12 Things You Can Do When Playing Hurts

Thank you Maria for discussing this very important topic - remember, playing an instrument and practicing should never be painful! If you are recovering from an injury, here are some very helpful tips.

When I was studying the piano, the ghosts of musician's injuries haunted us in the hallways. I remember someone telling me to "be careful, because if you ever get injured, you might play again, but it'll never be the same". Almost everyone knew that injuries happened, but no one really knew what to do about them.

I have never had a musician's injury, but I broke my right arm 7 years ago. What I have learned is that the human body is the ever-constant fountain of regeneration. I have a deep love for the body. If you trust it, it'll trust and love you back. I would like to share a bit of my own experience with you, as a musician, and as a Resonance Trainer, there are some things that you can do to take your injury into your own hands and speed up the recovery.

Sleep a lot. If you realize that you want to change your pain into well-being, start with getting a solid 8-9 hours of sleep per night. If you can sleep 10 hours, do that.

Hydrate. Upon waking up, drink 3/4 to 1 litre of pure water. Then, throughout the day, drink 1-2 more litres. Hydration is key in helping the body do what it needs to repair cells and clear itself of toxins.

Breathe. When we are in pain, we tend to stop breathing. Our muscles also tend to get tight because they lack oxygen. Breathe fully, trying to open every muscle of your body as you do it. Make sure your ribcage opens and widens when you breathe into it, just as you would do while exercising. Try doing 3 full breaths, slowly, 3 times per day. Ask yourself: are you holding your breath as you're reading this?

Don’t isolate the painful area from the rest of your body. When something hurts, we have the urge to investigate, to move that area and analyze which movements cause more pain. This separates the body into different parts, and chances are, that's one of the reasons why it began to hurt in the first place. Instead, try to integrate the painful area into the rest of the body.

Lie on the floor. "To relax" means to give our weight to a surface. This is possible because that surface supports our weight, as it is firmer than our body is. The bigger the surface that touches the body, the more complete relaxation is possible - that's the reason why we sleep lying down and not standing up.

Try the following exercise on the floor, you can use a blanket or a carpet.
1. Lie down, flat.
2. Start feeling the surface and breathe from the center of your body (the lower part of the belly).
3. Feel how the weight starts to transition into the floor as you let go.
4. Just lie like that for a couple of minutes and feel what it does to your body.

Walk feeling your own weight beneath your feet. I often observe that people who are in pain don’t have good contact with the floor, neither standing up or walking. Walk feeling your own weight, be conscious about how the weight shifts from one foot to the other. As a consequence, you might walk slower than you would usually. How does this new way of walking make you feel? How do you breath now?

Spend time in nature. If you have the chance, take the train, the bus, your bike or walk, be in nature - even if it's covered in snow. By spending time in nature your body can return to its roots, your feet can touch the grass, soak up the water and you can breathe in the fresh air.

Avoid taking painkillers. Pain is awful, but if you supress it you won't be able to tell of you are changing things in the right direction. As you make progress, the pain will change too. Remember, you want to be able to feel your body's signals.

Do something that brings you joy. Do it regularly! Whether it's meeting a good friend, taking a bath, watching a fun movie, reading a great book... Make it a point to check off a joy-bringing activity at least once every day.

Be patient. Things need time to heal, to adjust. Give yourself space to recover fully.

Practice a piece you feel emotionally tied to. Injury from playing often comes through repetitive movements with no musical or emotional intention. Therefore, to restore the emotional bond, and to stay motivated ("I will play/sing this piece!"), spend some time with a piece that you love, enjoying the sound.

Practice only when you're not in pain. Playing in pain is stabilizing your injury. Take deep breaths, practice for a couple minutes, then rest. Take a lot of time to rest. It's ok if you can play just the first note of the Beethoven concerto! Soak up that note, because with time, you will play all the other notes that follow.

The resonance of sound is able to repair our body. Whatever you play, try to create full, resonant, open sounds. If you make this a habit, you will be healing your body while you practice.

Note: I don't intend to give medical advice here, I am just sharing what has worked for me and for the musicians I have worked with.

Further Ressources

The Cello Practice Helper - a facebook page with tons of useful tips by our HELLO STAGE friend Marianne Dumas.

The Musician's Way , a book by Gerald Klickstein and The Musician's Way companion site "Wellness" section - a long guide of references on injury prevention, finding a medical specialist, general health, etc.

Playing (Less) Hurt, a book by Janet Horvath.

Johns Hopkins Peabody Institute/Musician's Health- a summary of different articles gathered from varied sources.

Maria Busqué is a coach for musical performance and a freelance harpsichord player based in Berlin. You can follow her on twitter, @maria_busque visit her HELLOSTAGE page or find out more about her work at www.mariabusque.net.

Author: Maria Busqué/ edited by Nina @ HELLO STAGE
Comments [3]
Marianne Dumas - 2015-03-16 12:30
Hi! Thank you for sharing your tips:)
I'd like to share my opinion about the "Avoid taking painkillers." I think that once you are aware of the problem and working on fixing it, staying with pain is not a positive thing. Once on pain, it is very hard for your body/mind to relax. I think that feeling a relief is important in the healing process. So, I would say if you take pain killers, remember that it is not because you don't feel the pain that the problem is gone, if you do it will get worst.
Maria Busqué - 2015-03-16 14:54
Hi Marianne, thanks for your insight. I agree with you on that.
Marianne Dumas - 2015-03-16 16:11
And something I recommend for someone who cannot get to relax on his/her back, it is to usea "body pillow" at first. It gives an instant relief for lower back and relaxes your shoulder / arm / trapeze (you can even sleep with the pillow). Then, once you are used to relaxing your body with the pillow,try to lie on your back (with small pillows under your knees if you need).
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