Professional musicians may have high rates of musculoskeletal pain, but few studies have analysed risks by work activities or the psychosocial work environment.
To assess the prevalence and impact of musculoskeletal pain, and its relation to playing conditions, mental health and performance anxiety, in musicians from leading British symphony orchestras.
Musicians from six professional orchestras completed a questionnaire concerning their orchestral duties and physical activities at work; mental health (somatising tendency, mood, demand, support and control at work, performance anxiety); and regional pain in the past four weeks and past 12 months. Prevalence rates were estimated by anatomical site, and associations with risk factors assessed by logistic regression.
Responses were received from 243 musicians (51% of those approached), among whom 210 (86%) reported regional pain in the past 12 months, mainly affecting the neck, low-back, and shoulders. Risks tended to be higher in women, in those with low mood, and especially in those with high somatising scores. Only weak associations were found with psychosocial work stressors and performance anxiety. However, risks differed markedly by instrument category. Relative to string players, the odds of wrist/hand pain were raised 2.9-fold in wind players, but 60% lower in brass players, while the odds of elbow pain were 50% lower among wind and brass players.
Musculoskeletal pain is common in elite professional musicians. A major personal risk factor is somatising tendency, but performance anxiety has less impact. Risks differ substantially by instrument played, offering pointers towards prevention.