How Do I Get Rid of That Pain in my Back?

June 1, 2012

 

Did you know musicians have the highest work injury rate of any profession?  According to William Dawson in “Fit As A Fiddle: The Musician’s Guide to Playing Healthy”, it’s something like 90%.  I don’t know about you, but I really don’t think that’s acceptable, and yet, the fact remains that most of us play in pain. Most of us develop pain or injuries as a result of our playing our beloved instruments.

 

The good news is it is largely preventable.  A warm-up should include more than just long tones. In fact, I would say that a physical warm-up could be just as important if not MORE important than your practicing warm-up!  Why am I so sure?  Well, first off, if you are in debilitating pain, it hurts every time you raise your arms, you can’t feel your fingers, have tendonitis, carpal tunnel, thoracic outlet syndrome, piriformis syndrome, etc. etc. etc. it really won’t matter how beautiful your soft high notes are, will it? You deserve to enjoy playing your instrument and when a physical warm-up takes just as much time if not less than a playing warm-up and will save you pain and a possible job in the future, why neglect it?  Your body is your first instrument, you and must learn to take care of it, so it will continue to take care of you.  I plan on writing some more detailed posts about specific stretching and warm-up routines for various areas of the body in the near future on my personal blog later, for today, I would like to talk about foam rolling.

 

Foam rolling is using what looks like a big, hard pool noodle to roll your body across and give yourself a self-massage.  The benefits are numerous. Besides feeling good, releasing endorphins and increasing blood flow, lymph flow and increasing circulation, foam rolling may help save your playing career!

 

Another name for foam rolling is self-myofasical release, or SMF.  Besides the above benefits, two of the best benefits are that it releases knots or adhesions in the fascia that surrounds your muscle tissue and improves your joints range of motion.  You’ve heard of knots, they’re the painful things massage therapists work on when you go see them. They get pressed on and what happens? It hurts! But then, ah….it feels so much better. While a therapist will always be your best and most thorough option, you just can’t afford to go every day, so let me introduce you to some inexpensive options that you can use on your own and will even fit into your flute bag!

 

A quick anatomy lesson; some of the upper back muscle that give flutists the most problem are: the rhomboids, levators and teres major and minor.  We are going to concern ourselves with the rhomboids.  The rhomboids bring the shoulder blades in towards the spine.  What happens on the left side of your body when you play your flute?  The rhomboids get stretched as your arm moves in front of your body…and then you hold it there.  This can lead to an imbalance between your right and left rhomboids and cause the left to be especially weak.  Besides strengthening the rhomboids (another article for another time) you can perform SMF on the “trigger points” on the rhomboid.  Trigger points are the points of most intense pain – the areas your massage therapist would concentrate on.  The exact reason for them is up for debate but here’s what you can do about them: find the most tender spot with your roller of choice and when you get right in the belly of the trigger point (aka: the most painful spot) hold the roller on that spot for a minimum of 20-30 seconds.  You may feel the muscle begin to spasm a little bit, but then it should release you will feel a wonderful feeling of release, increase in your range of motion and less pain.

 

A typical foam roller can be used for this, but as this is a smaller muscle and much deeper, I suggest a couple of smaller rollers.  You can use a lacrosse ball or even a golf ball if you really ambitious, but a tennis ball is the cheapest option.  But if you want to get something that will not disintegrate as fast as a tennis ball and is just as small, you have a few more options.

  • Spikey ball
  • Thera-roll

 

Spikey ball: Thera-Roll 

 

Both are small enough to keep in your flute bag with no issue.  I recommend using either before your practice sessions and sometimes after sessions or any time you experience pain.  Take either device and put it on the wall behind you.  Lean up against the wall and going about an inch at a time, roll the area until you find the most tender spot, and then hold for 20-30 seconds before going on to the next area.  If you do not feel anything the first pass, go over the area 2-3 times and you might find an area later.

Follow this up with some shoulder blade squeezes to get the rhomboids used to their proper regained range of motion and you are ready to play!

If you would like more information on what can be done to help you with your specific playing related pain, please don’t hesitate to contact me.  I’m here for you – happy playing!

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