This post is the beginning of an artist series where I interview musicians who have overcome injuries to help demystify performance-related pain and inspire musicians to better take care of their health.
Our first guest of this series is Khara Wolf, an oboist, entrepreneur, and founder of Khara Wolf Design.
1. What is your name (and preferred pronouns)?
Khara Wolf (she/her)
2. Where do you currently work, and what is your instrument/voice type?
Oboe is my primary instrument, but I also play English horn, baroque oboe, silver flute, keyless (Celtic) flute, and whistle. I teach private lessons and am the Adjunct Professor of Music—Double Reeds at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, a position I took in 2015. I also run a marketing agency for small businesses.
3. What was your injury, and how did you get injured?
The injury that ultimately brought me to The Functional Musician in 2022 was a severe back/spine injury I incurred from falling on the ice in the beginning of 2020. However, there were a string of previous overuse injuries, including two years of tendonitis, that contributed to chronic and repetitive injury cycles that spanned over many years.
4. What were the biggest challenge(s) of your injury?
The most difficult part of being injured, or in my case stuck in an injury cycle, was that the symptoms were often debilitating enough to prevent quality practice, enough quantity of practice, or being able to practice at all.
It has been tremendously challenging, and devastating at times, to build a professional career with inconsistent practice. Many of my practice sessions over the years have been limited in some way with additional long stretches of time where I couldn’t play at all.
5. What was your recovery like? What struggles did you face trying to overcome your injury?
Prior to working with Austin my recovery cycles often included putting the oboe down entirely (as I’d push until I couldn’t play anymore and only rest when it was physically impossible to practice).
The recovery process during the 1-1 Functional Musician recovery program was a different experience. We worked to correct the foundational structural issues that were the root cause of the pain.
I learned that over the years my body was compensating for injury and pain. The more I practiced through the pain, the worse things got. By the time I started the recovery process in 2022 we had a lot to unwind!
6. What was the biggest lesson you learned during your recovery?
Healing is not linear, and it can take a long time. It’s like watching winter roll into spring. There are mild days and then there are days with heavy winter storms, but overall, the snow slowly melts. It happens one day at a time, so you don’t always see progress, but after a while you look up one day and the snow is almost gone.
7. What was something that surprised you during your recovery?
As the recovery process progressed and I began to experience pain-free practice, I was surprised by all I had endured. More so, I was surprised that I never questioned it. After 20 years of “off again/on again” injury cycles, I just assumed playing through pain and injury was a requirement.
8. What are you actively doing to stay healthy and pain-free?
I am maintaining exercises from The Functional Musician program daily and prioritizing my overall health. This one sentence statement sounds simple, but it’s not!
9. Do you have any words of encouragement for someone currently going through an injury?
Don’t wait to seek help—injury prevention is key. There are many more resources available today to help musicians with both injury prevention and injury recovery.
If you are experiencing pain while playing, know that you don’t have to stop playing. In fact, taking a break might help temporarily but it will not likely heal anything in the long run. Rest doesn’t address the root cause of an overuse injury (most common type of injury for musicians).
Focus on addressing structural imbalances and invest in a program that will help you maintain the physical demands like professional athletes do. Our bodies are designed to be efficient, but as we become less efficient due to injury, poor posture, poor health habits, etc, our bodies will start to compensate in less efficient ways leading to long term injury cycles that are more challenging to come out of.
10. Any other final thoughts about your recovery journey you’d like to share?
Injuries can be complex and (often) include more than just the physical symptoms. As an example, burnout or other emotional distress is commonly present in an injury cycle and can make the process more difficult to deal with. Have patience and keep showing up without expectations.
11. What are you currently working on musically? Do you have any projects you’d like to plug?
I am working on an album for oboe and guitar that features 10 original Celtic arrangements. The album will be released with sheet music and guitar-only backing practice tracks. It is my hope that this will be the first of many recording projects and sheet music collections featuring the oboe and English horn in Celtic music and 17th and 18th century Scottish baroque music.
You can learn more about Khara at www.kharawolf.com.