No one thinks of musicians as athletes, but they are. They require athletic stamina, similar to sports people, with precise, repetitive movements on their instruments.
Sports figures have injury specialists, psychologists, visualization coaches, and cutting-edge research at their beck and call. Musicians have none of those. They play until they are in so much pain that they seek out those professionals on their own, funded by their own slim pocket-books.
That is changing, if a one-woman dynamo has her way. Orthopedic, chartered physiotherapist Barbara Paull is on a mission to save musicians from chronic pain.
Local music teacher Devon Muhlert recently booked a visit with Paull in Newmarket, Ont. A warm, approachable Englishwoman who works part of the year in the U.K., Paull has been all over the world coaching musicians. Widely differing instruments, same pain.
“Musicians are stoic — they play until they can’t,” said Paull. “I want to teach them to use muscles in ways that cause no chronic pain. I want to stop pain before it starts.”
To demonstrate that musicians build up tremendous strength by continuous practice on their instruments, Paull used a Jamar Hand Dynamometer, an instrument that measures upper body strength. Muhlert’s registered at 60 pounds, and Paull smiled.
“Yours is higher than mine, and it’s from those muscles used to play all your instruments. It also makes them prone to injury.”
Most musicians have never considered themselves vulnerable to repetitive strain injuries. They don’t complain. Aches and pains come with the territory, and even among themselves, musicians rarely discuss them.
Paull’s crusade started with a professional violinist who could no longer lift her arm, and was off work for half a year. Musicians don’t get leave, so no income either. Paull analyzed the anatomy of her movements, the muscles and nerve endings that were involved and how they produced excruciating pain.
When Christine Harrison recovered, the two collaborated on a book called The Athletic Musician.
“I’ve been after teachers for the last few years, to show techniques to minimize pain. We can save players life-long pain.
“Once I knew you were a teacher, I just had to co-opt you into this crusade to prevent playing-related injuries.”
She’s not shy with her sense of humor either.
The visit with Paull was enlightening, and Muhlert will share these insights with her students over the coming year. Private lessons in guitar, flute and saxophone start Monday at Ms. Music at the Caetani Cultural Centre. For more information, call 250-542-3228 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.