What to do when you experience pain.

Updated: Nov 15

Pain is complicated, frustrating, and can interfere with a musician’s mental state, ability to practice, perform, and participate in daily activities. Unfortunetly, musicians of all ages are prone to repetitive stress injuries. A recent systematic study suggests that anywhere from 62-93% of musicians will develop a performance-related injury during thir life (1).

A performance-related injury can be defined as any tightness, tension, achiness, tenderness, pain, or other physical symptoms that interfere with one’s ability to play their instrument at their accustomed level.

Consistent injury prevention can help prevent the accumulation of pain, and lower the risk of injury. But, due to the demands of being a musican, sometimes pain isn’t so easily preventable.

With that said, if you are experiencing your first bout of pain or are going through a performance-related injury, it is important to have a plan. Part of developing a plan is combining a mix of reflection, awareness, and compartmentalization, so you can focus on taking the approiate action steps.

This isn’t all encompassing, but my goal is that these questions can serve as a guide for those who may experience pain and are having a hard time identifying what might be going on. Again, is it the entire solution? No! But it has been very helpful for me and the musicians I have worked with in the past. Here is a list of 6 questions to ask yourself when you start experiencing pain. I HIGHLY recommend taking your time and journaling about these questions - the more information you have, the better!

1. What type of pain am I experiencing?

2. What were the events leading up to pain? Can you identify any factors?

3. Have I experienced this pain before? Are there any similar factors to previous experiences?

4. Am I in the inflammation stage of the injury cycle?

5. What can I learn from this situation?

6. What can I do based upon situation? Are there any habits or boundaries I can set in my life to make sure this doesn’t happen again?

Some of these may seem self-explanatory, but context is always key. Let’s dive deeper into each question.

What type of pain am I experiencing and how bad is it?

Pain is a personal experience that can be hard to quantify and describe, but if we, as musicians, can start develping language around pain, it can be easier to communicate to a medical professional or health and wellness professional (such as myself) about what you might be experiencing. It also makes their job easier!

Here is a short list of different physical descriptors you could experience:

  1. Tightness - can be described as a pulling sensation, or muscles may feel shortened or activated.

  2. Numbness - feeling that is similar to having your foot or arm “fall asleep.” This can also be described as losing feeling in an area.

  3. Tingling

  4. Clicking or popping - joints or bones may click or pop through certain movements.

  5. Achiness - can be described as a constant, dull-pain

  6. Fatigue - low energy, feeling of being tired, can be over a short or long period of time

  7. Burning sensation - feeling of a burn that can feel shallow or deep

  8. Pulling sensation - feeling of a pulling in your muscles when you perform certain movements. Also synonymous with tightness.

  9. Warmness - muscles will literally feel warm or hot

  10. Acute or sharp pain - immediate pain that can make you say, “Ouch!”

What were the events leading up to the pain? Can you identify any factors?

Think of a period of time that led up your perception of pain. This could be a few days, a week, or even a month. Was there one singular event that caused you to experience pain? Was there a string of events leading up to it? Can you identify any factors that could contribute to your perception of pain?

Some factors might include:

  • Sitting down for prolonged periods of time