I spoke with a client of Dr. Shmuel Tatz’s named Sarah, recently in the office after her treatment. She is a violinist at Mannes conservatory, which is part of the New School; the campus is on the upper West side. She came to Shmuel initially for about 3 months of treatment and by the end she showed significant improvement.
Most importantly, she is now able to play again with ease and more comfortably. She feels much better overall. She gave a glowing review of Shmuel’s abilities, “He is wonderful, he is the best, he is better than everyone else I’ve seen.”
She is never sore after a treatment and is able to play at events and concerts the same day, which is a concern for musicians I’ve learned. In many cases musicians in physical therapy may have to schedule therapy on days they don’t play, because you don’t want to be sore from a treatment on the day of a performance.
The young student said that her school does not have any formal support programs in place to help musicians who are experiencing pain from playing their instruments. She wished that they did have this option available, as many need physical therapy services.
Musicians suffer from a lot of different types of pain that comes from playing their instruments repeatedly – hands, elbow, shoulder and neck pain, muscle stiffness, soreness, tension or numbness on the fingers, jaw, back and shoulders. Wind instrumentalists are prone to ear, nose, throat, neck, shoulder and arm injuries.
The awkward nature of many instruments can actually cause physical injury. For example for many pianists incorrect movements of hands can cause them to stay in strained, stiff positions over time.
There are syndromes such as “overplayed hands” that can be caused by incorrect positioning during lessons and exercises. When a student feels discomfort in playing and keeps practicing without changing anything, over time multiple repetitions may make it more difficult to play. But students often don’t have a clue that they’re playing with the wrong movements.
Many music students play through debilitating pain because doctors cannot find anything wrong with their elbow or shoulder or fingers or neck. Music students report that constant pain slowly shrinks their repertoire and saps their confidence. Playing hurt doesn’t lead to resolution of the injuries.
Musicians and conservatory students may need physical therapy but suffer in silence with pain and career anxiety due to a lack of support or affordable referral from their school.
Some of the reasons for repetitive chronic pain are:
- prolonged repetitive movements
- static loading or stationary load bearing
Example of injury from static loading: a bass trombonist or tuba player fulfills several conditions for overuse injury from continuous static loading.
- Instrument is held and balanced in one hand
- Hand maintains an out-of-alignment position
- Instrument has become steadily heavier over centuries
Dr Tatz has many musician patients. The testimonials on his walls attest to his special abilities in helping musicians recover from their injuries and chronic pain. He also offers packages for treatment to students at a discounted rate.
By Heather White