Ringo Starr, drummer of the Beatles, screaming "I've Got Blisters On My Fingers!"

Whether you find yourself breaking down the complex chords of Joni Mitchell, perfecting your John Bonham impression, or rocking out a la Dwight Schrute to “William Joel” on the recorder, you’ve likely spent countless hours practicing your craft. While those blisters may eventually turn into well-earned calluses, the time you spend hunched over your instrument of choice might be taking a toll on your body, affecting your posture and ergonomics. In this article we’re going to break down what Repetitive Strain Injury is and how chiropractic care can help.

Many musicians may not think of themselves as athletes, but I like to think of them as “instrumental athletes”. Both traditional sports athletes and instrumental athletes place particular demands on their bodies to master their craft, typically spending hundreds of hours practicing and rehearsing the same movements over and over again. As Miles Davis said, “It takes a long time to sound like yourself”.  

While the demands that sports athletes place on their bodies are more classically “high impact” movements, we see instrumental athletes commonly dealing with “Repetitive Strain Injury”, or more simply, overuse injuries. A systematic review surveying high level musicians reported that as many as 93% of musicians have experienced musculoskeletal pain related to playing their instruments, with the neck and shoulders being the areas most commonly affected. 

Maybe you’ve experienced some of the following during or after playing an instrument:

  • Burning or numbness/tingling in the hands and fingers
  • A general feeling of weakness in the hands
  • Struggling to hold or grip objects
  • Neck and shoulder pain
  • Stiff upper or lower back
  • Cold hands
  • Sore muscles in the arms/shoulders/legs

Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) encompasses a range of different symptoms - but ultimately it affects the muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and other soft tissues of the body. RSI is a result of physical stress: frequent, repetitive movements and sustained positions. Musicians are constantly utilizing the same muscles over and over again to get the job done - but this overutilization can result in underutilization of equally important muscles. This imbalance can lead to fatigue and increased stress on the joints, especially in the fingers, wrist, elbow, shoulder, and spine. We typically find that if you’re learning a new instrument or technique, working on music that is technically difficult, or not taking any time for breaks or rest, you’re more likely to develop symptoms associated with RSI.

As a music aficionado and wife of a musician, I know the demands that practice and gigging can have on the body. As a chiropractor, I’m trained to assess the entire musculoskeletal system. Not only do we work on joint mobility and stability, but we also examine the function of the surrounding muscles and nerves to ensure the body is working in harmony. A huge component of our treatment plan is involving you in care - we’ll make sure we go over proper breathing mechanics, lifting and playing ergonomics, necessary stretches to offset RSI, and strength & stability exercises to set you up for long-term success. We’ve treated many musicians in our office and they typically report decreased pain, increased strength and mobility, and improved performance including increased energy and reaction time. Whether you’re a serious musician looking to get back to your craft without pain, or you're just looking to unwind with a guitar after a long day of work - reach out to us, we’d love to help. 

Dr. Rachel Schein

Dr. Rachel Schein

Contact Me