Common Overuse Injuries-Tendonitis

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Being a professional musician is like being a professional athlete. Maintaining physical and mental well-being directly influences musical performance. This month’s newsletter is the third in a series that will focus on overuse injuries in musicians.

What is Tendonitis?

Simply put, tendonitis is inflammation of a tendon.
What’s a tendon?
A tendon is tissue that connects muscle to bone. Imagine having many helium balloons all with strings coming off of them that you then gather together and hold onto with one hand. Tendons are thin tough fibers gathered together at the end of a muscle that attach to one point on a bone.
What is inflammation?
Anytime there is an injury, the body responds with inflammation. It is the process the body uses to heal itself, but it isn’t comfortable. Signs of inflammation include pain, redness, heat, and swelling. If a tendon becomes inflamed then these signs may be very noticeable. Musicians will find that the pain and swelling inhibits the ability to optimally play their instruments.  
What causes tendonitis in musicians?
The most common cause of tendonitis in musicians is over practicing their instruments. Additional elements that contribute include emotional stress or tension, poor form when playing, repeatedly practicing the same way with little or no variation, not taking enough breaks, not allowing recovery time after a strenuous rehearsal, and not budgeting enough time to realistically work up a piece to performance level. You’re not super-human and tendons can wear down from over use.
Am I at risk of developing tendonitis?
You are if you over practice. Other risk factors include:

  • Diabetes
  • Aging
  • Smoking
  • Pregnancy
  • Certain medications

How do I know if I have tendonitis?
Your body will let you know because it will be painful to do activities you once did pain-free. You may notice redness, swelling, or warmth over the injured area. Consult with your doctor for a diagnosis.
How is it diagnosed?
A simple evaluation with a medical doctor or physical therapist will determine it. Usually the diagnosis can be made from tests your health care provider can do in the office. At times, a doctor may order imaging to rule out broken bones or to see the degree of damage done to the tendon.
How is it treated?
Medically, your doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medications. You may also receive an order for physical therapy or occupational therapy. Typically, these therapists will address the pain and swelling with mechanical agents like ice, heat, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, or paraffin baths. You may also benefit from splinting, bracing, or wrapping with bandages to minimize movement. Therapists will also use exercises and massage to aid recovery.
What can I do to prevent tendonitis?
Be mindful of how you use your body, especially during repetitive movements. Participating in meditation can increase your awareness of your body while also addressing your emotional stress. Yoga can do the same while also being a good activity for stretching and strengthening. You may want to modify everyday activities to reduce stress on the tendon.

Professional musicians challenge their bodies to create their music. That’s why learning about overuse injuries and how to manage or prevent them is important for the success and longevity of participation in music performance.

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