Hi to all, and welcome to my column The Doctor Is In. I’m Randy Kertz, a bass player, chiropractor and acupuncturist, and author of the book ‘The Bassist’s Guide to Injury Management, Prevention and Better Health’. I’m happy to be part of the Bass Musician Magazine team, and look forward to doing this column and showing you some things and learning some as well.
The idea here is that I am going to talk about some key concepts in bass playing regarding how injuries occur and how to prevent them. Many of these will be based upon material in my book, but I am hoping for feedback from you about what is important to you or not, and from time to time will address questions that seem particularly relevant. This column should not be preachy but should be an organic thing serving the needs of the readers. Additionally, I am always available by email for any questions anyone may have, so feel free to contact me.
On with the show… The most common type of injuries musicians see are what are called repetitive strain injuries, usually referred to and manifesting as tendonitis. The concept is pretty simple; tendons attach muscles to bones, and when repeating an activity over and over again with the muscles, such as plucking, picking, fretting, these muscles become overworked, and start to hurt. Being musicians, and probably remembering the old adage “no pain, no gain” when we thought we were weight lifters, we soldier on, and hope for the best. Sometimes we are okay, but oftentimes the pain gets worse, and can become a severe or crippling injury, affecting not only our playing lives, but also our lives in general. Last time I checked, musicians and health insurance were not frequent bedfellows; so many times the problem is not addressed until it is really bad.
So, let’s start with common sense, and listening to our bodies. When we have pain, we need to find out why. This means stopping and assessing things like technique, and posture, and looking at how we are approaching the instrument rather than trying to conquer it on our terms. Pain will usually win. While we will address these things in particular in the future, I’m trying to get you to learn to listen to and trust your body. I understand that if you are gigging and you start to have pain or cramp up you have little choice but to go on, but usually the problems will make themselves known earlier such as when you are practicing, and that is the time for fine tuning. Are you standing or sitting straight or slouching? Is your music stand too high? Did you warm up at all, such as running some scales or did you dive right into a difficult piece? Is your bass at the right height? Is your strap at the right height? Where is the pain, wrist, arm, shoulders, back? Does it hurt when you bend your wrists so much in plucking, picking or fretting positions? Become hip to your body, like you are to your bass. Listen to the instrument that is you.