Making melodious music might mean maladies

By • Published: February 17th, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

You’ve heard of tennis elbow, but have you heard of fiddler’s neck? What about flautist’s chin? Making sweet music has its hazards, so much so that there’s a medical subspecialty… and even an entire journal… dedicated to the problems of performing artists.

Being a professional musician — whether rock star or classical pianist — is hard work that can take a mental and physical toll. And no wonder. Musicians sit or stand for hours in the same position, often holding heavy instruments awkwardly and making the same motions over and over. The type of resulting strain on the nerves, muscles, skin, heart, lungs, eyes, ears and other organs depends on the instrument of choice.

There’s bagpiper’s hernia. Or Satchmo’s syndrome — named for trumpeter Louis Armstrong and involving rupture of muscles in the mouth. Pianists suffer wrist injuries, and violinists and violists sometimes develop fiddler’s neck, which involves discoloration and thickening of the skin. A similar condition occurs on cellists’ chests. And accounts of “cello scrotum” persisted for decades before a non-doctor and his physician wife confessed in 2008 to faking a 1974 medical report in the British Medical Journal after suspecting that a paper about “guitar’s nipple” also was a joke.

Don’t let funny names and pranks fool you though — musicians’ medical maladies are real and can lead to chronic pain, injury or career-ending disabilities.

But though musicians recognize that their health complaints hinder their performance they sometimes don’t realize that their performance contributes to their complaints, physicians note.

Their advice for helping to avoid injury? Use proper technique and keep the body well-tuned by eating healthfully and getting enough physical activity.