Book Review

The Athletic Musician:
A Guide to Playing Without Pain

Barbara Paull and Christine Harrison


Repetitive stress injuries are a principal cause of disability among professional musicians. Like professional athletes, musicians achieve their amazing physical skills after years of training, and suffer career-threatening injuries caused by physical exertion.

Unlike athletes, however, injuries among musicians are usually not caused by a sudden trauma, but occur gradually as a result of hours of practicing without allowing the muscles and ligaments to rest. The authors of this book, an orthopedic physiotherapist and a violinist, dispel some of the many myths about the causes of stress-related injuries and propose exercises to address the causes, not just the symptoms, of such injuries. Musicians can use the techniques and exercises in this book to reduce the chances of waking up one day and finding themselves unable to play for more than a few minutes without excruciating pain.

The authors say that injuries can not only be caused by bad posture, but also by simply practicing excessively with good posture, because it creates imbalances in muscle strength that pinch the nerves or tendons near the joints. These muscle imbalances must be corrected, say the authors, or the injury will recur in spite of any therapy. Just as important, many muscle strengthening exercises used by non-musicians (such as lifting weights to strengthen the biceps) should be avoided by musicians, as they will aggravate the muscle imbalance. Sit-ups, and any other exercise that bends the back in the same direction as sit-ups, are particularly harmful. Numerous anatomical diagrams and photographs are provided to illustrate the concepts. The focus is primarily on injuries caused by playing stringed instruments. Piano injuries only receive a few pages.

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February 9, 2007 Back