Arthritis is a widespread disease and one of the main causes of disability among adults. Reports show that approximately 54 million people in the US have doctor-diagnosed arthritis, but the number is expected to grow to 78 million by 2040.
The situation is particularly acute in the music world, where awkward posture and the repetitive nature of playing an instrument cause chronic joint pain to the large portion of both professional and amateur performers. In a study conducted by the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians, 70% of women and 52% of men had performance-related musculoskeletal symptoms.
But it’s not the reason to give up practicing. On the contrary, numerous studies prove that playing is a convenient way to fight arthritis. It’s a sort of exercise that enhances the endurance and flexibility of muscles, so you’re not supposed to stop it completely but rather take a more careful approach.
Most musicians feel the first symptoms after a period of long practice sessions. According to the report, the most common problem is overuse, which is poorly defined but represents the culmination of playing past the point of muscle fatigue.
For this reason, you should take a short break and then continue playing shorter but more often. Don’t forget to warm up before taking your instrument – musicians are just like sportsmen who have to prepare their bodies for physical challenges of the profession.
Katherine Hughes, a rheumatology specialist at UK Best Essays, told us more about the disease: “Arthritis is one of the most common health issues of our time. There are dozens of different types, but only four of them strike the majority of musicians - osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and osteoporosis.”
There is no magic pill to cure the pain and eliminate arthritis for good, but you can do a lot of things to prevent the disease, keep it under control, or stop its further progression. We will present to you the four most common types of arthritis and give suggestions on how to deal with it as a musician.
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis that occurs when the cartilage that cushions the ends of bones in your joints gradually deteriorates. Cartilage is a firm, slippery tissue that permits nearly frictionless joint motion. Musicians suffer from osteoarthritis because they keep repeating the same moves, thus putting extra pressure on the targeted joint.
This type of arthritis includes a set of symptoms:
- Inflammation: The joint is often inflamed in case of osteoarthritis.
- Joint stiffness: Musicians often feel stiffness when they wake up or after a period without any practice sessions.
- Pain: It hurts to move the joint and play music, which also reduces the flexibility.
- Bone spurs: Sometimes you will notice small lumps around joints.
If a doctor confirms the disease, you will probably have to rest for a while and apply cold bandages to reduce swelling. Physical therapies and medications are the next step in the recovery process, after which you can gradually return to the music practice. Only the worst-case scenario will force you to undergo a surgery, but it’s not highly likely.
Fibromyalgia usually starts as a concrete physical trauma, but soon evolves into a more complex sensation that causes a wider musculoskeletal pain. It is more common among female artists, with symptoms that include:
- Pain: The pain is not too intense, but it’s constant and hurts the whole body.
- Fatigue: Fibromyalgia makes people exhausted because it usually disturbs normal sleeping patterns.
- A lack of focus: Musicians often report cognitive difficulties, not being able to concentrate and perform mental tasks.
You can’t completely cure fibromyalgia, but you can reduce its effects to the minimum. A doctor will probably prescribe pain killers, while you can also apply heat to the pain point. Gradual exercises will improve your overall condition, so you should be able to play music soon enough.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system – which normally protects its health by attacking foreign substances like bacteria and viruses – mistakenly attacks the joints. It causes the inflammation of the joint lining, making the most damage in the early stages of the development.
For this reason, it is critical to notice the symptoms as early as possible:
- Loose joints: Hands, wrists, elbows, and ankles can become unstable and stiff.
- Morning stiffness: Most musicians lose flexibility and can’t move the affected area after waking up in the morning.
- Joint deformity: Rheumatoid arthritis sometimes causes serious deformity, changing the normal appearance of the hand.
Rheumatoid arthritis cannot be reversed, so the goal is to act promptly and prevent the progression of the disease. Doctors usually prescribe medications to stop inflammation, ease the pain, and reduce future complications.
It can relieve symptoms and help you go back to practicing, so you don’t have to abandon the music career. Keep in mind, however, that it’s crucial to identify the problem early and consult the doctor immediately.
Osteoporosis occurs when the body loses too much bone, makes too little bone, or both. As a result, bones become weak and may break from a fall or, in serious cases, from sneezing or minor bumps. The disease evolves slowly, so it can take years before you notice it. It causes the following symptoms:
- Back pain: This is the first sign of osteoporosis in almost 100% of cases.
- Height loss: As the bones shrink and reduce, you can lose height over a longer period of time.
- Poor posture: People suffering from osteoporosis can hardly keep the posture, so they usually lean forward.
- Bone fractures: The worst case leads to bone fractures. In this phase, bones can break much easier than normal.
Prevention is the best way to treat osteoporosis. You should try to find a calcium-rich diet, particularly in your teenage years and the 20s. There are various medications that should strengthen bone density, but it’s still much easier and more efficient to prevent osteoporosis by exercising and avoiding eating disorders.
Arthritis is a chronic condition that can jeopardize your career as a musician, but it doesn’t have to be so serious if you learn how it works and prevent major symptoms. In this post, we described the most common types of the disease and explained how to deal with it. Make sure to remember our suggestions and you won’t have to worry about arthritis and its career-threatening consequences.