Back and Shoulder Stretches for Musicians

Many musicians complain of back and shoulder pain. Regular stretching will ease pain in the shoulder and back, increase flexibility and prevent repetitive strain injury.

Musicians sit or stand in the same position for extended periods of time when practicing. Common complaints include:

  • shooting pain through the shoulder and back
  • dull ache in the shoulder and back
  • stiffness

The degree of pain varies from mild discomfort to debilitating. If unchecked, these chronic conditions can end one's musical career.

Musicians are prone repetitive strain injury such as Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, Bursitis and Tendinitis. Pain and injury in musicians stem from poor posture, faulty technique, repetitive strain and overuse. Musicians can alleviate shoulder and back pain and avoid injuries by incorporating stretching exercises into their regular routine.

How Musicians Should Stretch the Back and Shoulder Muscles

Musicians should stretch prior to practicing or performing. Stretches can be done after a shower or after performing light exercises. Musicians should take breaks frequently to stretch. For example, stretches can be done before moving onto a new technical exercise or piece or after drilling a trouble spot.

Refer to the exercises and photos below:

Shoulder Shrug Stretch

1 Shoulder Shrugs

Purpose: To ease shoulder tension, alleviate shoulder pain and loosen up the shoulder muscles.

Performance:

  • From a standing or sitting position, shrug your shoulders, drawing them up towards your ears.
  • Hold your shoulder muscles taut for five seconds.
  • Relax.
  • Repeat at least two more times.

2 Shoulder Blade Pinch

Purpose: To ease shoulder tension, alleviate shoulder pain and loosen up the shoulder muscles.

Upper Back Stretch

Performance:

  • Interlock your fingers and place them behind your head. Keep your elbows straight out to the side.
  • Pull your shoulder blades together to produce tension in your upper back and shoulder blades.
  • Hold this position for five to ten seconds.
  • Relax.
  • Repeat three to four times.

3 Shoulders & Pectoral Stretch

Purpose: To ease tension in the shoulders and pectoral muscles, alleviate shoulder pain and loosen up the shoulder muscles.

Performance:

  • Interlace your fingers behind your back.
  • Slowly turn your elbows inward and straighten your arms.
  • Hold the stretch for five to 15 seconds.
  • Relax.
  • Repeat at least twice.

4 Prayer Stretch

Purpose: To ease tension and provide back pain relief.

Performance:

  • Kneel on the floor.
  • Reach out with both arms straight in front of you along the floor.
  • Lower your body onto your heels.
  • Hold this position for 20 - 30 seconds.
  • Relax.
  • Repeat at least twice.

5 Downward Facing Dog

Purpose: To ease tension and relieve pain in the back.

Performance:

  • Start on all fours.
  • Drop your head down.
  • Raise your buttocks straight up towards the ceiling while straightening out your arms and legs. Keep your heels on the floor.
  • Allow your spine to sink into your body and lengthen.
  • Hold this stretch for 20 - 30 seconds.
  • Relax.
  • Repeat at least twice.

6 Cat Stretch

Purpose: To ease tension and provide back pain relief.

Performance:

  • Start on all fours.
  • Drop your head down.
  • Raise your spine up between the shoulder blades while maintaining an abdominal hollow.
  • Allow your spine to relax.
  • Hold this stretch for 20 - 30 seconds.
  • Relax.
  • Repeat at least twice.

6 Standing Forward Bend

Purpose: To ease tension and relieve pain in the back.

Performance:

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Slowly bend forward, one vertebra at a time, allowing your head and arms to drop towards the floor.
  • Keep your knees soft..
  • Allow your spine to lengthen.
  • Hold this stretch for 20 - 30 seconds.
  • Relax.
  • Repeat at least twice.

7 Cross Spiral Stretch

Purpose: To ease tension and provide back pain relief.

Performance:

    • Lie on your back, holding your arms outstretched to the side.
    • Bend your right knee and bring it over to your left side towards the floor, allowing it to drop over your left leg.
    • Turn your head to the right.
    • Hold this stretch for 20 - 30 seconds.
    • Relax.
    • Switch sides.
    • Repeat.

For further advice, musicians should speak with a doctor, chiropractor, physical therapist or massage therapist. Alternately, musicians can take a class that involves a high degree of stretching, such as yoga.

An excellent set of stretches is outlined in Madeline Bruser's book The Art of Practicing: A Guide to Making Music from the Heart. You may also find the following articles useful: Oh, My Aching Back!, The Benefits of Yoga and How it Helps Healing, Understanding Musician Injuries.

By dedicating as little as five minutes a day to stretching, musicians can ease shoulder pain, treat back pain and prevent musician injuries.