This past spring, I started to have this nagging pain in the front of my left shoulder. It started small at first. I thought, let’s wait and see if it goes away. It didn’t. In fact it only kept getting worse for several weeks until I finally decided to book a GP appointment to have it checked.
And the result? You’ve got a shoulder injury. We’ll book you for an ultrasound but you should not do the movements that cause you pain for now. Oh, you’re saying one of those movements is playing the flute? Well you will need to take a sick leave then.
FIRST TIME IN 22 YEARS
I hung up stunned. What just happened? I’ve never had to stop playing the flute because of a physical limitation. Not in the past 22 years. And apart from being taken by surprise, my initial reaction was also shame. Doubly so in fact. One because I was a professional musician and I “should know better” than to get injured, shouldn’t I? And two, I was a wellbeing practitioner for god’s sake. I’ve been banging on about performance wellbeing for several years now and here I was injured.
Luckily the word initial is a crucial one here. And I can talk about this now since, fingers crossed, the worst is over. Having had a taste of this experience though, I’d like to think that I can help others avoid the mistakes I made along the way. So here are my four lessons from a shoulder injury.
LESSON NO. 1 – DON’T WAIT
I spent about three weeks wondering whether or not I should go see a doctor about this. The pain wasn’t so bad after all. With hindsight, I wish I didn’t wait that long. Remember, we’re athletes. When there’s something that could prevent us from doing our job, we better not wait.. Besides, what’s the worst that can happen? The doctor will just say it’s no cause for concern. No harm done.
LESSON NO. 2 – PROCESS YOUR EMOTIONS.
I jumped straight into postponing my yoga classes, sorting out sick leave notes and private ultrasounds and ended up completely bypassing my emotions in the process. I was so unaware I did this that it took a coaching course several weeks later for it to dawn on me.
My advice is, sit with it for a little bit. Decide to feel your emotions even if it’s just for a couple of minutes. Whatever comes, let it come. You see, unprocessed emotions have a nasty habit of hijacking your mind without you even realizing it. Don’t make the same mistake I did.
LESSON NO. 3 – GET SPECIALIZED HELP.
You’re probably sick of me saying this over and over again but musicians truly are athletes. And as such, we need specialized help when it comes to injuries. Imagine an olympic sprinter having a hamstring injury (I actually googled common sprinter injuries for this ;) ). Would they just go to any physiotherapist? Hell no. And nor should you. I’m not saying there aren’t excellent practitioners who don’t necessarily specialize in musicians’ health but it helps immensely if the person is aware of the demands of your job.
If you’re in the UK, you’re incredibly lucky to be able to access help from organizations like the British Association for Performing Arts Medicine. It wasn’t until I spoke to them that I felt truly supported in this process. They not only told me exactly what to do but also helped me to apply for funding for my treatment.
LESSON NO. 4 – BE KIND TO YOURSELF.
Please, listen carefully. Having an injury doesn’t make you a bad musician. Once more with feeling. Having an injury doesn’t make you a bad musician. I say that as much to you as I say it to myself.
According to some studies, up to 93% of professional musicians experience pain symptoms or injury. 93%! Just because we don’t talk about it, doesn’t mean it’s not a reality. There’s no reason for us to be ashamed of being injured just as a football or a cricket player wouldn’t be expected to do so for missing a match. They announce that stuff on the radio no problem y’all…
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