Pain When You Play: Musicians, See A Rheumatologist

Instrumental musicians like you know pain. The repeated strumming, fretting, bowing, and beating takes a toll on your body after a while. As a musician, you also know when the pain isn't routine and when the stiffness won't go away with relaxation and ice.

A recent study found that among the musicians the study evaluated, 64% of them had developed musculoskeletal disorders. Generally, the injuries were related to the stresses caused by playing a particular instrument, with arthritis, carpal tunnel, tendonitis, and pinched nerves being the most common ailments.

If you're experiencing significant pain in your upper limbs, shoulders, neck, and torso, you've probably developed a potentially serious disorder. You need to seek treatment before you injure yourself beyond repair. Schedule an appointment with a rheumatologist, a physician who diagnoses and treats conditions of the joints, muscles, and bones. They understand how to help musicians who are experiencing pain as a result of repeated stress injuries.


Expect to be in constant contact with your rheumatologist. Treatment techniques are the same for both musicians and non-musicians. However, the rheumatologist will need to be significantly more involved with your treatment because you're a musician. First, your rheumatologist may ask for a schedule of your performances and practices. Then, when they are designing your treatment routines or making any surgical recommendations, it will be in collaboration with you and your music instructors, conductors, etc.

Treatment often begins with electrodiagnostic studies to establish the nature of the symptoms. And while the scope of this article can't cover all the treatment options for all possible injuries, here are a few of the most common:

  • Medications: like muscle relaxers, anti-arthritis, and anti-gout drugs
  • Physical Therapy: helps you regain natural motion in joints while building strength in your muscles
  • Injections: of steroids and other medications directly into the affected area, usually to relieve pain, pressure, and inflammation.
  • Surgery: most often to repair damaged tendons or unbind pinched nerves

In the previous 20 years, rheumatologists and other physicians like neurologists have gained a lot more understanding of the injuries that commonly affect performing artists. Take comfort in this.


The good news is that instrumentalists can recover from musculoskeletal disorders. How long it takes will most likely depend on your age and any other health problems that you may have. But, you could be playing beautifully and pain-free again before you know it. There is no reason to delay.

Contact a local rheumatologist to learn more.