Updated: Dec 21, 2020
In recent surveys, around 75% professional musicians reported injuries and pain that affected their playing. I have gone through periods when I had to stop playing the piano completely, but the injuries have made me explore ways of lowering the risk of injury and making practice sessions effective.
1. Listen to your body
We are prone to injury when we are tired or stressed, so this is when we have to be extra careful. Stop IMMEDIATELY when there is a sore, numb, tingling or burning sensation. I have found breathing exercise, body scan, stretching, meditation, yoga, and Alexander Technique useful in connecting with the body.
2. Maintain a good posture
Maintain a neutral position in our torso, neck, legs and arms while playing our instruments. Avoid slouching, elevated shoulder, unnecessary bending, twisting, or rotating. Strengthening the core through workout has improved my posture.
Like athletes, musicians perform physically demanding tasks. Warming up before practice, increasing music-making time and intensity gradually especially under cold temperature decrease the risk of repetitive injury.
4. Practise mindfully
Slow practice and focusing on specific problems instead of repeating passages mindlessly save us time. Always evaluate whether you are being as efficient as possible physically. Whenever you catch yourself feeling tired or losing focus, move on to another passage and come back to this later. Get up and move at least every 30-45 minutes, stretch and drink water. By practising mindfully, we get a lot more done in less time.
5. Know your physical limitations and evaluate your technique
I have small hands which implies higher tendency of overstretching my hands. To me, it is important to recover my hands to a neutral position whenever I do not have to stretch, and I have worked on chords one by one to find the optimal hand shape that creates the least tension. We are all different in our proportions, so the technique that works for someone might not necessarily work for you. What really helps is to keep our joints in the middle of their range of motion, keep movements fluent, and use larger muscle groups when possible.
6. Practise away from the instrument
Practice takes place in different forms—it can be going over the music in your head, singing a difficult passage, or evaluating how you use your body when you do the most mundane activates, including how you sit and how you pour water.
7. Seek help
I was surprised by how common injury is among professional musicians, including concert artists and faculty members in music schools. There is no shame in feeling discomfort while playing your instrument. Do not hesitate to seek medical help when needed!
Injury prevention is a huge topic, and this is just a brief summary that I have come up with. If you have questions, please feel free to contact me directly. :)