To become a skilled musician or singer, hours upon hours of practice are necessary. But that practice can also end up hurting a musician or engrain bad habits that limit a singer’s range. The key to success in singing, playing an instrument, and even breathing is ensuring your body has the appropriate posture.
The first thing many people associate with singing is the vocal cords. However, the key to optimal song is ensuring you’ve created the proper posture within your whole body, head to toe, as you sing. Spinal alignment is important in getting a diaphragmatic expansion and ensuring improved breathing. Slouching can cause poor chest expansion placing the diaphragm at a disadvantage when trying to sing. It is hard to hold that note without enough air in your lungs to back it up. It is a fact that if you try singing slouched versus in better spinal alignment, you will see that your voice sounds significantly better; try it out! You truly become the instrument when posture and breathing techniques are utilized well.
Musicians can suffer from injuries to muscles, tendons, ligaments, and nerves as a result of their art. For instance, flute players can develop arm and elbow pain from the repeated finger movements required by their instrument. Piano players can suffer from low back pain if they do not focus on their posture while tickling the ivories. The dangers of injury for musicians may include diagnoses of carpal tunnel syndrome, lateral or medial epicondylitis, lumbar or cervical radiculopathies, compression fractures, scapular instabilities, headaches, TMJ disorders, low back pain, chronic pain, and much more.
Typically injuries to musicians, regardless of the type of instrument, occur from a combination of having an asymmetrical posture and performing repetitive motions. Often patients will say, “If I take a break, then the pain/fatigue goes away.” However, as time passes, symptoms tend to linger longer and do not go away as easily as they did initially with just a break. This is primarily because the underlying postural issue was not addressed or mitigated.
Musicians develop habits around how they play, and unintentional subtle changes in posture can occur. If a musician does not consciously work to either improve their posture while playing, include stretching, and/or correct issues after a session, then their body may eventually head toward severe injury.
Violinists are known for having scapular instability and overuse of the upper trapezius and pectoralis muscles, creating a slouched posture with spinal asymmetry. It is common to see even the best violinists struggle to keep their necks as straight as possible when playing. Some will unintentionally also clench their TMJ muscles on the left, setting off a chain reaction toward injury.
As a former violinist, I understand this struggle, but there is good news, you can counteract these adverse playing habits. A physical therapist can help determine any problem areas that have arisen from poor instrument-playing habits. Various stretching and strengthening techniques can help resolve these asymmetries, whether as simple as stretching tight muscles in the left side of your neck by doing a right-side bend or strengthening your scapular stabilizers to reduce scapular winging from repetitive bowing motions.
The physical therapist’s goals align with the musicians in that they also just want to help reduce pain, restore function and help the musician perform at their best. Besides teaching patients about appropriate exercises, the therapist will also perform various manual techniques to help reset the joints and muscles so that they can work well together again. At evaluation and at follow-up sessions, physical therapists may also want to see how your body is influenced by your instrument- with and without your instrument. So, feel free to bring in your instrument to help us pinpoint your specific concerns. With the proper care and instruction, physical therapy can help you continue playing your instrument of choice for as long as you want.
As always, it is important to consider your posture during all other activities of the day, as mentioned in previous blogs, not just with singing or playing your instrument. For posture training in Bethesda, contact us online or call (301) 656-5613 today!