Ouch! Does it seem like every note you play on your guitar or musical instrument results in pain? Maybe it’s a nagging ache in your neck and shoulder. Perhaps you’ve had long rehearsals for that important gig or recital, and now you notice severe pain and loss of strength in your elbow and wrist. Or maybe you are trying to cope with hands that are increasingly numb and clumsy. Well it’s all part of being a serious musician, right? You’ve got to keep practicing – too much depends on it! Sound familiar?
Guitarists and instrumental musicians are a special risk group for repetitive strain injuries, with sizable percentages of them developing physical problems directly related to playing their instruments. In fact, “RSI” or repetitive strain injury in musicians was around centuries before the term was recently coined for computer injuries. Incorrect posture, overuse, stress, insufficient rest, excessive force and incorrect ergonomic technique all contribute to chronic pain and injuries that spell the end to careers. For many musicians, repetitive movement injuries are more feared than stage fright or an unresponsive audience. If they are also heavy computer users (my category of experience!), their risks are further compounded.
Doctors and therapists have long known that musicians are notoriously hard to convince that playing should be reduced or stopped to allow time for injuries to heal. Many guitarists and musicians are afraid to find out they might have a severe injury, and much prefer the head-in-sand approach of ignoring the pain and pushing on. This is a disastrous policy for a musician – if it hurts, it should be checked out!
As a systems accountant consulting to small business, I spend most hours of my working day in front of a computer. Not surprisingly, this has resulted in several serious repetitive motion injuries over the years. In similar fashion to the approach of many guitarists and musicians, I spent a long time trying to “ignore the pain and push on”. It is only in recent years that I have discovered the optimum program for managing the injuries and avoiding future repeats, with regular chiropractic care well and truly established at number one on my list of priorities.
WHAT IS CHIROPRACTIC?
Meaning “done by hand”, chiropractic is a method of restoring good health through adjustments of the spine. The basic chiropractic premise is that the spine and nervous system control the body completely. Any interference to nerve function by spine misalignments can therefore result in poor organ function, resulting in any number of seemingly unrelated diseases and ailments. Chiropractors generally subscribe to the theory that technically, they don’t ‘cure’ anybody, but simply help the body to heal itself.
In the past, chiropractors traditionally had trouble gaining the respect of medical doctors. Although basic philosophical differences between medicine and chiropractic still exist, chiropractic care is now considered mainstream and is routinely recommended by members of the medical profession.
WHAT TREATMENT DO CHIROPRACTORS GIVE?
Ever wondered what happens at the chiropractor? Perhaps you’ve heard they’re just “bonecrackers, not doctors!”. Not so.
In the US and many other countries, the educational program for chiropractors includes training in the basic medical sciences, including anatomy with human dissection, physiology, and biochemistry. Thorough training is also obtained in differential diagnosis, radiology and therapeutic techniques. This means, a doctor of chiropractic can both diagnose and treat patients. (This separates them from non-physician status providers, like physical therapists.)
As with all healthcare practitioners, chiropractors follow a standard routine to secure the information needed for diagnosis and treatment. When the source of pain involves musculoskeletal structures, chiropractors manually manipulate or adjust the spinal column. This typically requires the chiropractor to bend and twist the patient into various positions, which may cause some patients (myself included!) to tense up. Other more gentle methods, such as the activator method, deliver a high-speed, gentle, thrust to the vertebrae via a small rubber tip.
Atlas orthogonal chiropractors focus on the atlas bone (the first bone that the spinal cord passes through). Using x-rays and precision measuring equipment, the atlas bone is gently realigned without using manipulation techniques. I can personally vouch for this chiropractic specialty, which worked like magic on the most recent and severe of my repetitive neck injuries.
Many chiropractors also use water, light, massage, ultrasound, electric, and heat therapy and may apply supports such as straps, taping and braces. They may also counsel patients about wellness concepts such as nutrition, exercise, lifestyle changes, and stress management, but do not prescribe drugs or perform surgery. Some chiropractors also specialise in orthopedics, sports and musician injuries, neurology, nutrition, internal disorders, and/or diagnostic imaging.
HOW CAN MUSICIANS BENEFIT FROM CHIROPRACTIC CARE?
The benefits of chiropractic care for guitarists and musicians are widespread and numerous. Chiropractors can help with relief of specific pain being experienced at the moment, or as part of an overall wellness program, which also includes exercise, proper nutrition and rest. Many musicians understand that the position they assume while playing stresses their body, and are seeking to offset this stress and prevent further problems from developing.
Chiropractors evaluate and analyse the spine with an understanding of physics and how gravity and distorted postures can stress areas of the spine, ribs, neck, shoulders and hips. Specific adjustments are used to offset these distortions.
Chiropractors who specialise in helping musicians repetitive injury problems usually examine the musician patient and the instrument together. By thoroughly analysing their patient's posture, movement patterns and range of motion with the instrument, the chiropractor can detect areas of dysfunction in and around the spine. They also make recommendations as to what guitarists can do, both while playing and before and after playing, to keep the stress from returning. They teach their musician clients exercises to offset the repetitive stress placed on certain joints while playing a particular instrument.
Chiropractic care is reportedly simple, yet it is profound in its ability to help the body regain and maintain its health. Bob Birch, Elton John’s bass player and background vocalist said his chiropractor showed him pictures and told him “muscle stuff” that no other doctors ever did. Certain things that he had wrong with him, like the extensive pain in the left shoulder blade that shot up the side of his head (which other doctors pooh-poohed) were explained and put right with chiropractic adjustments.
Make no mistake about it, regular chiropractic care for guitarists and musicians is the way to go. If you play an instrument and want to avoid repetitive strain injuries for good, go find a musician-friendly chiropractor now!. Scores of famous musicians agree with me!