Athlete or not, performance artists benefit from sports medicine

"When a musician has an issue, they tend to not go see anybody."

February 15, 2019, 12:29 PM

This is an Inside Science story.

Musicians and other performing artists aren't usually considered athletes. But both groups use their bodies to accomplish something that most of us cannot, and whether they're attempting to block a shot, make a tackle, or play a high note, injuries can happen.

When performing artists get injured, they don't always seek out medical care. Sports teams have trainers. But that kind of help isn't as common in the arts.

"When a musician has an issue, they tend to not go see anybody," said Melody Hrubes at the University of Illinois College Sports Medicine.

Performers typically do whatever it takes to stay on stage.

"It can be very closely tied to their identity as a performer, so they worry about being perceived as not being perfect, not being reliable, not being a good person to use," said Hrubes.

If performers compensate for an initial injury, that can create new problems. Someone with training and experience can reveal not just the obvious issue, but also the original problem.

"It can be frustrating because they're like, 'My elbow hurts, fix my elbow, I can't play my oboe,'" said Hrubes.

The research that will help caregivers give better advice and care to artists is just beginning. For example -- they don't yet know the optimum number of hours to practice to both get better and to avoid injury.

"If we could bring a teacher that information, they might be more open to talking to their younger players about, oh, let's think about rehearsing smarter, not longer," said Hrubes.

Sometimes the challenge goes beyond repairing an injury or adjusting a technique so that a performing artist can complete a jump, turn or other technique.

"So, a dancer might be able to come on pointe, but they might not be able to do it well, or they might not be able to do it in a way that their teacher thinks is good. So, it's not just can they do it, but can they do it beautifully or can they make it sound beautiful," said Hrubes.

The goal of the treatment is to put the performers back on stage, performing at their best.

"It's who they are. It's very much their identity. And so when they're not there, they feel like they're not doing what they're supposed to do," concluded Hrubes.

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