Many children learn to play a musical instrument from a very young age. Usually kids will have weekly lessons from a music teacher and play in one or more ensembles at school. Add in private practise time to that and children are holding their instruments for considerable periods each week. As kids approach adolescence, some will pursue music more seriously to the point where at HSC level, most of them will be practising on a daily basis.
In a recent study published by Dr Sonia Ranelli, Prof. Leon Straker and Dr Anne Smith of Curtin University, 731 primary and secondary school students enrolled in a Government supported instrumental music program in Western Australia were asked about their levels of pain and other symptoms related to playing a musical instrument.
The results were quite concerning. About 1 in 3 kids said that they were experiencing pain that was severe enough to interfere with them playing their instrument. The authors of the study stated “prevention initiatives must be implemented to avoid more disabling disorders later and potential career termination due to problems.”
Unfortunately, very little help and expertise currently exists for the unique issues that children have playing musical instruments. I have recently completed a Master of Music Performance degree and as a professional musician myself, I constantly see musicians of all ages playing on stage with significant levels of pain. As a physiotherapist I regularly treat musicians with painful shoulders, wrists, necks and other body areas and most of the injuries I see are by and large preventable.
There are several factors that are important in preventing problems associated with a child’s instrumental playing. Some of these are:
· The amount of playing time and practice time, and how this is structured
· Whether the child plays one or more instrument(s)
· The size of the instrument relative to the size of the child
· The type of instrument – some instruments, usually larger ones such as the cello, trombone and double bass can be particularly problematic for the developing child and adolescent
Postural assessment and prevention advice can be tailored to each individual child to help prevent physical pain as a result of playing their instrument. Treatment is also available for children already experiencing issues related to their playing. After assessing a child with their instrument, I write a short report for the child’s music teacher so that they understand what physiotherapy is aiming to achieve.
Equally important as educating children and parents are music teachers themselves. In my experience they often have their own unique issues related to teaching various instruments on a day-to-day basis and can really benefit from a Physiotherapy assessment. Playing without pain is much more fun!