If you have an injury it is essential that you seek professional medical attention immediately. While this Musician Health and Wellness resource is a great place to begin learning about how to take care of yourself as a musician, it is not a medical document and nothing in it should be construed as medical advice offered by St. Olaf College. It is merely a tool to help educate and inform, not to instruct or prescribe.
With this disclaimer in mind, here is a list of things a doctor may recommend to you if you have an injury.
If you experience undeniable pain, or if you determine you have developed an injury, one of the first things a doctor or therapist will likely suggest is rest. Most of the injuries musicians deal with are related to the body’s soft tissues, such as ligaments, muscles, tendons and fascia. Soft tissues can take a significant amount of time to heal following an injury. Even after recovery, these soft tissues still remain susceptible to reinjury. In order for muscles and tendons to heal and recover properly they need rest, and that means refraining from activities that physically engage them, including practicing.
For many musicians, the most upsetting part about being injured is not being able to play their instrument. However, rest is central to healing any overuse injury. There are many options available to help speed a recovery and prevent re-injury in the future, but initially, you will likely need to stop the activities that caused your injury and allow your body to recover naturally. Rest is what does that best.
Ice and Heat
Experts in the medical community do not all agree on whether and when to use ice and heat. Different people may react differently to ice and heat. If you think you have sustained an injury, contact a medical professional immediately. The descriptions below of ice and heat should not be construed as medical advice given by St. Olaf. Do not attempt either without direction from a medical professional.
If you experience pain or suspect you have an injury, your doctor or therapist may suggest applying ice to certain parts of your body in the initial stages of the injury. Icing may helpful because:
- Your pain is likely due to inflammation in your damaged muscles and tendons. Icing injured areas of your body may help reduce inflammation, which may also help ease your pain.
- Inflamed and swollen tissues can create excessive friction, wear and tear as they move through the body, possibly creating more damage than has already been done. Ice may help reduce the swelling and inflammation, which may decrease further damage to the tissues.
As with an sports injury (like a rolled ankle or sprained knee), ice is generally most useful during the initial stage of an injury when inflammation is at its highest.
Do not apply ice without direction from a medical professional.
After the initial inflammation in your body has subsided, your doctor or therapist may suggest heat as a way to help the healing process:
- Heat increases blood flow, which brings oxygen and nutrients to damaged tissues.
- By increasing the blood flow, heat can help loosen tight and damaged muscles by flushing out the waste product inside of them.
Do not apply heat without direction from a medical professional.
Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) can be effective in keeping inflammation down and reducing levels of pain. Examples of NSAIDs include ibuprofen, naproxen or aspirin. Commercially, you may encounter brand name NSAIDs called Advil, Aleve or Motrin.
NSAIDs are not the same as “pain killers.” “Pain killers,” like Tylenol, Vicodin or Oxycodone, turn off the nerve receptors that sense pain. “Pain killers” do not reduce inflammation or otherwise contribute to healing an injury; they merely prevent the sensation of pain. For this reason, NSAIDs are generally more beneficial in the treatment of overuse and misuse injuries when inflammation is present.
Get proper medical advice before you take NSAIDs. Doctors can prescribe a proper dosage and give warnings about any side effects that may result from their use.
Oftentimes, doctors will recommend that patients visit physical therapists. The main point of physical therapy is to strengthen your damaged muscles and to retrain your body on how to use those muscles more effectively. Over the course of a few weeks or months, your doctors and therapists may put you through a strengthening and stretching regiment that will ideally help you prevent a future injury. Strengthening and stretching can be effective tools, but you should have professional medical advice before beginning either of them.
Doctors and therapists will sometimes recommend searching for helpful solutions outside of medical appointments and physical therapy such as message, yoga or Alexander Method. More information on these practices can be found in the “Complementary Practices” section.