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New research: Two-thirds of orchestral musicians suffer at least one health problem

A study published today by the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts finds that two in every three professional musicians are carrying a  health disorder. The commonest are tinnitus, hearing loss, noise sensitivity and shoulder and neck pain.

The study was conducted with musicians from the Zurich Opera orchestra. Among the more persistent underlying complaints cited in the report is the disruption to social and family life caused by anti-social orchestral schedules. Read a summary here (auf Deutsch).


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  1. I do realize that a daily ‘well-rounded’ program of self-preservation sports, like SWIMMING, yoga, a jog which is not exhastingly far, and symmetrical work-out 1/2 hour a day can obviosly prvent soo much of the obvious problems facing orch musicians.
    Pilots and flight attendants, conductors, alot of people have’less sociable work hours, so?? The salary of a good, good, I say, GOOD orchestra is a life of spiritual and financial joy, jusyt that I was ready to play solely duo-trio spots after 39 yrs spread over three orchestras, the repertoire is glorious, really GLORIOUS, and one really feels socially like a big family- so I tend to differ with the study, get healthy bodies, do hobbies and don’t become an instrument geek only sitting with the instrument, any instrument will devour you!!! Nella, I speak from experience.

  2. And meat-packers, on a cow dissection assembly line, they don’t suffer from occupation induced illnesses?

    • Equating musicians to “meat-packers, on a cow dissection assembly line” is wonderful. You’re qualified to be the CEO of the Minnesota Orchestra.

      Yes, “meat-packers” suffer serious injuries from their work. It’s a serious problem. Good for you for noticing.

      Your not particularly well thought-out rhetorical question is similar to Michael asking, “Why is this a special issue? All occupations have health related issues…”

      Both of you apparently, for whatever reason, have not noticed that this is a board that deals with issues related to music and musicians. For the general public, no, the matter of musician injuries probably is not “special”. For musicians – many who read this board – it is a very real issue.

      Do you really not see why an article about musician injuries would be called out here, brought to musician’s attention and, hopefully, discussed?

      Yes, other occupations suffer worse injuries. That does not mean musicians should also subject themselves to preventable injuries because some have it worse – as both of you imply in your dismissals. To suggest otherwise is idiocy.

    • Ray, did someone say that meatpackers and others don’t face occupation-induced injuries? This is a blog about the music profession.

  3. Why is this a special issue? All occupations have health related issues whether it is sports, singing, digging a ditch or sitting in front of a computer. They are often injuries caused by repetitive actions. There are actions and activities one can do to prevent these injuries from happening.

    • Why? Because the injury rates are incredibly high, higher than occupations that are considered relatively risky (e.g. assembly line workers, grocery store check-out clerks). If this were a factory job, it would be considered an epidemic.

      • As I stated; There are actions and activities one can do to prevent these injuries from happening. Most business folks know it is a lot cheaper to buy the proper equipment and to educate employees on these issues. Most of the solutions are simple and inexpensive with most solutions costing less that a couple of hours of pay as opposed to the days, months or years of costs due to injuries. Its just good business but alas, we are talking about artists. :)

        • Glad you’ve got such a good handle on a problem that affects thousands of musicians. You should share your knowledge with the many specialists and doctors who try to help musicians deal with physical problems that may be unique to playing, say, a violin.

          This is an important area that relates to the need for musicians’ unions. People see someone playing a little instrument like a violin or an oboe and wonder how that could ever be the source of debilitating injuries. So when management wants to add two or three services to a musician’s work week, that then becomes a very serious workplace issue. It relates directly to a player’s ability to have a career in music. I personally know one person, a professional flute player, who had to leave a career with a major orchestra because of a chronic condition related to playing her flute.

  4. My occupation is related to financial area. Most of my colleagues in every place suffer of tedium, sometimes in deep level. It is by far worse than any RSI illness. Believe me.

  5. Orchestral rehearsals are hard work, physically and mentally. Playing an instrument is a form of athleticism. Devising a good exercise programme, to keep strong and flexible without adding more stress, is crucial. Also, exercise can counteract psychological strain! It certainly does for me.

    • Very right you are. Too often musicians have adopted bad habits or use excessive pressure on muscles, and in an unbalanced way that over time can be damaging, and when one is tired, the problems can become magnified.
      This can result in physical and psychological strain and even damage to joints and arthritis. This is part of technique that is not always taught.

  6. Douglas Nasrawi says:

    Opera orchestra musicians with hearing loss? We needed a study to show this?

  7. It's That Steve Again (ITSA) says:

    Well yes, studies quantifying the obvious can be useful. The problem with relying on anecdotal evidence is that it is very difficult to know how reliable one’s information is. A good study, or series of studies, helps quantify the problem, identify variables of interest, and set the scene for addressing the key issues.

    Anecdotal evidence can be useful to cue one in to what may be worth looking at, but it is hopeless for getting very far. Life, people, and science are paradoxical. One the one hand, many, perhaps most people, think scientifically at some point about some thing. However, most people, including many scientists, are hopeless at consistent scientific thinking. Correlation is confused with cause-and-effect, and variables that are completely unrelated can be given status that is misleading.

    So one must tack between anecdote, life experience, and hard-core studies (if they exist or can be found – sometimes good stuff is buried in decades of information noise).

  8. Some here are saying, in effect, so what? All jobs have debilitating side effects. The point is that most people on the outside of the musical profession tend to see our work as some sort of leisure activity. It is particularly important that the non-musician element of the profession (managements, boards, promoters) be made aware of the realities of the profession.

    • Perhaps better said: It is particularly important that the non-musician element of musical organizations (managements, boards, promoters) be made aware of the realities of the profession.

      • It's That Steve Again (ITSA) says:

        I agree James L.

        People outside of the musical profession do indeed tend to have romantic or simplistic notions of it, or simple lack of awareness. I’m in my early fifties now, but it’s only in the last 18 months or less, that I’ve become consciously aware of the issue of such things as tinnitus among musicians.

        My first insight into this was a conversation with a bagpipe player, who mentioned high rates of tinnitus among bagpipe players. This didn’t surprise me, but hadn’t occurred to me in some 50 years.

        Regarding management, boards, and promoters in musical organisations, I would expect that the competent ones are aware of health issues. It would likely be more a case of whether they care. And whether they care would be related to whether and how it affects them.

        In the end, each individual is largely responsible for doing what he or she can to mitigate health and safety issues for themselves in their work and leisure environment. That doesn’t mean not getting input or solutions from employers etc. It does mean doing what you can, and seeking reasonable solutions from others.

        As you may be aware, there has been discussion on at least one blog about this sort of thing, per link below.

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