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When Making Music Causes Pain

I had to chuckle when I read a press release about an occupational therapists' advice for helping music-making kids avoid injury. Neither of my musician children is exactly in danger of practicing so much that it hurts.

But on closer read, I thought even my practice-slacking kids might benefit from these tips offered by Rebecca Barton, an associate professor in the University of Indianapolis School of Occupational Therapy.

Barton told me that a huge percentage of musicians, children and adults alike, suffer physical discomfort while playing at some time during their career; one source she cited put that number as high as 89 percent. Barton notes that sometimes the pain is caused by the playing itself, while other times playing an instrument aggravates an injury caused by another activity, such as sports, video-game playing, or texting.

Music-related injuries tend to affect the wrist, elbow, or shoulder, Barton explained, depending on the kind of instrument and its size relative to the person playing it. Injuries can involve nerve compression (such as carpal tunnel syndrome in the wrist), inflammation, tendonitis, or general stiffness or pain.

Kids experiencing ongoing discomfort or pain should see a doctor for evaluation, says Barton, who has a couple of music-injury-related articles in the June issue of the journal Medical Problems of Performing Artists. (Who knew?)

Better to avoid injury in the first place, though. Here are Barton's tips, which seem to me very sensible, if perhaps a tad obvious. In fact, they seem like sound advice for any kid, whether he's a Mozart-in-the-making or completely nonmusical:

- Get plenty of exercise to stay in good overall shape. Barton says lack of physical conditioning opens the door to musicians' being injured.
- Practice good posture, not just while rehearsing and performing music but also when sitting at the computer or at your desk.
- For every hour of playing, take five or ten minutes to stand up and stretch.
- Maintain a routine, balanced schedule that allows plenty of time for rest, practicing music, and other activities.
- Eat healthfully and get plenty of sleep.

Has your kid's music-playing caused physical harm? Has he or she had a mysterious ache or pain that you're thinking might be practice-related, now that you've heard what Barton has to say?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  August 25, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Family Health  
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