Sal was contacted by a student doing research into musicians and muscle/back pain. Here’s her answers to some of the questions:

What experience have you had with cellists/musicians with back and muscle pain?

I am the Principal Physiotherapist at Barefoot Physiotherapy and have treated musicians with back/muscle pain (as well as rehabbing musicians post traumatic injury) over my 10+ years of being a physio. Of note I used to play quite a lot of music in Orchestras and Percussion Ensembles (Violin, Piano, Guitar, Percussion and the Theory that is required to sit the higher level AMEB exams) so I do understand the music world.

What are the main issues that musicians face in regards to back and muscle pain? Anything specific to cellists?

The main issues I see musicians tend to face with regard to back/muscle pain are:

– prolonged postures

– assymetrical posture

– high level of repetitive movements

– lack of knowledge around what is best to take care of body

– lack of appropriate health professional input

– specificity of the skill required (high level activity with precision)

– cellists: different chairs at different venues. Not optimal chair at rehearsal/home environment.

How do you treat these complaints?

We assess nerves, muscles, joints and movements (all movements not just those specific to the area of pain). Then work out where the strain is building up in the body and treat it (through muscle releases, joint mobilisations, needling, taping), teach the musician how to take care of it (posture, education, work/rehearsal space setup, taping) and take care of them long term (strength, self releases/massage, stretching).

Do you have any suggestions about posture for musicians?

Our suggestions are individualised to each client so it is difficult to answer this question generically. As a whole we can recommend:

– regular breaks

– regular position ‘reversals’ (so whatever position you’re in – make sure you get up out and opposite to that position)

– being checked by a great health professional so you can pick up strain before it’s an issue

– self muscle releases to muscles that tighten up like glutes, hip flexors etc

What are the long term effects of bad posture?

‘Bad’ is not necessarily the word I would use. Good and bad have connotations that sounds like someone is choosing this.

Long term effects of postures that build up strain on the body can lead to muscle tightening, nerve irritation, restricted range of motion and pain.

What length of time would you suggest staying in playing positions for?

Again this will be individual to each person. In an ideal world I would love everybody to move out of their playing position every 20min (even just to stand up and sit back down again) but I understand this is difficult especially in concert. Rehearsal really is the opportunity for you to be able to do this so if it’s just you practising set a timer and if it’s the whole orchestra maybe suggest to the conductor having a stand up and stretch after a certain period of time. You will find you may feel more energised (and the conductor will love this!).

How essential are warm ups in reducing pain? Any suggestions for warm ups?

There is good evidence for dynamic warm up in the sporting community and as we see musicians as athletes I believe we can see that evidence as valuable here. Dynamic warm up means doing the movements you are going to be doing (not static stretches) and using the full range of motion you need.

So a great thing to try for a cellist could be:

– head turns fully each

– trunk twist fully each way

– shoulder rolls

– shoulder openers and across body

– standing and bending forward/arching back

Any other comments?

As a whole in the musical community we don’t tend to see musicians until they are in pain (this is true of the wider community also so don’t feel like I’m picking on you!). If you could work out a way to prevent the problems building up in the first place that would be a very valuable thing! Getting the whole orchestra on board may be difficult but if the conductor sees the value you are onto a winner.