I always like to say, "Musicians are athletes." If you think about it, musicians need to hone their mental and physical endurance just as much as athletes. But more specifically, musicians must hone their ability to utilize very fine, repetitive motor skills over an extended period of time. It's quite an amazing feat we musicians can accomplish with our bodies!
But, did you know: playing an instrument also has the potential to cause injury?
Musicians are notorious for skipping a health care routine, even if they routinely care for their instrument. However - it is just as important to take care of your body as much as it is to clean your instrument after every playing session.
Let's discuss how to properly warm-up your body so you can avoid any injury!
But before that, story time!
(scroll down to the next section if you just want the warm-up routine)
There's a reason that I am so passionate about preventing injury.
It is because I have been injured twice in my life, simply by playing the clarinet. Both of my injuries were overuse injuries of my tendons. For those unfamiliar with the term, an overuse injury is when someone "overuses" a muscle or tendon to the point where it becomes inflamed. Tiny tears occur in the muscles/ligaments/tendons, which causes the inflammation. As you can imagine, this type of injury is very difficult to heal!
I became the first time because I was misinformed and uneducated about musician injury. So, I unfortunately developed tendinitis in both of my forearms. Before I was diagnosed, I began to notice sluggishness in both my hands as well as numbness, muscle cramping, and eventually, sharp pains. It came to the point that I couldn't poke my forearms because it would be so painful! I had to completely stop playing music for awhile while I completed physical therapy. However, I was young and misinformed, so I unfortunately began to play again far too soon...
Therefore, a couple years later, I developed another related injury called Tennis Elbow (another overuse injury). Apparently, the tendons in my left forearm had become so inflamed that it began to pinch the nerves going through my left elbow. The index finger of my left hand twitched uncontrollably 24/7 for months until the inflammation and tendons were able to heal. I experienced incredible pain and discomfort at all times, even if I was simply resting. Of course, I was forced to completely stop all of my musical activities for around four entire months! It was awful!
I can sincerely say that it was one of the hardest periods of my life.
There is good news though! During those four months, I learned a ton in physical therapy about how to take care of my body. So, even though I had to learn it the hard way, I came out of those four months with the knowledge, discipline, and awareness to prevent further injury. In future posts, I will write more on overuse injuries, but for now, let's learn how to properly warm-up!
All of these exercises should be done slowly and gently. Listen to your body. If you feel any pain whatsoever, stop the stretch immediately! You may have gone too far into the stretch or, your body simply doesn't want to do it right now.
1. Before you even begin to stretch, gently warm up your muscles with gentle, rolling motions. This is important to do, because cold muscles tear easily! Warm 'em up! Do this for at least a minute.
As an added bonus, you can massage your forearms if they're still cold. Simply apply pressure by moving your hand in large strokes up and down your arm.
2. Stretch your wrists and forearms very gently. Keep straight arms at all times. 20-30 seconds each way.
3. Stretch both shoulders by holding one arm across your body with your opposite hand. 20-30 seconds each arm.
4. Stretch your triceps by either hooking your arms behind your back and pulling down with the lower hand, or use a rope of some kind to gently pull down. 20-30 seconds each.
5. Open your shoulders by standing in a doorway with your arms in a T shape. Lean into both shoulders by taking a small step forward. Hold for 20-30 seconds.
6. Release tension in your shoulders by bringing both shoulders up as high as they can go, holding it, then release them all at once. Breath while you do this! Breath in while shoulders are up, then let out a big breath as you release your shoulders.
7. Loosen up! Gently allow your body to move in all sorts of ways! Put your hands up to the sky, shake your legs out, etc. - pretend like you are a noodle!
Now you're body is nice and warmed up! The next step is to then warm-up your instrument. :)
Please take some time to be good to your body so that you can play relaxed and safe!
Until next week, happy practicing!