By Dr Peter Kadile
As a physician and a musician in the local band, The Refills, I will sometimes get asked for medical advice by my fellow musicians. With the Coachella Valley Weekly Music Awards coming up on Sunday, May 18th, I would like to take this opportunity to discuss a few medical issues that are common among musicians.
Tennis Elbow or as I refer to it as “Guitarist’s Elbow” or “Drummer’s Elbow” is inflammation of the lateral epicondyle of the elbow, or the outer or thumb side of the elbow. This condition is caused by overuse or repeated gripping type action of the hand, as in a guitar player gripping the pick too tightly or hand positioning on the neck and frets, a drummer grasping the drum sticks or a musician lifting on the handle of heavy equipment upward with the palm of hand pointed downward. It can even occur in singers who will frequently grip the microphone stand when performing. This condition can progress to a point that even just shaking someone’s hand when you greet them can be extremely painful or even pouring liquid out of a bottle. The condition worsens if the musician continues with the repetitive motion.
If you start to notice this type of elbow pain, over the counter anti- inflammatories, such as ibuprofen or naprosyn, can be helpful in controlling the pain and inflammation. Ice to the area can also help. Resting of the affected arm/elbow will allow the area to heal. Modifying one’s grip can also help, but may be difficult since it may affect the playing of the instrument. When lifting using the handles on heavy equipment, lift with the palm of the hand facing upward. If rest or modification of activity doesn’t seem to help, then regular application of moist heat to the area and performing stretching exercises to the elbow can be beneficial. Wearing a tennis elbow velcro band (which can be purchased at any pharmacy or sporting goods store) can also help in rehabilitating the elbow. If the symptoms continue despite regularly performing self exercises, applying moist heat and wearing the forearm band, then your doctor may need to inject cortisone to the area.
If you are concerned you might have this condition, see your doctor to establish the diagnosis and get information on the self exercises to rehab the elbow.
Laryngitis is inflammation of the voice box and is characterized by a hoarse voice. This condition commonly occurs in singers, especially if they have been misusing or overusing their voice, such as in shouting or singing too loud. If the stage volume is at a high level, you may be straining your voice just to be heard. Singing causes your vocal cords to vibrate at a faster rate than normal. The excessive vibration can damage the vocal cords, causing them to become inflamed.
Voice rest is the mainstay of treatment along with drinking plenty of fluids (water). Inhaling humidified air (such as in a hot steamy shower), taking anti- inflammatories (naprosyn or ibuprofen) can also be helpful.Musicians commonly smoke and drink alcohol, which can affect the vocal cords. Smoking irritates the throat and can cause long term inflammation and even cancer, alcohol also causes laryngitis and can dry out the vocal cords. Smoking and alcohol can also cause acid reflux which can damage the vocal cords.
Lifestyle modifications and proper singing technique are the key factors in preventing this condition.