By Gavin Martin-Rentz

The repetitive nature of playing your instrument, puts you at a higher risk of suffering a repetitive stress type of injury. Too many musical careers are needlessly postponed or brought to an end because of debilitating pain in a wrist, elbow, shoulder or neck, don’t let yours be the next.

Here are some of the common RSI related problems among musicians:


Bursitis – inflammation of a bursa, which is a sac of fluid that provides frictionless movement between surfaces in a joint. Often caused by continual, excessive friction in a joint. I remember treating a drummer who had suffered a bursitis in his shoulder, which totally stopped him playing for over a month.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – compression of the median nerve in the wrist, resulting in numbness, tingling, pain and decreased range of motion in the wrist and first 3 fingers.

DeQuervain’s Syndrome – inflammation of the tendon sheath to the thumb, causing problems with gripping.

Tendonitis – when muscles are overused or repetitively put through an awkward range of motion, the tendons will often become swollen and inflamed. Joints such as fingers, wrists, elbows and shoulders are at most risk for musicians. Pain will worsen and range motion continue to decrease if proper treatment is not received.

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome – compression of the nerves and/or blood vessels that travel from the neck, through the shoulder and into the arm. This can result in pain, weakness, numbness and tingling in several areas such as the neck, shoulder or arm.

These are just a sample of the different names given to conditions stemming from simply overusing or repetitively misusing a certain joint or group of muscles.

Sneak Peak Under The Surface

So what’s actually going on in your body when you practice for hours on end? And why does it sometimes lead to pain?

You simply weren’t designed to be stuck in one position or doing the same motion for hours on end, like you do in practice and performance. When this happens often enough, our muscles form unbalanced patterns. These imbalances then cause pressure to build up, usually in the most vulnerable places such as joints. Once pressure builds up to a certain point where the structures can no longer handle it effectively, you will experience pain.

Other Contributing Factors

Repetitive motion is not the only thing that will lead to an RSI. Incorrect posture and the standard musicians lifestyle of late nights, fast food with little to no nutritional value and not enough water puts a huge strain on the bodies central nervous system. This further increases the risk of developing one of the injuries described above.

What You Can Do

Having said all these horrible and scary things, I don’t want you to leave feeling like there’s no hope of avoiding RSI problems. There are many musicians who enjoy long, healthy careers. They’re also the ones that realise the importance of maintenance and do what they need to keep themselves performing for years.

Don’t let injury or pain stop you from doing what you love – start to look after yourself and maintain a long, healthy career.

Some Quick Tips For Avoiding RSI

Warm up before and cool down after playing. It’s important to get the blood flowing through your arms and hands by shaking, swinging and stretching.

• Take regular breaks. It’s being in that one position and doing that same motion for too long that does the damage, so try to have regular breaks where you move and stretch away from your instrument. Aim to not play for more than an hour without one (preferably every 30-45mins). Try some self massage.

• Think of your posture. The reason our parents and teachers nag us so much about this is because it’s so important.

• Try to get a healthy amount of sleep (6-8hrs).

• Aim to drink 6-8 glasses of water (not in the form of soft drinks) per day, and more when you’re performing.

• Try to eat a little more healthily, such as more fresh fruit and vegetables, and less precessed, fast food……Ok now I’m really starting to sound like your mum so I’m going to stop there.

One last important one: if you’re experiencing pain, go see a professional (such as a Skeletal Harmonics musculoskeletal or remedial massage therapist). Pain is your body’s warning sign that something needs to be fixed, pushing through it will only make things worse and the problems spread. Do yourself a favour and you could save yourself a lot of pain and frustration.