Musicians and other artists encounter multiple health problems that are unique to their lifestyle and occupation. Their level of risk varies considerably depending on several factors, including the features of individual performers, the kind of music that they play, and whether they use instruments in their performance. Many complaints among musicians are also a result of the overt requirements imposed on them, such as the need to appeal to the viewers, performing in front of a massive number of spectators, the close supervision during performances, and the expectation to play a particular instrument perfectly (Schuppert and Altenmuller 175). In many instances, occupational disorders are often a result of more than one risk factor.
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While each category of musicians has its unique disorders, like vocalists and musicians who play wind, string or percussion instruments, there are some disorders that affect them equally and are capable of causing career-ending disabilities (Schuppert and Altenmuller 175).
This disorder is the most prevalent among instrumental musicians and has three common types of diagnoses: “functional dystonia, entrapment neuropathy, and overuse syndrome” (Rosen 262). These disorders are often identified by pain and disability, which may, at times, result in termination of employment. Overuse syndrome is the most common musculoskeletal disorder and comprises various conditions including “joint disorders and hypermobility, bursitis, carpal syndrome, temporomandibular, focal motor dystonias, thumb syndrome, and thoracic outlet syndrome, among others” (Rosen 262). These conditions can be caused by one or more of the following factors: incorrect posture, intensive practice, non-ergonomic techniques, stress, overuse, insufficient rest, and pre-existing trauma (Rosen 263).
According to Rosen, these causative factors make string players and female musicians more susceptible to one of the disorders under overuse syndrome, than other musicians. One study performed by Fry et al. seeking to find the correlation between pianists with overuse syndrome and the inability to fully harmonize revealed that the overuse of arms and hands by some musicians, pianists in this case, could result in the loss if motor control. Another study comparing the disorders between different types of musicians revealed that instrumentalists were more likely to complain from arm related disorders than other body parts, while singers experienced more problems with their hip, foot and knee joints than arms (Fry, Hallett and Mastroianni 516).
A study conducted by Onder et al. on skin diseases that affect musicians revealed that such cases were extremely rare. However, some musicians were noted to have allergic aggravations and mechanical injuries of predisposed skin that caused them considerable discomfort and disability and even made their performance difficult (Onder, Cosar and Oztas 259). Besides these manifestations like psoriasis and atopic eczema, it was also observed that some dermatologic conditions could be caused by playing a specific instrument. For instance, Onder et al. discovered that dermatological infections like herpes labialis were common in performers using wood and brass instruments, while occupational and stress conditions like urticaria, psoriasis, cheilitis, hyperhidrosis, and seborrheic dermatitis were more common in orchestra performers. According to Onder et al. wind and string instrumentalists are most susceptible to skin diseases involving the mouth and hands, respectively.
According to Lucia, wind instrumentalists can suffer career-ending illnesses like the sudden oral discharge of blood and the rupture of chest vessels. There is one incident when a “flutist ruptured a large vein, followed by violent hemorrhage, and death within two hours” (Lucia 379). Considering that a proper wind instrument performance requires effective pulmonary function, which is characterized by exceptional breathing management, perfect harmonization of the oropharyngeal cavity, sufficient patency and humidity of airways, and diaphragmatic vigor, artists who are seriously injured can be seriously inconvenienced, and possibly thrust out of employment (Lucia 381). Lucia further suggests that wind instrument players and vocalists are considerably perceptible to asthma, though wind instrumentalists argue that their profession gives them a better chance to manage chronic pulmonary disorder (Lucia 382).
Noise-induced hearing loss
Exposure to high levels of sound is a common occurrence among musicians, though one study claims that percussion instruments players are most susceptible to disorders such as noise intolerance, ear-aches, ear fatigue, psychic disorders, and sleep disturbance (Kahari, Axelsson and Hellstrom 17). Kahari et al. also claim that classical orchestral and symphonic musicians have reported multiple incidences of occupational hearing impairment caused by exposure to loud sounds, particularly in the low-frequency region.
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How musicians can prevent occupational diseases
The management of disorders affecting musicians requires the same ideologies employed in work-related therapy, particularly those about ergonomics and adaptive equipment. However, the serious nature of some of these diseases and injuries, with the possibility of premature career termination requires more focus on preventive measures than treatments. Studies suggest that musicians tend to conceal their problems and live in ignorance, which makes it difficult for them to prevent occupational diseases. As such, the first step in the prevention of work-related diseases should be enlightening performers about potential disorders. This can be followed by encouraging them to take up non-impact exercises to address disorders pertaining to ergonomics, and breathing exercises before any performance (Schuppert and Altenmuller 178).
Occupational diseases affecting musicians can cause serious discomfort and significantly reduce the efficiency of their performance. In some cases, the disorders can lead to career termination or even death. Fortunately, it is possible for musicians to prevent work-related disorders by familiarizing themselves with the anatomic and physiologic ideologies that make them vulnerable to their injuries and diseases. With adequate knowledge on various techniques of breathing, posture and body movement, musicians can take charge of their development and design specific programs that can enhance their performance without any adverse effects.
Fry, Jeffrey, et al. “Incoordination in pianists with overuse syndrome.” Neurology 51 (1998): 512-519. Print.
Kahari, Kim, et al. “Hearing assessment of classical orchestral musicians.” Scand Audiol 30 (2001): 13-23. Print.
Lucia, Raymond. “Effects of playing a musical wind instrument in asthmatic teenagers.” J Asthma 31: (1994): 375-385. Print.
Onder, M, et al. “Stress and skin diseases in musicians: evaluation of the beck depression scale, general psychologic profile [The brief symptom inventory (BSI)], beck anxiety scale and stressful life events in musicians.” Biomed Pharmacother 54 (2000): 258-262. Print.
Rosen, Norman. “Myofascial pain: the great mimicker and potentiator of other diseases in the performing artists.” Md Med J 42 (1993): 261-266. Print.
Schuppert, Munte and Eckart Altenmuller. “Occupation-specific illnesses in musicians.” Versicherungsmedizin 51 (1999): 173-179. Print.