Marching Band Is A Sport: How To Prevent Overuse Injuries In Musicians
Bring on the Band!
It's football season! With football season comes means marching band season and orchestra concerts! Those drummers and tuba players are athletes too! (Have you ever tried to carry one of those things?)
Musicians have been referred to as the "musical athlete." And as such, you need to be prepared.
Is Marching Band A Sport?
We argue yes. A sport is defined as "an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment." Given the competitions many high school marching bands participate in, in addition to the lengthy hours on the field for practices and football games, you can say that marching band could be defined as a sport.
Common injuries often seen with your lively musician include tendonitis of hands elbows and shoulders, back and neck problems, frozen shoulder, and nerve problems, like carpal tunnel syndrome, just to name a few.
"Most high school band and orchestra students have had some type of pain when playing," said Angela Polmateer, an occupational therapist and certified hand therapist at Franciscan Health Lafayette East. "It's pretty common for musicians to have multiple occurrences of pain throughout their playing career."
Pain Shouldn't Be A Part Of Playing Music
Whether you're a member of the marching band, an orchestra or a group that gets together for a routine jam session, players need to be mindful of overuse injuries. Don't accept that pain is just part of making music.
"It shouldn't hurt to play! Don't ignore the demands that play has on our body," Polmateer said. "Don't put so much pressure on yourself to keep that first chair spot that you neglect #1."
String players lead the way with pain. In one study, 82% of string players reported at least one medical problem related to their playing, and 76% listed at least one problem as severe enough to affect their performance. Other research found 86% of piano majors at the University of North Texas reported pain with playing, and 100% of students at Northwestern University entering as music majors reported having some physical difficulty.
Mechanics Matter For Injury Prevention
How you play, how long you play and your technique, if not checked, can cause pain, numbness, weakness or loss of muscle control in the arms or hands.
"People who play lot of tunes frequently suffer from disorders of the wrist, hand, fingers, thumb, elbow, shoulder and/or neck," Polmateer said. "These injuries can be short-term or even become a chronic issue. This takes its toll not only physically, but adds a lot of stress onto the student or professional musician in keeping up with the demands of performance."
Follow these tips for reducing your risk of overuse injuries.
Watch How You Lift
As with lifting any other item, lift with the knees, not with the back, when picking up your instrument or any other musical gear.
Start From The Core
Core strength can make the difference in preventing lower back pain among band members.
"Sitting with rounded shoulders, gaming posture or crossed leg all take their toll on the body," Polmateer said. "Having good posture and good mechanics keeps the pain away."
Stretching Is Key
The National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) recommends marching band members implement stretching, warm ups and cool downs for practices and performances. Moving fingers, knees and toes slightly helps keep joints limber while standing in formation for long periods of time.
Manage Stress Levels
"Musicians are extremely susceptible to stress and tension because of the desire to achieve at a high level," Polmateer said. "When you're up for an important audition, a symphony job, or a scholarship, stress can sometimes get the best of us when it matters most. Dry mouth, shaking, racing heart beat, and a stiff neck are all ways our bodies sometimes react to this stress. Try breathing from your diaphragm, in through the nose, out through the mouth, and slow counting can help."
Coping With Overuse Injuries After Playing?
The therapy team, including certified hand therapists, at Franciscan Health's outpatient rehabilitation services can be a great resource in prevention and treatment of upper extremity disorders. Whether new student learning his or her instrument or the experienced professional musician, Franciscan Health therapists offer a comprehensive approach to meeting the unique needs of the "musical athlete" to help get you back on your "playing game."