instrument, participate in daily activities, or you have a deep feeling you need to seek professional medical care, then it is time to get help.
Myth #6: Posture doesn’t matter.
Here is the thing - our bodies have a TON of functional tolerance built in. It can withstand load after load, but over time the body adapts to our lifestyle choices and movement patterns. These adaptations have a dramatic impact on our health and affect how we show up as teachers and performers. One of those factors is how you organize and align your body through your daily life. Aka - your posture! Let’s start shifting the narrative that “posture doesn’t matter” and start taking accountability for our health. Again, most of the typical performance-related injuries that people deal with started as preventable disease.
Myth #7: Rest is best
All injuries or recovery periods need rest, it is essential! But rest is only part of the equation. The body was designed to move and movement can be used as a tool to accelerate someone’s rehabilitation. Why? Movement increases blood flow, decreases congestion of waste materials in the affected area, and accelerates molecular muscle repair. Pain can sometimes be the body’s natural response to protect itself and movement can be a way to retrain the brain to perceive a painful movement as pain-free.
Myth #8: Injuries are all technique related
Pain is complicated and rarely is there one factor why someone is experiencing pain. For example, technique can be a factor, but so can sleep quality, hydration levels, nutrition, movement quality, organizing/alignment while holding your instrument (also known as posture), prolonged periods of sitting, organizing/alignment away from your instrument, internal stress, and external stress, to name a few.
Myth #9: My muscles are tight, I just need to stretch.
Stretching can be helpful for temporarily lengthening a muscle, but depending on the situation, stretching may not be helpful. For example, there are several different types of stretching from static (holding a position for 30-90 seconds), active (holding a position for 2-3 seconds for 12-15 reps, or dynamic stretching (taking a muscle or joint through it’s entire range of motion). Muscles may also be weak or tight depending on how the body has adapted over time. This can be seen through postural imbalances or shifts in the spine, hips, or shoulders. Muscles could also be chronically weak and require massaging, lengthening, or strengthening. Long story short - it’s more complicated then just stretching.