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Such a pain, playing in an orchestra

Two researchers at the University of Sydney, Dianna Kenny and Bronwen Ackermann, asked players in Austraia’s eight leading orchestras what hurts.

More than 70 percent responded with a range of aches and pains.

84 percent said the pain was bad enough to interfere with their performance.

24 percent said the pain was constant. One in five of these described it as ‘the worst imaginable’.

Women in orchestras suffered more than men.

However – big caveat – players were asked if they ever suffered from depression. Most of those who denied experience of depression also reported no pain. The report concludes that pain treatment for orchestral musicians ‘would be more effective if depression and/or music performance anxiety were assessed and, where indicated, treated concurrently.’

Read an abstract here.


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  1. Not surprising in a field where perfection is demanded–under the baton of an unsympathetic conductor, the situation worsens. If players are stressed and unhappy, their performance suffers.
    An important issue to be addressed. Thanks to the researchers.

  2. Are there really eight orchestras in Australia?

    • yes, including opera orchs

      • Angela Cockburn says:

        That’s the professional ones. Add municipal orchestras and amateurs and you’ll notch up a few more. Oh, and chamber groups as well.

    • Orchestral musician says:

      There are nine professional orchestras including the Australian Chamber Orchestra, six state orchestras, OV and AOBO. Not many job ops for young musicians, but then I guess that’s more of an issue these days all over the world.

    • you mean fully professional orchestras don’t you – that number doesn’t include all the community orchestras? like Willoughby for instance?

  3. Mark T. Lundholm says:

    The use of Alexander Technique is used by musicians to alleviate some of these problems that occur from overuse, bad habits, and lack of body awareness. There are also body/mind connections at work here. It is fascinating to study how we live and move. Perhaps AT should be offered as part of the player’s contract. What do you think?

  4. David Greenlees says:

    I have played in professional orchestras for 26 years and had countless aches, pains, and sometimes injuries due to repetitive strain on back, shoulders, arms and hands.
    I believe that there are some orchestras that have some kind of physio and sports massage practitioners on call, probably in enlightened Scandinavia, but in the UK and Switzerland, and I’m sure in most other countries this isn’t the case.
    If orchestras offered this service they might actually save money on sick pay.

  5. Alan Penner says:

    Pain? Sounds like they’re doing it wrong.

  6. Interesting study, but what were the controls? Are musicians any worse off than those in any other profession?

  7. Sarah Bullen says:

    Unlikely that 80% of the musicians are doing “it wrong”.

  8. I think it’s difficult to reach a conclusion based on the abstract of the study. The study’s purpose seems to be identifying a relationship between depression/anxiety and pain, they mention it as a ‘hypothesized relationship’, rather than chiefly for the purpose of identifying that orchestral musicians experience pain.

    I found the statement, “Musicians in the fourth cluster denied depression but reported the most severe pain, suggesting a group who somatize their psychological distress”, amusing.

    Mmmhmmm. My back hurts because my mother didn’t love me, not because of that insidious slipped disc.

    All snark aside, is there a link between depression and pain? Eh…probably? Maybe? They share the same neurologic pathways and they seem to impact each other.

    If we’re to believe the results of other (small scale) studies done:

    Musicians experience physical pain.

    My own feelings are: You can Alexander Technique-Physical Therapy-Yoga and ergonomic chair yourself into the next century. If you maintain the same position and repeat the same motions long enough, you’re going to eventually get hurt. That is the way everything works; machines, bodies, the earth. Repetitive anything leads to breakage, erosion, etc. There are ways to reduce the likelihood, manage the symptoms, speed healing, etc. and I’m all for making those resources available, but that is the way having a body goes.

    Creative artists have a higher than average tendency to have some sort of depressive illness. The why of that is up for research and further debate.

    Back to this particular study and further studies of similar nature-

    My questions are: Are people in pain because they’re depressed, or depressed because they’re in pain? My guess is that the answer, if we ever get one, will not be definitive.

    Perhaps the solution is to have a PT, Alexander Tech, and a shrink on staff.

    A full bottle of NSAIDs is handy too.

  9. Yoga teacher Nicole Newman specializes in helping musicians recover from repetitive motion injuries and painful postural issues (and designing programs to make sure they don’t develop in the first place). You can learn more Yoga for the Arts on her web site at It would be great if resources like this were integrated into conservatory curricula, as most of the work-related pain and injury that musicians endure are avoidable.

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