Dr. Janice Ying
How Do I Physically Prepare For Life Back On The Road? MusiCares & Opus Physical Therapy For Musicians Can Help
Musicians tend to understand and take care of their instruments better than they do their own bodies. Although they may not identify as such, music industry professionals are their own type of athlete and their bodies acclimate to the wear and tear of the road.
After a year of minimal performance due to the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down the live industry, many in the business are finding themselves to be out of shape and unprepared for the strain of working in the music industry.
On August 11, MusiCares presented a Return to Play workshop with Dr. Janice Ying of Opus Physical Therapy and Performance to discuss these issues as the country begins to reopen and musicians find themselves back in the studio, van or bus. Dr. Ying is not only an internationally recognized expert in the field of Performing Arts Medicine; she's a pianist and violinist herself.
"Studies have found that the physiological demand on drummers is almost equivalent to [that of] someone playing a soccer match," she said. "Playing music is [an] art and there's no doubt about that, but there's a physical aspect that you really have to take care of."
Out of the 11 systems in the human body, three are most impacted in musicians: skeletal, muscular, and neural. PRIs, or playing-related injuries, can come in the form of pain, weakness, lack of control, numbness, tingling or other symptoms that interfere with a musician's ability to play their instrument in the way they're used to. Common conditions in those who play instruments include osteoarthritis, fractures, joint sprains, and hypermobility.
Ying stresses that the most important thing a musician can do to prepare themselves for an uptick in work is prevention and prehab through therapy-based exercises. This way, they can avoid injury and make a plan to build their endurance over a specified period of time.
One way to do this is through cross-training of other strengthening activities outside of one's instrument. Suspension trainers, resistance bands and tennis (or lacrosse) balls for muscle kinks are all excellent tools to use regularly and are also compact for taking on the road.
To prepare for extended performances, physical therapists recommend musicians first set a goal then work backward to modify their routine in areas such as playing time, intensity, daily sessions and repertoire.
"The body of literature on how musicians increase their playing time just isn't very vast," Ying continued. People haven't really looked at that too much in medical literature. The human body is the human body. How we improve strength and endurance is the same whether you're an elite athlete, you're training for a 5K, you're training to play a two-hour set, anything. Your body still goes through a very similar framework in which it takes time."
As Ying explained, best practices are to increase your instrument playing load by five to 10 percent every day (existing pain notwithstanding). And, most importantly, a musician should listen to their body as far as whether they should increase or decrease activity.
Thoughtfully assembling one's setlist, practicing with proper posture and managing stress are also key in this regard. Plus, as Ying pointed out, mental practice is also an important aspect to bring into the fold.
"Mental practice is something that musicians are starting to use a lot more," she said. "Again, this is borrowed from the sports world where mental practice was initially researched, but it has bled into music science too. There is powerful evidence supporting the use of mental practice, which is trying to internalize and think about what you are going to accomplish when you sit in front of your instrument."
Opus Physical Therapy is currently offering both in-person and telehealth physical therapy to patients in California, Missouri, Washington, and Florida. They also offer services such as laryngeal/vocal massage, on-site backstage support, ergonomic counseling and more.