the jazz authority; random dubiously zappy rants about 'the musicians music'.: Injuries & Pain

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Injuries & Pain

Q. How can you tell if the stage is level?
A. The drummer drools out of both sides of his mouth.

Injuries & pain when playing

It happens to a lot of us. Sometimes there's a dull pain in the start, gradually progressing to a sort of pain that makes you want to shoot yourself. The worst part about pain for a musician is that it can end a career very quickly. Yeah, so what if buddy there has a migraine – I can't play my instrument. For those who don't play, you may or may not be able to understand the gravity of this situation.

My personal experience was with tendinitis. I was busking for a living and sometimes played for ten hours a day. Over time, my hands started to get 'tingly', and in the mornings I'd awake to find my hands dead asleep. This led to nerve damage in only my left little finger. It could have been a lot worse.

You wont want to hear this, but I gotta tell you like it is – if you have symptoms like that you have to stop playing for at least half a year. That's no joke – you need to give your wists time to heal. I put my horn down for a little longer than that, and eventually got back in the game. I've known people who played through the pain self medicating, and now they can't play. Period.

Stretches will help this sort of pain. I learned early on that posture played a big part in how many injuries I get. Apparently if you play sax you should lean forward so your hands don't hold up the weight, but only stabilize the horn as it dangles. BUT – you should stand straight up with the sax resting on your body so that you don't ruin your back. Yes, that's confusing and I still go between the two (mostly I stand straight up). Never press the keys harder than you have to. The same goes for typing. If you're hammering against those keys imagine your hands doing twice the work they have to. Why?!? Obviously proper technique and posture are the keys to keeping the pain to a minimum. Muscle exercises help too.

Diet and supplementation can make a big difference. Sadly, deep fried foods, coffee, smoking, and other assorted indulgences can be very inflammatory. I won't suggest that you become a vegetarian, but you should be reasonable with your diet, only having treats once in a while. Green drinks are great for preventing inflammation. Mixed with your favorite juice, you can add a whole bunch of healthy nutrients to your diet. How'd we get on the diet topic? Well, this is a very big part of staying pain and injury free. Eventually if your pain gets bad enough and is diagnosed as an 'injury', you'll be told to take stuff like MSM, glucosamine, Vitamin C, Dolomite(Cal Mag), and other things like Ibuprofen. I've used all of that list in the past, and you might do well to look into them at your local health food store(except for the Ibuprofen). The bottom line is that you can stop it from getting worse if you take care of it instead of ignoring it.

So back to my tendonitis. The first time was from overplaying, smoking too much, and a bad combination of bad diet and bad 'substances'. The second time was after getting in shape and putting my life in order. I started gigging a lot (surprise! the clubs wanted to hire me at that point), and the pain and numbness came back. I saw a physiotherapist and they said that the numbness in my wrists was caused by inflammation brought on by pinched nerves in the back of my neck due to years of pressure on my vertebrae from my neckstrap. Go figure. I did wrist strengthening exercises and had electric muscle stimulators put on my neck once a week. It really did help, and when I added glucosamine an the occasional anti-inflammatory, the pain, swelling and weakness all but went away.

So if you're getting a nagging ache in your whatever, you should stop and take a look at the cause, how to correct it, and how to prevent it from happening again.

If you've had nasty pain, tell us all what happened to you.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i've had migraines.. and trust me... you can't blow through a migraine. not only can you not play your instrument, but you can't listen to tunes, you can't read music to do silent practice, and you can't think.

i'm also currently suffering through a back injury and looking for ways to carry my sax without putting the bulk of the load on my hands, or on my neck. the harness distributes the weight, but it just doesn't feel right. i've resorted to cutting my ties completely with my tenor, and sticking to the alto and soprano.. though the alto itself is still proving to be a difficult load to manage for long periods of time. any ideas?