Healing the injuries that accompany the sound of music

Odsense Hospital clinic seeks to treat occupational injuries suffered by musicians while at the same time trying to change the show-must-go-on mindset among performers

Musicians probably aren’t the first group that spring to mind when on-the-job injuries come to mind. As Mark Knopfler famously wrote in the song ‘Money for Nothing’ they “maybe get a blister on (their) little finger, maybe get a blister on their thumb…”

Physician Helene Paarup disagrees with Knopfler’s assessment. Paarup has done doctorate level research into the occupational injuries that can befall musicians and says that they are similar to those that strike elite athletes. Along with the obvious issue of hearing loss, Paarup says that the strict postures and high pressure required of classical performers can result in serious injuries.

“It is my impression that most people still consider playing music as a leisure time activity,” said Paarup. “It may start out that way, but when it turns into a career, the discipline and hard work can lead to both physical and psychological problems.”

Paarup is one of the driving forces behind the clinic for musicians at the occupational injury department of Odense University Hospital. The clinic, which is the first of its kind in the region?, will involve both medical specialists, physiotherapists, psychologists and other professionals.

“Classical and non-classical musicians are subject to very profession-specific conditions,” she said. “We started out investigating the working environment and playing-related disorders for classical musicians because they make up a much more homogenous group regarding their instruments, education, music genre, working hours and other working conditions.”

Paarup said all musicians, from the lowliest pub shouter to the first violinist in a symphony, are welcome at the clinic.

“Occupational or playing-related disorders can affect all kinds of musicians, no matter the instrument, no matter the age, no matter the genre of music played,” she said.

Paarup said musicians themselves are often their own worst enemies, because they refuse to admit they are hurting.

“Musicians are subject to very specific demands,” she said. They are judged by their audience and are afraid that if they admit to hearing loss, musculoskeletal problems, stress or stage fright they will be stigmatised as vulnerable and be seen as less than perfect.”

One area of specific concern among musicians is hearing loss. A recent poll by Politiken newspaper revealed that nearly half of the 483 musicians who answered said they had some degree of hearing loss.

The musicians’ union, Dansk Musiker Forbund (DMF), regularly warns its members to take precautions through information on its website and by holding seminars about hearing loss.

“Musicians live for the music and the sound, but, the irony is that the sound is the very thing that can harm their most vital sense; their ability to hear,” said DMF head Anders Lauersen. “We always recommend hearing protection.”

Musicians shun earplugs, saying that it is like trying to play with pillows stuck in their ears. Paarup said such attitudes highlighted the challenge of preventing injuries, particularly as musicians grow older.

“Musicians, like elite athletes, start their careers very young, seven or eight years old,” she said. “But while athletes are usually finished by the time they are thirty, musicians play into their sixties and beyond, and the chance for injuries grows every year.”