Ouch: How to Avoid the Most Common Musician Injuries

When you think of the world’s most dangerous professions, musician probably doesn’t even come into your mind. Most of them involve heights, open water, or dangerous equipment. But music does indeed come with its very own list of hazards and dangers; from bad backs to heavy instruments to incidents on the road driving home from a gig.

When you start a job with a dangerous element to it, you usually go through some sort of orientation to familiarize yourself with the risk. Unfortunately, no such orientation exists for musicians, and many take the hazards for granted a little too often.

But injuries can and do happen, and they can prevent us from playing – that’s really the big takeaway here. Let’s take a look at some of the most common injuries musicians suffer from, and how you can take steps to avoid them.

Crush Injuries & Finger Smashes

Since most musicians act as their own roadies, we’ve all got stories of squashed fingers. These happen most often when moving equipment. Stacks of cymbal stands are perfect for trapping fingers, and heavy amps and cabinets sometimes need to be squeezed through doorways. How many times have you gone through this?

Try strapping those stands together or put them in a big duffel back for transporting. If it’s too big to get your hand around, don’t risk it – it only takes one bent finger to knock a guitarist out of action for a while, especially if the bone is broken. As for big heavy cabinets, they ought to have proper handles to carry them around. Use them. If your amp is missing it’s handles you can still install replacements. That way you won’t crush or scrape your hands against door frames, lock hardware, or whatever else you might have to squeeze through.

Herniated Disks

Whether it’s “back strain,” or a back that’s been “thrown out,” it’s often referring to a herniated disk, where one vertebra is pulled out of line from the rest of the spine. It’s usually associated with a fair amount of swelling which can pinch nerves and cause a lot of chronic pain. And what’s more, it can take a while to heal properly.

The best treatment is prevention. And the best way to prevent it is to avoid sudden lifts of heavy objects. If you do have to lift a giant, heavy piece of equipment, do it like you were taught, and lift with your legs, not your back.

Even better, just staying in shape can help prevent herniated disks. More often than not, weak stomach muscles make back injuries more likely. This is because they provide counter pressure to the muscles in the lower back, sort of like the truss rod and strings of a guitar; when they’re in balance, a guitar stays in tune and is easy to play. If you have decent muscle tone in front and back, lifting and moving equipment will be easier and less dangerous to your back.

Repetitive Stress Injuries

The most common form of repetitive stress injuries in musicians happens in the wrist, especially in those who play the guitar, bass, or keys. If you fall into one of these categories, think about your wrist positions while you play. The more extreme the bend in your wrist, the more stress it’s under. Try to maintain as natural a hand position as you can. In other words, your wrist and arm should be close to straight in line. If you’re using a more extreme angle, try to find ways to lessen it before you cause damage to the nerves, which will result in swelling and pain.

If you play a stringed instrument, pay attention to your fretting hand and how you grip the neck. Try adjusting your strap to find a more comfortable position. If you play the keyboard, try adjusting the height of your bench. Having it too high or too low can create that extreme bend that will cause problems sooner or later.

Lastly, think about what you do with the rest of your time when you’re not playing. For someone who does a lot of typing, for example, there may be even more stress put on their wrists. Good ergonomics may be doubly important.

All this said, any repetitive movement can cause this kind of injury, so try to limit them.

Vocal Damage

Your voice is like a delicate machine that needs to be oiled after each use. If you don’t keep it lubricated, eventually something will break. Even musicians famous for screaming into the microphone must keep their voices in tip-top shape and train hard so they can master those vocals. The easiest way to keep your vocal chords in working order is to simply stay hydrated.

In addition to staying hydrated, vocalists should also be weary of substances that can dehydrate them, especially alcohol, which can destroy fine muscle control in the vocal chords, leading to an off-key performance and increase the risk of injury.

Another great way to avoid injury is to build up your core strength. Good tone and control in the chest and stomach will greatly reduce the danger to your voice.

Muscle Strain

Probably the most common injury musicians have to deal with is strain. Muscles, tendons, vocal folds, and your body in general have limits. Pushing yourself past those limits can cause injury.

Even if you play efficiently, with proper form and posture, you can still hurt yourself if you play relentlessly without pause. If you over work your body you can become dehydrated and cause friction between your tendons and muscles, resulting in pain and swelling. And if you ignore it and keep playing, that pain will become chronic and ongoing.

So, what’s the best way to avoid this most common musician injury? Take breaks and only increase your music-making time slowly.

Car Accidents

In reality, driving to and from practices and performances is probably the most dangerous thing we do as musicians. Don’t take unnecessary risks, and don’t be stubborn about giving up the wheel to a more alert bandmate. If you need to stop for the night, find a parking lot and take a nap.

No gig is worth it.