This month CMPI is focusing on musician health, including a community meeting run by a physical therapist (PT) and occupational therapist (OT). While PTs and OTs are essential for treating injuries, there are many additional techniques that are helpful in preventing injuries and developing body awareness. This article will delve into some of these methods, beginning with PT and OT and expanding out to Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais, Body Mapping, and other body movement techniques.
Physical and Occupational Therapists who Specialize in Musicians
Physical Therapists are highly trained, doctoral-level therapists who help people deal with pain, injuries, and chronic conditions, especially those involving muscles, tendons, nerves, bones, and soft tissue. They use hands-on techniques, stretching, props, and exercises to help people gain strength and use their bodies in better ways. Occupational Therapists have graduate degrees and specialize in helping people gain or improve skills to help them live and work, and similarly use a variety of interventions to help people improve their physical skills.
PTs and OTs who focus on musicians work specifically to help maximize posture and ensure playing is as ergonomic as possible. They also help to treat overuse and other injuries. Sessions may include stretching, massage, strengthening exercises, and changes in set-up or positioning to help heal current injuries and prevent future ones. They may also use techniques from body awareness practices like those discussed below.
If you are having pain associated with playing, a physical therapist with experience in musicians should be the first person you call for assistance. In Illinois, as in many states, musicians can visit a physical therapist directly without a physician’s order, though insurance may require a physician’s diagnosis to pay for ongoing services. OTs can provide some services directly but usually require referral for ongoing services.
Alexander Technique was developed by Frederick Matthias Alexander around the turn of the 20th Century as a method of correcting posture, breathing, and movement to improve health. The technique is used often by musicians and other performing artists to determine how they can be mindful of their posture, set-up, and how they use their bodies while playing to reduce tension and prevent injury.
Practitioners are usually certified by an Alexander Technique organization. Many conservatories and universities offer classes in Alexander Technique and some summer programs do as well. Private lessons are also available for individuals, and typically involve tablework, sitting, and playing.
While Alexander Technique alone is not usually covered by insurance, in some cases practitioners may also be licensed physical or occupational therapists who can bill insurance for their sessions. Chicago area Alexander Technique practitioners can be found here.
Developed by Moshe Feldenkrais in the mid-20th Century, the Feldenkrais Method is an exercise method that uses slow, gentle, and mindful movement to release tension and train the body to move efficiently. Group classes are available and may be themed for performing artists. Private lessons are also available and typically involve a more hands-on form of body manipulation called functional integration.
Similar to Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais classes or sessions alone are not usually covered by insurance, but in some cases practitioners may also be licensed physical or occupational therapists who can bill insurance for their sessions. Practitioners may be found here.
Body Mapping for Musicians
Body Mapping is a newer technique derived from Alexander Technique designed specifically for musicians to help them determine how they are using their bodies, and how changes might facilitate the release of tension and prevent pain and injury. It focuses first on identifying how the body is working and moving, including understanding the underlying anatomy and how muscles, bones, ligaments, and other tissues are used while playing. Musicians then determine how errors in how they are using their bodies may contribute to tension and discomfort, finding better ways to move and use the body. Body Mapping lectures and demonstrations are becoming more common in conservatories and summer programs, but there are not very many trained instructors thus far. You can find a Body Mapping Instructor here.
While not focused as directly on musicians as the movement techniques listed above, practices such as yoga, tai-chi, and Pilates can also be used by musicians to develop body awareness, mindful body movement, breathing, and facilitate relaxation.
CMPI students being led in PT by SD Rehab