Preventing Pain in Young Musicians

by Dr Susan Tyfield (M.Tech.Chiropractic)

The field of performing arts medicine is fairly young. Which means that little research has been done to examine it and there are few medical specialists trained in the special needs of this group. Despite this, it is becoming more and more apparent that unhealthy behaviours in early technique and body maintenance can become life-long problems.

Musicians are often compared with athletes because much physical exertion and long hours of practice are required when playing an instrument. Unfortunately, until recently both the medical community and performing arts community didn’t treat them as such. This has led to a bad foundation of care for musicians’ musculoskeletal needs, and many of these bad postural habits begin early in their playing careers. In Australia, the teaching of instrumental music performance lags behind elite sport with regard to producing optimal performance to ensure the least amount of stress on the body.

The University of Western Australia has just instituted a collaborative project which aims to reduce the risk of injury for young musicians, by filling a gap in teaching at tertiary schools of music. This is, however, aimed at older music students, still leaving a gap for child and adolescent performers during the time when they are beginning the foundation of how they play and care for themselves

An article in the European Journal of Pain found that there appears to be a connection between the reporting of pain in childhood and those children having more experiences of reported pain into adulthood. If pain is not addressed and treated early on, it can greatly impact a child’s quality of life, by interfering with mood, sleep, appetite, school attendance, academic performance, and participation in sports and other extra-curricular activities. And in fact, if unrelieved, childhood pain can increase a child’s vulnerability to pain later in life.

For example, in research done to see how often adolescent string instrumentalists experienced muscle or joint pain in the preceding month, researchers found that 73.5% of the children had experienced some playing-related pain.

Given that often children and adolescents don’t tell parents or caregivers that they are in pain, it is of even greater importance to start an early care plan for those who might be vulnerable. 



1. Ackermann, B. J. (2016). From Stats to Stage--Translational Research in Performing Arts Medicine. Medical Problems of Performing Artists, 31(4), 246.

2. Brattberg, G. (2004). Do pain problems in young school children persist into early adulthood? A 13‐year follow‐up. European Journal of Pain, 8(3), 187-199.

3. Mathews, L. (2011). Pain in children: neglected, unaddressed and mismanaged. Indian Journal of Palliative Care, 17(Suppl), S70.

4. Vinci, S., Smith, A., & Ranelli, S. (2015). Selected Physical Characteristics and Playing-Related Musculoskeletal Problems in Adolescent String Instrumentalists. Medical Problems of Performing Artists, 30(3), 143.