Two-thirds of professional musicians live with chronic pain related to practicing and performing. About 70% of those with pain reported back pain, which was then followed by shoulder and neck pain. Even if you don't plan on pursuing a professional career as a musician, playing an instrument for school or for fun can still lead to back pain if you don't take certain precautions. Here are three tips to help you avoid back pain so that you can enjoy your music.
Make Regular Chiropractor Visits
A repetitive strain injury (RSI) is a musculoskeletal injury where repetitive tasks, like playing an instrument, can strain muscles, tendons, and other soft tissues. You can avoid RSIs by stretching and taking breaks, but you may also want to visit a chiropractor. A chiropractor can teach you how to maintain proper posture and good form, which can help you prevent RSIs. A chiropractor can also correct subluxations, or misaligned vertebrae, so that you can play your instrument with optimum performance. If you have subluxations, you may fatigue quickly or lose proper form, which could contribute to back pain.
Practice in Front of a Mirror
It's easy to think about good posture at the chiropractor's office or before or after a practice session, but you may fall back into bad habits while you play. A good way to notice incorrect body motions—like excessive spine rotation to reach distant keys on a keyboard—is to practice in front of a mirror. Practicing in front of a mirror also helps you catch any issues with your set-up. For instance, you may notice that your music stand is too high or low or that your chair doesn't support your back well enough.
Transport Your Instrument the Right Way
While you want to maintain proper form as you practice, don't forget about back pain related to instrument transport. Transportation considerations are especially important for people who play larger instruments like the bass or tuba. If you have to lug heavy equipment to band/orchestra practice or to gigs, you put yourself at risk for back injury. Look for instrument cases that have wheels so that you don't have to strain your back.
If you don't have a case with wheels, make sure that you are picking up your instrument case correctly. You don't want to lift with your lower back—it's better to keep your back straight as you squat — and then let your legs absorb the impact as you stand back up.
Lastly, while taking the stairs is certainly heart-healthy, try to take the elevator if you can. If you have to take the stairs, invest in straps for your instrument so that you have more support. For example, there are cello cases that look like backpacks, which make it easier to carry an instrument instead of holding it by one single handle.
Reach out to a chiropractor for information on how to keep your back safe while you practice and transport your instrument.