I’ve written several articles about practicing now. As you increase the number of hours spent at your instrument, you increase your risk of injury. The number 1 defense against this is good technique, yet even if you have great technique, you can still find yourself the victim of an overuse injury (the most common injury among musicians!). While I wish this on no one, if this has happened to you, the list below is my go-to recovery guide. Having said that, I also incorporate these recovery tactics into my life on a regular basis to avoid injury in the first place:
Exercising on a regular basis is important to maintain muscle strength; stronger muscles are less likely to succumb to overuse injury. Even if you are feeling the sudden onset of overuse, just switching gears to a different physical activity can help relieve the overuse. And since exercise tells your body to release endorphins, it is a great activity to choose – musicians are athletes, too, and cross-training is effective!
Depending on where you are in your day, taking a hot shower or bath can really help to relax your tense muscles. I am a particular fan of using the shower as a massager on those tense muscles.
Check out this book: https://www.amazon.com/Relaxercise-Easy-New-Health-Fitness/dp/0062509926
These stretches are based on the Feldenkrais method and not only help stretch out your muscles but also help adjust your posture (which almost certainly contributed to your overuse issue in the first place).
Some days I do yoga for my exercise, but the app I use (Down Dog) allows for different types of yoga routines, so if I have already gone on a run or already done a hatha yoga routine or already done some other form of exercise, I may do a “restorative” yoga routine that just focuses more on stretching than strength-building.
Ok, yes, this is the 3rd exercise based tip, but walking is typically lower intensity and gets you out into the fresh air, so this one can also give you a change of perspective benefitting not only your physical but your mental health! And you can take as short or long a walk as you need.
You don’t have to set up an appointment with a masseuse to get the benefits of a massage. I have a percussion massager that I use when my muscles get particularly tense. Some percussion massagers can also incorporate heat, but if yours doesn’t, you can follow up your massage with a heating pad or a cold pack. IMPORTANT: if you still need to play that day, use heat; if you are done playing for the day, use cold. If you use cold and then try to play, you risk injuring yourself further because your muscles will be stiff instead of limber. ALSO IMPORTANT: Always pay attention to how long you use a heating pad or cold pack – there are limits to how long you can use these products.
If you’ve gotten this far and still need relief for a specific muscle group, compression may provide the relief you need. There are a wide variety of compression sleeves for knees, elbows, hands, etc. My sister even found one for her hip.
DISCLAIMER: NOT A DOCTOR. Again, if you’ve gotten this far, by this point, you may need to consider an over-the-counter pain reliever. A non-steroidal anti-inflammatory may be necessary to reduce your inflammation. If you are experiencing pain beyond what an NSAID can relieve, you might try alternating with Tylenol, or you might need to contact a doctor for a muscle relaxer.
9- Pain relief cream
Aside from taking oral medication, there are also topical analgesics like IcyHot or Aspercreme (I prefer Aspercreme because it’s not scented) that can help provide relief.
10- Progressive muscle relaxing
In progressive muscle relaxation, you tense a group of muscles as you breathe in, and you relax them as you breathe out. You can find a more in-depth description here: https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/uz2225
At this point in the game, this is more about giving your mind something else to think about than the pain you’re experiencing, but there are many guided meditations on the internet specifically designed to help those who need pain relief.
If you made it through all 11 tips and are still experiencing pain, you should strongly consider talking to your doctor. It’s most likely time for professional help.