Shedding some light on musicians and their work-related problems

Shedding some light on musicians and their work-related problems

Many aspects of musicians' profession that render them susceptible to developing physical and psychological work-related disorders that can have important impacts on their playing capacity and careers. 

By Marianne Roos, M.Sc., Pht, Cand. PhD

I think those of us that have some familiarity with musicians are aware that they are very frequently injured. However, those of us who are less familiar with the population may be under the impression that playing an instrument and performing is almost as easy as they look on stage…

Occupational Health Problems of Musicians

The reality is that there are many physical, psychosocial, and cultural aspects of musicians’ profession that render them susceptible to developing physical, psychological, and mainly occupational health related disorders that can have important impacts on their playing capacity and careers.

Musicians are in many ways a unique population (1). They do, however, share similarities with other populations such as dancers, athletes, and even firefighters and healthcare workers. So even if you don’t often work with musicians, this series of blogs and content may be of interest to you.

“Musicians’ health problems: What should band conductors be aware of?” by M°Ana Zão

Let’s start with musculoskeletal (MSK) occupational health problems. Performance-related MSK disorders are, by definition, disorders that impact musicians’ capacity to play their instrument at the level to which they are accustomed (2). Since musicians are constantly judged by colleagues, employers, audiences, and critics/writers for their performance, a decrease in playing capacity can have very negative impacts on their careers, even causing them to stop altogether.

The lifetime prevalence of these disorders is as high as 62-93% in professional instrumental musicians (3) and 85% in orchestra musicians (4) meaning that by far the majority will experience them at some point in their career. At a given point in time in 2012, 50% of all of Australia’s professional orchestra musicians had such an injury (point prevalence)(4) – so let’s remember that many musicians are in pain when they are on the job – they’re not as comfortable as they may look on stage!

Music Performance Stress and Anxiety

Musicians are also known to struggle with psychological and occupational health problems related to their work, such as music performance anxiety and high levels of stress and depression. Research has shown that up to 60% of musicians suffer from music performance anxiety (5) and that they have 3 times more chance of reporting depressive symptoms than the general population (6).

Please note that music performance anxiety goes beyond mere nervousness for concerts, including tachycardia, sweating, tremors, dry mouth, shortness of breath, emotional symptoms (such as panic and stress), cognitive symptoms (such as expecting failure) and can lead to avoiding performances or using alcohol and other substances for escapism, possibly ending careers (5). Statistics on alcohol consumption in musicians can be disconcerting; in a 2016 UK survey, 45% of musician participants reported alcohol problems (7).

So what is it about their work that leads to these problems? It is certainly a complex story that one could write books about, and the exact causation of these problems is unknown, but the next blog will give an overview of factors that make up a large part of the picture. I have categorized them into either physical or mental demands, but this is an over-simplification (forgive me!). In reality, these as well as cultural and work environment factors are intricately linked…

Interested in Musculoskeletal theme? Click HERE to discover our online courses on this subject!

Click here for access to the free webinar on “How to optimize injury prevention and treatment for musicians.”



  1. Ackermann BJ, Kenny DT, O’Brien I, Driscoll TR. Sound Practice-improving occupational health and safety for professional orchestral musicians in Australia. Frontiers in psychology. 2014 Sep 9;5:973. 
  2. Zaza C. Playing-related musculoskeletal disorders in musicians: a systematic review of incidence and prevalence. CMAJ: Canadian Medical Association Journal = Journal De L’association Medicale Canadienne. 1998;158(8):1019–25. 
  3. Kok LM, Huisstede BMA, Voorn VMA, Schoones JW, Nelissen RGHH. The occurrence of musculoskeletal complaints among professional musicians: a systematic review. International Archives Of Occupational And Environmental Health. 2016;89(3):373–96. 
  4. Ackermann B, Driscoll T, Kenny DT. Musculoskeletal pain and injury in professional orchestral musicians in Australia. Medical Problems Of Performing Artists. 2012;27(4):181–7. 
  5. Fernholz I, Mumm JLM, Plag J, Noeres K, Rotter G, Willich SN, et al. Performance anxiety in professional musicians: a systematic review on prevalence, risk factors and clinical treatment effects. Psychological Medicine. 2019 Oct 15;49(14):2287–306. 
  6. Wesseldijk LW, Ullén F, Mosing MA. The effects of playing music on mental health outcomes. Scientific Reports. 2019 Aug 30;9(1):12606–12606. 
  7. Saintilan P. Musicians and Substance Abuse. 2019 Jan 25; 

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