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New Blog Series: Musicians are Athletes

Updated: Feb 6, 2022

Specialized Physical Therapy for Musicians

“Musicians are athletes”, I recently remarked to a patient. As a professional musician who was in the midst of preparing for a live performance, he wholeheartedly agreed with this sentiment.

This may not seem self-evident to others outside of the industry, however. We don’t often think of musicians as having injury or needing recovery care – at least not due to their craft. It’s a bit of a blind spot in our culture, and it prompts some interesting observations.

While we readily acknowledge athletes use their bodies and need care, rarely do we think the same for performing artists and musicians. This applies at both the professional athlete level (we naturally expect Tom Brady will injure himself at some point or other) but we also expect it for the “weekend warrior” (like many physiotherapists, I work with just as many amateur athletes as professional ones).

I also work with quite a few musicians, though, and it’s this that seems to blindside people in conversations. Let me therefore state for the record:

Musicians place tons of stress on their bodies performing their craft.

Think about it : musicians must use their bodies in finely tuned ways – focusing on precise performance metrics, and often in high-pressure situations. These performances can also involve awkward and repeated motions that people aren’t necessarily “meant” to perform. This is something I’ve seen in the musicians I treat, but also something I’ve personally experienced…

Before opening Gate City Physio, I played professionally as a singer/guitarist in the Triad, often performing for hours at a time, and sometimes for days in a row. As a result, my wrist would be in repeated “gnarly'' positions (please forgive the technical jargon), and my neck and shoulders sore from constantly holding the guitar. At times, my jaw would even become sore from singing.

Far from just an isolated event, my experience is actually very common among musicians as a population. In fact, research has shown that musicians have higher levels of injury (as reported by 70-80% of all musicians, between hobbyists and professionals) than other occupations. In addition to that, and unlike in the fitness world where athletes (and weekend warriors) will actively seek out care, musicians typically do not. The reason appears to be due to the lack of specialization (and general knowledge of care available) in the rehab world.

It is within this context that I’m excited to introduce this new series of blog posts “The Musician is an Athlete”.

In this series we will explore some of the most common-yet-unique pain and injury types that we see at Gate City Physio with musicians:

-Singers and woodwind/brass players with Jaw Pain (TMD)

-Carpal/Cubital Tunnel (Wrist Pain) in Guitarist and Pianist

- Shoulder Pain in Violin players and guitarists

Stay tuned in the coming weeks as we continue this discussion about musicians. They’re definitely an underserved population who can benefit from specialized physical therapy services. All the better for the performance of their unique art, and so all the better for all of us…

I look forward to sharing more about how this population can be helped!

If you are a musician in pain, reach out for help today!

Dr. Corey Hillman is a Physical Therapist and owner of Gate City Physio – a boutique physical therapy clinic in Downtown Greensboro. He specializes in working with professional and amatuer musicians and performing artists seeking to perform at their best.

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