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Health Talk 

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Physical therapist Raj Sohi, clinical director at the GR Group HSO (3630 Coliseum St., 461-5858), helps musicians tune up their bodies. As part of the New Orleans Musicians' Clinic (for appointments, call 412-1366), he treats local musicians for injuries they've sufferered playing their instruments.

Q: Do musicians commonly need physical therapy because of the way they play their instruments?

A: Yes. It is generally difficult for musicians to assess their postural and/or ergonomic mechanics while playing or performing. Taking the time to follow good postural principles, review performance techniques and warm up before practice or performances will certainly help prevent many injuries over time.

Q: What are some of the common injuries or complaints musicians have?

A: Chronic injuries caused by faulty body mechanics include neck pain, back pain, cervical and lumbar radiculitis (inflammation or irritation of a nerve root in the spine), sciatica, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (compression of a nerve to the hand), tendinitis (inflammation of a tendon), bursitis (irritation of lubricating sac that decreases friction between tissues), tenosynovitis (swelling of the sheath that surrounds a tendon), DeQuervain's Syndrome (a problem with tendons that control movement of the thumb), tendinosis (thought to be caused by microtears in the connective tissue in and around the tendon and could lead to tendon rupture), Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (which affects nerves that pass into the arms from the neck), Cubital Tunnel Syndrome (nerve compression behind the elbow) and Trigger Finger/Thumb (which cause the finger or thumb to lock when extended). Most of these injuries are avoidable.

Q: Are musicians more susceptible to injury or damage because of how they play?

A: Yes. Taking breaks to stretch and relax the body as well as pacing practice sessions, recitals or concerts will help avoid painful disabilities.

Q: What are the main causes of their problems?

A: Incorrect posture, nonergonomic technique, excessive force, overuse, stress and insufficient rest contribute to injuries that can cause great pain, disability — and end promising musical careers.

Q: How do you treat them? Do you also advise them about what they can change (how they sit, play drums, etc) to make injuries less likely?

A: The physical therapist is uniquely suited to evaluate each individual problem by conducting a thorough evaluation of posture, body mechanics, playing technique and symptoms. Following the evaluation, detailed therapeutic strategies are developed to address and correct those problems and to help the patient avoid future injuries.

Q: Do some musical instruments cause more problems than others?

A: Every instrument presents unique challenges, and each musician has an individual playing style. For example, a tuba player may experience TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint Disorder, which can cause pain in the jaw and associated muscles or problems using the jaw), while a drummer may suffer from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome . It is important to have a doctor refer the musician to a physical therapist to establish a treatment strategy.

Q: Why did you become involved with the Musicians' Clinic?

A: Post Katrina, many local health care institutions were either closed or unable to provide comprehensive health care services. Despite significant losses of our own, the GR Group HSO was able to re-establish a clinic Uptown in April 2006. We were honored to be contacted by the LSU Musicians' Clinic to assist their patients with physical therapy and rehabilitation services.

Q: What have you enjoyed most about your work with that community?

A: Musicians are the heart and soul of New Orleans, but because of their unpredictable and hectic schedules, they do not make time for their own health and welfare. I enjoy giving back to New Orleans by taking care of our musicians and helping preserve our rich cultural heritage.

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