Arthritis in the musician can be a show stopper.
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Degenerative change in the joints of the hands, shoulders, elbows, wrists and even hips and knees can be the nail in the musicians’ coffin. Common sense, professional help and an action plan for preventing debilitating change can make a world of difference to your career or your hobby.
The first zone of arthritis in the musician, and the one with often the most limiting damage is the wrists and hands. Repetition of playing fine movements coupled with the need to use our hands in day to day life translates into high risk of injury and degeneration. Rigid, inflexible, inflamed, painful joints of the hand and wrist can be disastrous.
What happens with degeneration in the hands?
Our bodies are under constant strain and breakdown. Physical stress and inflammation leads to pain and restricted motion.
“In smaller joints, such as at the fingers, hard bony enlargements, called Heberden’s nodes (on the distal interphalangeal joints) and/or Bouchard’s nodes (on the proximal interphalangeal joints), may form, and though they are not necessarily painful, they do limit the movement of the fingers significantly.” (Source: Wikipedia)
The second major zone of breakdown in the musician is in the back and neck. Standing with poor posture, sitting for long periods of time, jumping around on stage all have the potential to lead to degenerative change, nerve impingement, spinal subluxation and pain in the spine. Slumping over drums, guitar or other instruments will cause mid back tension, poor posture and pain as well. A great preventive measure is strengthening between the shoulder blades and stretching the muscles of the chest. Strength between the shoulders will pull the shoulder blades back, leading to improved playing posture and less risk of degenerative pain in the mid back. Over time, this type of degeneration can lead to pain so debilitating that it’s a career ender.
Shoulders are vulnerable to a variety of straining repetitive motions utilized by musicians. Arthritic changes in the bones of the shoulder predispose you to tendonitis, inflammation of the muscles, shoulder impingement and frozen shoulder symptoms. These problems are more common than you might think among those who play several hours each day. Inflammation and strain in the shoulder that leads to a frozen shoulder is a serious situation for any musician.
Elbows and the supporting muscles and tendons take a beating in musicians who play daily for any length of time. Arthritis and other bony changes may lead to cubital tunnel problems which in turn lead to ulnar nerve (funny bone nerve) and pain, weakness and tingling in the hand and fingers. Needless to say these types of symptoms could have serious implications for the professional musician.
Early recognition, proper prevention and management can go a long way to saving one’s career. If you don’t have time to get help early on, you’ll be sure to have plenty of time when you can’t play anymore.
Dr. Lou Jacobs is an expert in musician health and injuries. He has worked with dozens of cases of arthritis in the musician. He has been active in the music scene in Kansas City, Portland, Maine and Bucharest, Romania for over 13 years. He has worked with multiple Grammy winners and other well known and lesser known musical talent.