Statistics show that around 85% of violinists & violists will develop a playing-related injury at some point in their performing lives. That is an insane number. Unlike sports in which athletes retire around the age of 40 on average, musicians play pretty much their whole lives… or at least, most of us plan to… right? How terrible it would be for our performance timeline to be cut short by an injury that could’ve either been prevented or kept under control.
This week, I’m sharing with you a few of my favorite recovery exercises for violinists & violists, with focus primarily on the areas that get overused and hurt most often, which are the upper back and neck on the left side. To skip right away to the exercises, just scroll past the text and watch the complementary video below.
I would like to send a personal thanks to my physical therapist from 3 years ago at MOTION Sports Medicine as well as a big shout out to physical therapist and personal trainer Angela McCuiston from Music Strong, who I met virtually on Instagram a few years ago. Angela is a pioneer for creating instrument-specific workouts which can be used for conditioning, strengthening, and for recovery. No matter what instrument you play (this includes singers and conductors!) Angela has something for you in her comprehensive and targeted arsenal of exercises. Many of them are already in her first book called Musician’s Essential Exercises.
Also, be sure to check out Angela’s workshops and programs for musicians at musicstrong.com. Disclaimer: I am a brand ambassador of Music Strong: If you decide to purchase anything directly from the website, please mention me as a referral so I can get a small commission, as it would be a great way to support me so I can continue making you more free content on this, and other related topics.
I’m grateful that I’ve never sustained a kind of injury that could put me out of playing for several months. This is something that happened to many colleagues of mine, especially during college and grad school years. However, I’m not as lucky as I just made it seem because for many years I’ve been dealing with chronic strain and occasional pain in my upper left trapezius and neck, which tend to get overused and flare up especially when I play sitting down for too long. This may be familiar to those of you who frequently play in orchestras. Before the pandemic, the pain got really bad and went out of control during a week when I had to play 2 Mozart operas back to back on a daily basis. On a couple of those days, I even had double opera rehearsals. While I had a great time playing the operas, the pain was exacerbated. After the shows, I finally put my stubborn “I’m tough and can handle this on my own” attitude aside and made an appointment with Motion Sports Medicine in midtown east. I couldn’t be more grateful for this decision! Because they specialize in helping athletes, the physical therapists there are great at understanding the physical demands of musicians and were able to help me navigate through my struggles.
Since then, recovery exercises have become part of my standard routine at most orchestral concerts and rehearsals during intermission and at the end of a service. I would like to share with you a very useful set of exercises. Sometimes I change these up a little and make my own variations, but they still have the same purpose for preventing injury in those upper traps. These exercises are a combination of what I learned from Angela McCuiston’s book as well as from my own physical therapy experience.
Don’t wait until you start experiencing tightness and pain to start incorporating an exercise routine into your playing life. The goal is to prevent pain before it starts, but the exercises can also help if you just came out of a session and are starting to feel old symptoms returning and need to get them under control. To get started, just click ‘play’ in the video below and use the timestamps in the original YouTube description box to skip ahead. Stay healthy, be mindful, and happy practicing!