Vail Daily health column: Are musicians athletes? |

Vail Daily health column: Are musicians athletes?

Jan Idzikowski
Special to the Daily
Jan Idzikowski
Special to the Daily |

When you attend a Bravo! Vail performance this summer to listen to the sublime works of Mozart or Copland and look at the musicians arrayed before you, images of Lindsey Vonn or Usain Bolt or local Mike Kloser are unlikely to pop into your mind.

But maybe they should. Consider this: both athletes and musicians share similar physical and mental demands in their pursuit and mastery of optimum performance. They similarly acquire skills through countless hours of practice, performing feats of great dexterity, strength and stamina, while enduring the psychological pressures and constraints of travel and the organizational “culture” of the professional team or orchestra.

And like athletes, musicians are prone to numerous neurologic and musculo-skeletal conditions. Studies show that more than 75 percent of performing musicians of all levels and all ages will suffer a performance related medical disorder (PRMD) in a 12-month span, severe enough to significantly affect the quality of their performance or stop them from playing altogether. These are primarily over-use conditions of the upper extremities and spine.

Occupational noise-induced hearing loss is an additional concern for musicians who are exposed to elevated sound intensity. Contemporary and classical musicians are equally at risk.

Still dubious? Here are a few comparisons. Professional baseball pitchers at most throw on average 146 pitches per game. In a 2-minute section of the three-hour Handel’s “Messiah” violinist makes 740 strokes. Another passage demands the violinist bow 38 notes in 3 seconds. In the 14-minute Ravel’s “Bolero,” the snare drum plays 5,144 strokes. Add the importance of getting the timing and placement of every note correct. A baseball professional with a .300 batting average is an all-star. Similar averages for a musician would be disastrous.

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Treatment of these PRMDs, like that of athletic injury, must be multifaceted, addressing both the physical and psychological aspects of high-level performers, employing the expertise of physicians, physical and occupational therapists, athletic trainers and psychologists.


The last 25 to 30 years have seen a growing recognition and awareness that musicians and athletes share many physical demands, personality traits and injuries. And there is a corresponding growth in research and collaboration of university and professional music groups with traditionally non-musical associations such as the American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons and Sports Medicine. Together they are creating programs similar to those that abound internationally, geared to the development of athletes from crib to grave, incorporating multiple disciplines of research, education, coaching, training, nutrition, psychology, treatment of injuries. The premier group in the U.S. is the Performing Arts Medicine Association, which is based in Colorado.

The Performing Arts Medicine Association and its members recognize that success in music, like in athletics, depends not only on acquisition of necessary technical skills but also methods for preparing for and coping with the physical and mental strains associated with performance; to provide similar opportunities and constraints on developing performers as the NCAA does to athletes including pre-participation exams, base-line evaluations, hearing evaluation, nutrition, strengthening and flexibility programs.

This begins at the community level. Local school music programs, private music studios and community performing arts organizations are all potential influences in a child’s life for developing and sustaining a performance career.

I am proud to be a member of Performing Arts Medicine Association, and with the encouragement of the physicians at Vail-Summit Orthopaedics and the help of local therapists, I have dedicated a part of my practice to treating musculo-skeletal problems in musicians. For the past few years, I have had the distinct privilege of helping the medical staff of The Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic during Bravo! Vail.

So, when you do see a visiting orchestra playing a masterpiece that has transcended time, look a little closer and you will see the fine, graceful lines of a Lindsey Vonn, the shear strength and velocity of an Usain Bolt and the incredible endurance of a Mike Kloser. And you will see the passion for perfection of any athlete.

Jan Idzikowski is a physician assistant with Vail-Summit Orthopaedics. He is a Fellow in the American Academy of Physician Assistants and a member of the American Society for Surgery of the Hand and the Performing Artists Medical Association. He has over 30 years experience in orthopedics, sports medicine, hand surgery and musculo-skeletal disorders in performing artists. For more information, visit

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