Performing artists must protect their bodies while advancing their art
Whether amateur or professional, performing artists have unique health needs based on their particular art form. Musicians, singers, dancers, actors, and other performers should take precautions to maintain good health so they can do their best on stage.
It’s easy to see how an athletic dancer might fall and suffer a sprained ankle or broken wrist. However, every performing artist is at risk for injury, from a singer who strains vocal chords to a violinist who risks carpal tunnel syndrome.
Performers face two basic types of injuries. Acute injuries result from a traumatic event, while overuse injuries are caused by repetitive actions that create small amounts of trauma over time. However, they can take steps to protect against both types of injuries:
- Create a reasonable practice and performance schedule that is in line with ability level and conditioning. Just as an aspiring runner takes weeks or months to build to a five-kilometer race, a performing artist should gradually build intensity and duration to the amount required during a performance.
- Seek medical attention before minor discomfort turns into an injury that requires weeks or months of treatment and downtime.
- When an injury does occur, work with medical professionals to return gradually to previous performance levels. Discuss any pain or discomfort to understand what is expected and what is a signal to cut back.
Musicians have the greatest risk of noise-induced hearing loss. Even audience members can suffer temporary hearing loss after attending one high-decibel rock concert, so it’s no surprise that rock musicians face permanent damage over time. Among others at high risk are marching band drummers and orchestral brass players.
Any performing artist who is subjected to noise that is either loud or lengthy should consider measures to protect against hearing loss, including:
- Have hearing checked each year by a medical professional, regardless of whether damage is suspected.
- Consider custom-fitted musician’s earplugs, which reduce decibel levels while maintaining sound quality.
- When possible, rehearse at a softer sound level than needed for performances.
- Protect the ears from recreational noise caused by sources such as snowmobiles, chainsaws, and even loud televisions so music-induced hearing loss is not worsened.
Performing artists should follow the same guidelines for good health that are recommended for most adults, with a few special cautions for particular types of performers:
- Eat a diet that is balanced across the major food groups and provides enough calories to replenish the energy expended during practice and performance. Dancers and marching band members clearly expend large amounts of energy, but even musicians who sit during a performance consume more oxygen and have increased heart rates.
- Drink enough water to stay hydrated, both during performances and throughout the day. Pay attention to thirst signals, which vary depending on ambient temperatures and amount of movement. For most healthy, well-hydrated adults, urine should be a pale straw or transparent yellow color.
- Get enough sleep each night to recover from rehearsals and performances and to prepare the body for the next day’s exertion. Adults should sleep at least seven hours a night, while teenagers need eight to 10 hours. Try to maintain regular sleep habits regardless of whether performances are during the day or at night.
- Choose exercise that complements performances and doesn’t contribute to the risk of overuse injuries. Aerobic exercise improves heart and lung capacity and stamina, while stretching advances range of motion. Strength training builds core abdominal muscles important for any performing artist, as well as particular muscles needed for a dancer to leap higher or a flute player to hold the instrument properly for long periods.
Every performing artist should establish a good relationship with an appropriate medical professional long before injuries occur. A physician who is aware of the passion for performing can work with the artist to develop personalized strategies for avoiding injury. This type of proactive health care is the best path to a long and healthy life as a performer.
Kiyomi Goto, DO, is a family medicine physician with Penn State Health Medical Group Colonnade at 32 Colonnade Way in State College. Call (814) 272-4445 for more.