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Musicians and Muscle Imbalances

There are several elements peculiar to playing an instrument which makes musicians particularly prone to physical problems.

Why Is It That Musicians Suffer An Extraordinary Amount Of Physical Discomfort?

Stationary positions, often holding the weight of a heavy instrument for long periods of time.

Fine movements of the forearm and fingers.
Overuse of the same muscle groups, with under-use of the opposing muscle groups.
Sound Familiar?

Consequently, muscle imbalances develop over time, which can lead to pain and discomfort. Here's why:

So What Is Muscle Imbalance?

Muscles work together in groups to perform all movements. Some muscles have more of a stability or control role (such as the back and shoulder muscles), while other muscles have more of a mobility or power role (such as the forearm and fingers). These muscles must co-ordinate together appropriately to integrate precision into a movement. Bad habits and sustained positions change the way the stability (or control muscles), and the mobility (or power) muscles work together. Often, in the musician, your muscles which hold posture firm, suffer, and the strain is shunted down into your arm, which works harder to compensate.

Imbalances in the musician can develop over time and are usually a result of overuse of your arm muscles and under-use of postural muscles. By correcting these muscle imbalances you can optimise the potential and efficiency of your body, and have a significant effect on reducing your pain.

Your body uses muscles with which it is familiar. Just as you remember a familiar piece of music when you listen to a bar of the piece, your body uses memorised movement patterns, which often involve either inappropriate muscles or the right muscles in inappropriate sequences. By changing the dominance of muscles in the body and re-balancing movements, not only will you be less susceptible to discomfort, but your endurance and technique will benefit.

Advantages Of Correcting Muscle Imbalances

  • Significant reduction in injury levels.
  • Improved endurance, control and co-ordination.
  • Great posture (which is always a most attractive asset!).

Why Does It Occur?

Mobility or power muscles have 'workaholic' tendencies, and will often 'take over' from your stability muscles. The stability muscles have a tendency to go on holiday, and this combination of muscle characteristics can mean that the muscles do not control the joints at the right time. To restore the balance of the stability and mobility muscles, we need to get the stability muscles working again.

Your brain learns to use the muscles it knows best, so if your dominant muscles are better known by your brain, they will work harder and create more and more of an imbalance, unless you bring the others back from holiday to counter-balance the situation. Strength training and gym exercises do not fix imbalances! They just make your imbalance stronger and harder to break.

Ideal Body Control

Your stability muscles are vital for controlling the trunk and pelvis, to provide posture control, balance and smooth co-ordination. They provide a stable base to enable the mobilising muscles to provide rapid movement, without strain.

With imbalance, the efficiency of your muscle system is compromised and technique becomes less accurate and co-ordinated, IN SPITE of our strength and flexibility. In these scenarios it takes more energy and effort in practice. The natural tendency of your body is to do what is familiar and resort to your dominant and often stressed muscles. Depending on your instrument, musicians suffer different imbalances so it is essential your assessment is specific to the particular strains and stresses you experience daily.

With imbalance, your muscles will be activated in the wrong order or at the wrong time, such that the most familiar (usually short or workaholic muscles) will be over- used in preference to those less familiar but more important stability muscles.

Our Physios and Deep Tissue Massage Therapists are specialists in the treatment of muscle imbalances and repetitive strains. To book in, just call on 0131 556 1116, or click here to contact us.

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