Can you get hurt playing the flute?

Learn Flute Podcast SHOW NOTES:

In this episode, you will learn:

  • Whether or not you can get hurt playing the flute
  • Types of injuries from instruments
  • A few personal stories
  • How to avoid getting hurt while playing the flute

Learn Flute Podcast 099

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Can you get hurt playing the flute?

Hey everybody, I’m Rebecca Fuller the expert at Learn Flute Online, your instructor and your friend. Today we’re going to dive into a subject you may never have thought about, and discover why you should indeed take breaks. Let’s gooooooooo.

Wow, what month is it already? Time is flyyyying.  You know, this past few weeks have been busy and so full of bustling fluties here in the members area at Learn Flute Online. Dozens and dozens of members signed up to be part of our annual Spring Fling and recitals. Seriously, it’s so great! I get all choked up  when I think of the combined effort of everyone. 

I know those flutes do not play themselves. I recognize what it has taken to get to the level of achievement I’m seeing from everyone, and it’s just incredible to me. I’m so proud of everyone.

If you’re new to Learn Flute Online, or if you have not yet joined us in the members area, I’ll give you a heads up that we are a pret-ty cool group who are on an awesome journey towards musicianship.  You know that it’s common for people in this world to have thoughts like, “Hey, I’d love to learn to play the flute or the guitar or the piano” or something like that but it is also very common for the thought to just stop there. It’s one thing to think it, but it’s another thing to actually DO it.

So my question for those of you who haven’t yet joined us in the members area – that’s the Gold Level or the Intermediate/Advanced Levels.. What are you waiting for? Let’s get you in and get you going on your own journey. The good news is that I’m in there every day to guide you and show you the ropes, if you will. You’re never alone here. I got your back, and you CAN do it.

Anyway, I wanted to start by prefacing that we have a lot of fun players bopping through the lesson modules here and preparing for the performances in our Open-Mic group as well as their own endeavors as well, and it brings me to a thought that I talk about occasionally during our group classes which is that even though the flute is a musical instrument and not a big heavy piece of scary exercise equipment, we can get hurt playing the flute. Believe it or not.. It’s true.

So, as we work towards our musicianship goals there are a few little details that I don’t want to have go to the wayside because I would be doing a disservice to you as a teacher. (take out the swallow here) 

Once upon a time… 

So, let me tell you a little story of a professional musician I have known for many, many years. She talked to me about this more than once at some combined workshops I taught at with her and it was honestly the first time I had ever even considered the idea that you could get an over-use injury playing an instrument.   

Anyway, she told me that she had been debilitated for months because her wrists hurt so bad. She went to a few different doctors and they finally determined that she had some carpal tunnel syndrome in her wrists and some ripped muscles in her hands and fingers as well… from playing the piano! Can you believe this? I was pretty young at the time and had never even thought of this.

She was in so much pain and spent a lot of money on doctors and treatments during these months. In fact, it took her three years to recover to the point where she could teach and perform the piano again. 

She learned a big heavy lesson about repetitive movement and how two little details could have made all the difference in the world for her. In fact, she wouldn’t have had any problems at all had she known these two things. And, lucky for you I’m going to share them with you today.

Muscle Damage

So number one is that our bodies are designed to function in certain ways, and when we move it repetitively in a slightly off position, then we are at risk of muscle damage. You know we really do forget that our tiny little muscles can rip and tear just as easily if not more so than our large muscles. It’s the same idea as an athlete who can rip their bicep or hamstring lifting too much weight too soon, etc. 

The fibers and muscles in our hands are particularly at risk because it’s where all of our movement is happening so quickly.

So, I like to make sure as a teacher that I’ve kept my students safe from themselves. Yeah, I know how enthusiastic y’all are. I know when you get on a kick you really go for it. Practicing for many hours per day is how some of you are rolling, and this is really great as long as we have everything in line.

So, here’s how it goes and how you can think of it so you don’t end up having any set-backs along your quest here: the muscles in our hands, body and face are best when they are at a very relaxed state. So, using impeccable bio-mechanics is the goal. Now I know that it is slightly impossible to be perfect all the time, but as I said, the goal is to try to learn and to do our best.   

Members here at Learn Flute Online have the nice benefit of me demonstrating and showing these trouble spots often. Let me mention some of them right now here: one would be the lower back, another is the neck, your wrists and palm area, the left hand thumb is something that needs attention as well as the temporomandibular area of the face and jaw.

So, although I won’t be able to demonstrate and describe what to do with each of these here on this podcast, I want you to put them on your radar as you practice and listen for my careful instructions that will help you keep your body feeling good and free of pain.

Take Breaks!

Okay with all of that being said, the next big tip I have for you today as we answer the question of can you get hurt playing the flute is that even though we don’t want to … we need to take breaks.

Like I mentioned before, sometimes time just flies as we practice.. Because we’re on a mission to get something right, or we’re just having so much fun playing everything and enjoying the music- we forget that we need some blood flow to our body parts.

You know that I answer a lot of questions from so many of you good people, and one of them I’ve received a couple of times lately has been that you have a big red mark on your hand and that your thumb feels really kinked all the time.

The good news is that these are easily fixable with taking a little time off from playing the flute. In fact, if you’re feeling an unusual ache or pain, then take a couple of days off before returning. And then when you do, analyze your positioning and posture to be sure you’re doing your part to keep everything bio-mechanically aligned and relaxed.

So, practicing for several hours on any given day isn’t really the issue, it’s not taking any time during those several hours to allow your muscles to relax, reset, and get some regular blood flow that causes problems, miniscule tears, and are expounded with improper position or excess tension.

So, if you have a problem with this, here’s an easy tip you can follow: just set the alarm on your phone or even your kitchen timer to remind you to take a few minutes break every twenty minutes or so. The older you get the more you’ll need these pauses. Your body will thank you and in turn you’ll be able to play longer as you get even stronger and more fluent on your instrument.

Pretty cool!

If you are particularly interested in this subject you might want to look into something called the Alexander Technique for Instrumentalists. I’ve completed several different workshops and attended trainings in this myself over the years.

This is also how come and why I pay so much attention to these details as I teach. Not only do I NOT want my students to get injured and have to take weeks off for recovery, but I also want my students to sound fabulous… playing the flute is one of those instruments that sounds far better when bodily tensions are reduced.

“Try-hards”

Musicians (and particularly flutists) tend to be slightly perfectionist in nature. Examine yourself for a second.. Is this you? This perfectionist mentality, whether accidental or learned, tends to create excess pressures, demands, and more anxiety than necessary. These stresses are factors when we pick up our instrument to play. We want to do it right, so we try really hard.. And it’s these ‘try-hards’ that can get us into trouble sometimes. 

Our instruments are ergonomically designed the best they can be right now in this day and age, but of course none of them are perfect so we do the best we can. I’m happy to help you with this.

Posture is the key

I know I know, you see a lot of players in videos or online somewhere who are all tipped over and they sound fabulous, some of them – so you may assume that you should follow their lead so you also can sound fabulous.. Well, if the truth were told (and many of them do later in life), they tell all and wish they had paid more attention to their bodies.

So, I’m going to give you a quick, brief history of Alexander and how he came up with this so-called “Alexander Technique.” He was a young nineteen year old who was a performer, especially in the theater. He recited literature on stage, but after time when he would perform publicly, his voice – his instrument wouldn’t work. Basically, his voice would suddenly fall to a whisper. Doctors and anyone else he reached out to could not fix him, so he set out on a quest to take care of it himself.

As he tried to figure this out, he watched himself in the mirror and was surprised to find that although speaking should be a natural activity for humans, he seemed to show, visibly, some stresses as he performed. For example, he would pull his head back and kink his neck so that his larynx was slightly compressed. When this happened his ribs also compressed which in turn caused him to tighten his legs, and even clear down to his feet. 

So after a while of these observances, he realized that he had a mental conception about what he should do as he performed in the theater. He assumed he needed to tense up and try really hard to do a good job. This was his pattern, and trying to stop these habits was really, really hard for him. He discovered that in order to unlearn some of these unconscious traits, he had to physically create new touch-triggers to remind himself to relax.

Well anyway, the story ends really well and today we have research and clinicians who help people solve their bio-mechanical issues that are hindering what they are trying to do in their craft and their art.

It’s an interesting subject to some, and you’re welcome to dive into it if you feel so inclined to.

Our human bodies are set up wonderfully, and when we listen to them we can accomplish amazing things!

It’s been really great having you here with me today diving into perhaps a new subject that can give you new thoughts as you continue on your journey towards beautiful playing and musicianship.

Again, I want you to watch for times when I bring up these subjects in the lessons and classes here at Learn Flute Online. Members have big perks in that I’m here for them and my mission is to shower them with knowledge and flute motivation from what I’ve learned over my lifetime in the industry.

So, today we answered the question of can you get hurt playing the flute.. And we determined that yes, yes you can.. But that it is completely avoidable. It’s been great having you here.

See you again soon!

Thank you for Tuning In!

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I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about whether or not you can get hurt playing the flute. 

Have any questions? Comment below and I will help you out.

Rebecca FullerRebecca Fuller
Get Flutie with us! Learn and enjoy every musical minute.

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