Playing Related Musculoskeletal Disorders (PRMD’s)
Drummers and Percussionists
PRMD’s are common in all musicians who play long enough, hard enough, and frequent enough to qualify them as a “musical athlete.” Like other repetitive stress injuries that occur in golfers, tennis players, runners, and swimmers, musicians accumulate stress over time with repetition and at some point, their body can’t take it anymore.
In 2019, Nirvana drummer and frontman for The Foo Fighters missed two shows due to arm surgery. “Speaking to Live Nation president and CEO Michael Rapino at Los Angeles’ Pollstar Live conference, he said: “This is something I’ve had to deal with for a long time and it’s not the end of the world, but I did have to have surgery on my arm because I need it to pay the rent,” he said. “I knew I had to fix my arm at some point and I went ahead and did it.” (Source: APNEWS)
For somewhat obvious reasons, drummers and percussionists tend to have more than their fair share of PRMD’s. A study published in September 2020 in the journal Medical Problems of Performing Artists, the drummers studied (polled) were those percussionists who sit at a drum set. “The target population included individuals aged 18 years or older who exclusively played the drum set (minimum 5 hrs/wk). The rates of PRMDs were analyzed by body region (e.g., upper/lower limb, etc.) and by location within body regions (e.g., shoulder, knee joint, etc.). RESULTS: The lifetime history of PRMDs in the study sample (n=831) was 68%, and 23% reported currently experiencing a PRMD. Most respondents reported multiple PRMDs (59%). The upper limb was the most commonly affected body region (59%). The wrist joint (25%) and low back (24%) were the most commonly affected locations within body regions.” (Source: Medical Problems of Performing Artists: Volume 35 Number 3: Page 153 (September 2020)
Banging on drums all day, or even a few hours a day takes a toll on the upper body and low back. There are things you can do as a drummer, to protect these regions and those specific joints that are bothered the most.
Invest in a great stool. What you sit on and its’ relationship to your drum set, will play a crucial role in how your low back, neck, and shoulders hold up. Leaning too far forward, sitting too low or high, the angle and position of the stool or saddle will be the seated foundation of your upper body.
Get stronger. Exercises that involve strengthening your upper back and shoulders, while stretching your chest, will make you more resilient, more flexible, and better balanced at the drums. Collectively, these will reduce your risk of injury.
Your cool down matters. Like with non-musical athletes, cooling down after a long practice or gig is important to healing and reducing the risk of tension and inflammation build-up. Both tension and inflammation may increase your risk of injury later on.
You are always getting older. Who you are as a percussionist in 20 years depends on what you do today. This holds true for all musicians. Proper protective and proactive measures now, will improve your odds of playing to the grave. Even if you feel great now, take preventive action to keep it that way.
PMRD’s can easily cost you more than a new instrument would…
PRMD’s are no fun, and they are often expensive. Not just financially expensive, but they can prevent you from working (lost wages), practicing, sleeping, having fun with friends, cooking, even cleaning yourself after using the bathroom. Have you ever tried using toilet paper with a frozen shoulder or impingement syndrome? YIKES.
Dr. Lou Jacobs is a chiropractor – acupuncturist in Portland, Maine who has been specializing in musician injuries and crew injuries for 20 years. Dr. Lou is available for telemedicine consultations for music-related injuries and health problems. Among those he has permission to mention, Dr. Lou has worked with Mumford & Sons, The Pixies, Steve Vai, Tommy Emmanuel, Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, Blackberry Smoke, Gogol Bordello, Trey Anastasio, and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. PHOTOS