Updated: Feb 5, 2022
“Musicians are similar to athletes in a way that both overuse their bodies.” Do you agree?
My answer is yes and no. Although I do agree that both professions can lead to the overuse of the body, I still believe that the two are quite different.
Athletes are more likely to use their whole bodies and they tend to incorporate other activities into their training, therefore leading to the development and balance of their bodies.
On the other hand, musicians endure grueling hours every day in an awkward position, resulting in an imbalance and chronic pain in areas such as the arms, back, and shoulder.
I have known cellists who have experienced back pain, violinists and violists who had shoulder and neck issues, pianists who had arms, shoulder, and/or back injuries, and the list goes on.
I also have known a number of talented musicians who could not maximize their potential in their concert careers due to injuries.
Is it an unavoidable consequence to the profession? What is your vote?
To confess, I’ve had my share of arm injuries. Like others, I believed that it mainly came from incorrect posture and over-practice. If it is true, I often wondered, what is my choice as a musician? Give up competitions and reduce my hours of practice? What is the trade-off? Can I still become an inspiring pianist who has flawless technique and musicality?
An arm injury is the worst punishment that a pianist could ever deserve. Hard work should be rewarded by success, not by your dreams being taken away!
At least I thought so, until my parents researched, analyzed, and implemented a lifestyle change to prevent and minimize health issues, and I began to heal and became stronger than ever.
Funny thing is that it was nothing different from what we knew already – following common sense for keeping our body healthy such as eating healthy food, getting a good night’s sleep, maintaining a positive attitude, taking supplements like vitamins, enjoying a nice bath to relax the muscles, having ergonomic posture, and exercising daily.
I am sure you are familiar with these common-sense approaches, but I would like to share the methods that have made a difference in my health. I am not a doctor, and I cannot claim that what worked for me would work for everyone. However, I use a gentle and natural approach, so I would say it doesn’t hurt to give it a try.
Healthy eating habits:
My parents are super adamant about eating natural food and staying away from junk food, especially sugar and processed food.
From a young age, I started to consume bone broth, green veggie smoothies, homemade sourdough bread, and fermented vegetables and drinks (like kefir and kombucha).
Unless we were on the road, we cooked fresh meals loaded with vegetables. If we stayed more than a week in a hotel, my mom would make sure the hotel room had a little kitchenette for her to cook. She made it clear that we would only eat restaurant food once a day because it is not so healthy.
When I was younger, I just hated it when I was forced to eat the lunch she packed for two weeks in Disney World, and I trembled with disgust whenever I spotted her loading our giant white cooler with frozen home-made soup, a heaping pile of kale leaves, and fresh fruit, along with a blender to make green smoothies. We took these foods to Orlando, Florida from our home in Georgia. I was ecstatic when I was allowed to have a double-scoop ice cream cup once a day after eating my greens like a good girl. I would always get cookie dough and mint chocolate chip…with special chocolate Mickey Mouse ears on top!
However, I was also taught to reduce sugar consumption to a minimum because the sugar will trigger inflammation, which can contribute to injury and lead to serious illness.
This is especially difficult for me because I love sweets. On many occasions, I gorged myself with cookies, pastries, chocolates…every scrumptious treat that was on the table! I thought it would be okay because I see other people munching away on tasty treats all the time, and they are practically available everywhere including the classroom, cafeteria, and music festivals.
However, I must admit that the sugar-eating days were when I suffered the most from arm pain, and I was not able to sit down and concentrate on my academics because I was too hyped up from all that sugar.
When I was younger, my mom chose to give me a natural diet plan to provide necessary vitamins and minerals rather than pills in a bottle from the store. For instance, I have consumed avocados for Vitamin E, kelp and seaweed for Iodine, organ meat for Selenium, oysters for Zinc, kale for Vitamin K, and so on.
We still eat this way to maintain our health, but we’ve learned that the quantity of vitamins in food is not sufficient for the active prevention of injury for musicians. Therefore, we added store-bought vitamin supplements such as magnesium, Vitamin B-complex, and collagen powder to my diet (in addition to taking collagen-rich homemade soup to strengthen tendon). In addition, my eye-sight was deteriorating from looking at small notes on my iPad all day long, so vision-aiding vitamins Lutein and Zeaxanthin were added along with fish oil for a synergetic effect.
One important note is that we take breaks from store-bought supplements in order to prevent them from accumulating in our bodies and becoming toxic. We don't have to worry about vitamin toxicity when we consume them from natural food.
I try to hit 8 hours of sleep each night. However, I have school work that I must complete, and I am drawn to the piano, so I end up practicing piano longer than I planned. As a result, I stay up late to get school work done.
Also, I used to be a coffee-lover. There is a coffee shop inside of my music school and I went there every now and then, especially when they had pumpkin spice lattes.
However, the problem with coffee is that not only does it make me twist and turn on the bed at 3 a.m. in the morning, but also it was restricting blood flow to my arms and legs, therefore always making my body cold, especially my hands and feet.
The lack of an adequate amount of blood flow is a grave issue for musicians because it increases the probability of having an injury as well as slower recovery afterward.
Therefore, I gave up coffee and started to consume green tea instead. People might say that both coffee and green tea contain caffeine but I think the caffeine amount in green tea is a lot less, and I don’t have a problem falling asleep anymore. In addition, green tea is known for its calming effect and has strong antioxidants to boost your immune system.
I am always concerned with the relaxation of my arm muscles and the blood circulation in my arms and hands. Taking a hot bath with Epsom salt (2 cups) and baking soda (1/2 cup) helps me relax and sleep well. It also helps with blood circulation after a long day of sitting in front of the piano.
One of my favorite activities was going to the gym for a workout. Every night after my practice session, I would head straight to the gym across from my music school.
However, ever since the pandemic started, gyms were forced to close, and living in the crowded city of Los Angeles made it impossible to get any form of exercise. I have to say that it was the hardest time of my life. Finally, relocating to a suburb and being able to go for runs and strolls outside in fresh air every day was very helpful for regaining health and focus.
My parents emphasized that we do our best to prepare, and no matter how bad the result is, it is best not to dwell on it.
I admit that this is very difficult, and sometimes I feel very guilty for chasing away these negative feelings because I feel that I am not taking things seriously.
I remember that one time after I found out that I did not win a piano competition, we went straight to Disney World to chase the negativity away. While I was dancing in Magic Kingdom’s “Move It! Shake It! Mouskedance It!” street party, I wondered if I deserved this much fun. But my parents told me that they were not concerned and they were having fun as well. Then I was like, “ahh…I guess it’s okay,” and started vibing to the beat of the music even more.
Such memories motivated me to try harder the following day because I acknowledge that just because I lost does not mean I did not learn to survive. Every heartbreak serves as an experience for me as well as a stepping step toward becoming a better person.
So, how effective were the methods I mentioned above? Well, I can tell you that I have never gotten sick since I was a toddler. A number of people around me caught the flu or cold, but I have never caught one for years, and even I am shocked by this fact. Every day, my schedule is packed from morning until night, but I am handling the workload pretty well. Best of all, my arms are stronger than ever. Therefore, I can claim that these methods have proven to be spectacularly effective.