Have you ever heard the expression “no pain, no gain”? This philosophy should never be applied to music making. Pain is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong. If you ignore your body’s signals, the results could be disastrous.
A musician injury develops when muscles and tendons are overused or misused and become chronically tight and inflamed, resulting in pain. If you continue to use these muscles despite the pain, they may become even more damaged, resulting in even more pain and perhaps a much longer recovery. If your injury becomes serious enough, you may begin feeling pain all the time and it may become unbearable to play your instrument, use a computer, or even do simple tasks like open doors or hold a pencil. For this reason, if you experience pain or think you might be injured, you should to stop playing right away.
Musicians often have a hard time stopping. Not only do we need to study and learn music for upcoming concerts and lessons, but we want to practice; most of us truly love to play. It can be emotionally trying to stop playing for even a brief time. We might feel guilty that we’re not working harder; we might think that we’re letting others down; we may believe that we “don’t have what it takes,” or that we are “falling behind.” You must understand that your long-term physical health is much more important than playing through your pain. You should never put a lesson or a concert ahead of your own physical health.
If you only experience minor twinges of pain you may simply need to take a day or two off, notify your teacher, assess your condition, and then gradually return to your normal schedule. However, if your pain does not go away, the longer you continue to play through the pain, the more damaged your tissues will become and the longer it will take for them to heal. If you stop and address the problem in its early stages you might save yourself weeks or months of recovery.
2. Seek Help
Whether you know you are injured or think you might be injured, you should inform the people who can help you right away. It can be hard to tell someone that you are injured, but don’t be afraid to talk about your problem. Letting the right people know about your concerns is the first step to getting the help you need.
The first person you should go to is your teacher. Tell them your concerns. They might be able to offer advice, suggestions, or direct you to other resources. Your teacher is the last person who wants to see you injured, and they certainly don’t want you to continue down the path of injury.
Participation in ensembles can be a big part of life at St. Olaf. However, if you are injured or think you might be injured, you need to let your ensemble director know. No director wants to have a musician out of commission for an extended amount of time, since losing one musician could change the entire ensemble.
It is your responsibility to let your director know that you are hurting, and to take steps to prevent it getting worse. This may mean sitting out of rehearsal for a day or two, or taking periodic breaks during rehearsals. If your injury is more severe, a doctor might need to write a note excusing you from rehearsals for a longer period of time. When you are well enough to play in rehearsals again, a return-to-play schedule should be arranged with your director so you can alternate between playing and resting throughout the rehearsal.
Be respectful, reasonable and realistic as you talk with your director and work out a solution.
Musician Wellness Committee
The Musician Wellness Committee is comprised of Dr. Katherine Ananda-Owens (piano), Professor Scott Anderson (clarinet), and Dr. Tracey Engleman (voice). Any of these professors may be contacted to address your questions or concerns.
One of your best resources is all around you every day: your peers! Your peers are unique and intelligent people, each with different ideas, knowledge and philosophies when it comes to music. If you have questions, ask. Someone will be able to help you or point you in the right direction.
Sometimes you just need someone to talk to, especially concerning problems as upsetting and frustrating as an injury. Some of your peers have been injured themselves; speaking with someone who has been injured before might be helpful or reassuring.
Admitting to your parents that you have an injury that prevents you from making music and doing other daily tasks has the potential to be harder than telling anyone else.
Regardless, telling your parents about your injury is a must. Your parents may play a key role in supporting you through your injury and recovery. They can help you with health insurance information, setting up doctor and physical therapy appointments, and paying for treatments.
Hopefully your parents will be supportive of you during your recovery. Unfortunately, some parents know and understand little about music and musician injuries. In this case, you could sit down with your parents, educate them about musician injuries, and provide them with further materials. You might consider asking your peers who have been injured for advice about how to talk with your parents. Your parents can be your biggest advocates, and that can make a huge difference in your recovery.
3. Get Medical Attention
Do I need medical attention?
Sometimes musician injuries can be dealt with without ever getting medical attention: playing techniques can be changed, posture adjusted, practice routines revised. But medical attention may occasionally be necessary. You may not understand your injury and how to deal with it, but good doctors and therapists can understand, diagnose and treat it. They can offer detailed information about your injury and how to recover that you may not get anywhere else.
Talk with your teacher, ensemble director, parents and peers and decide whether you need medical attention. Ultimately, it is your choice to see a doctor or pursue physical therapy. However, If you can’t make the pain go away or improve the situation on your own, a professional consultation is likely advisable.
How do I see a doctor?
If you decide to see a doctor, call the clinic and schedule an appointment. Be prepared to wait a week or more before you can visit a doctor, as their schedules are generally quite full. If you can make yourself available in the event of a cancellation you might be able to get in sooner.
If you wish, you can also see the provider at St. Olaf Health Service. Health Service is located in Tomson Hall 160 and is open Monday through Friday, 9:00-11:30 AM and 1:00-4:00 PM (closed during student breaks and summer). Students are seen by appointment (self scheduling through the Student Health Portal). For more details, see the website https://wp.stolaf.edu/
Your doctor may recommend physical therapy. A doctor’s referral is necessary if you want to pursue physical therapy, so make sure you discuss this and request a referral from the doctor at your appointment.
For a list of local/regional doctors please see the “Local doctors” page.
How to see a physical therapist?
A doctor can write you a referral to physical therapy. With a referral, you can call the physical therapy clinic and schedule your first appointment. A referral is necessary to start physical therapy.
Be prepared to wait a week or more before you can start physical therapy. Therapist’s schedules are generally very full. If you can make yourself available in the event of a cancellation you might be able to get in sooner.
For a list of local/regional physical therapists please see the “Local Physical Therapists” page.
Wieber Physical Therapy at St. Olaf
Dave Wieber and Ann Dahl of Wieber Physical Therapy are PT’s who come to St. Olaf to work with student athletes and musicians.
If you choose to work with Dave and Anne, once you have a referral you can call Wieber Physical Therapy at 507-333-2986 to schedule an appointment. For more information, go to https://wieberphysicaltherapy.com.
Can I afford it?
Doctor’s visits and physical therapy cost money, and treatment might entail multiple visits over a period of time. It is important to talk to your parents about your family’s health care and insurance coverage before seeing a doctor or physical therapist. Many health insurance policies provide coverage for these visits.