In collaboration with Keck School of Medicine

Can Physiotherapy Help Music Students With Chronic Pain?

Person this playing violin

Most people enjoy listening to music. Little do they know that what brings them comfort often leads to chronic pain for the musician who created it. Musicians experiencing chronic pain is common, which led researchers to put physiotherapy to the test to see if it would bring about relief. The results may surprise many who create music, as well as those who enjoy creating it.

In the February 2021 issue of the journal BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, researchers shed light on the chronic pain that many musicians experience [1]. They report that musculoskeletal disorders are common among musicians, with as many as 68% experiencing the condition. They report that a lifetime prevalence of experiencing it impacts as many as 93%. In other words, the vast majority of musicians who play for years are bound to, at some point, experience musculoskeletal pain.

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Researchers found 31 university students with moderate to severe musculoskeletal pain to participate in a recent study and another 31 pain-free students as the control group. All participants were matched in age and gender. They were all evaluated using a psychological questionnaire. The findings of their research were published in the March 2023 issue of the journal Medical Problems of Performing Arts [2].

The information gathered about the participants looked at their pain intensity, as well as if they experienced depression and anxiety. The research showed that those music students who have chronic pain also experienced more depression and anxiety. The students who had chronic pain were each given a series of 12 sessions of physiotherapy that was musician-specific. The control group received no physiotherapy and waited for the time to come for the retesting. They found that those who received the physiotherapy had a reduction in pain symptoms, but there wasn’t an improvement in their mental health status. This is essential information for medical professionals working with musicians with chronic pain, depression, and anxiety.

While there is a good chance that musician-specific physiotherapy will help reduce chronic pain, it may not do much to help with improving depression and anxiety. Musicians who experience chronic pain may find relief by engaging in a series of musician-tailored physiotherapy sessions. Even if it doesn’t improve depression or
anxiety, it may help improve their overall quality of life. There are others who find comfort in listening to music, so the more comfortable we can keep our musicians, the better off everyone will be.

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  1. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders. Patterns of pain location in music students. February 2021.
  2. Medical Problems of Performing Arts. Development and Interrelation of Pain, Depression, and Anxiety in Music Students. March 2023.

This article was originally published on Confronting Chronic Pain by Dr. Steven Richeimer, Director Pain Medicine Master and Certificate.

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