Chronic pain, chronic stress

Earlier on this blog I pondered the difference between acute and chronic stress as part of a discussion of the “fight or flight” instinct. As humans we are set up to respond beautifully to acute stress – the cortisol surge, the heightening of senses. But chronic stress besets us with a litany of both physical and psychological woes – the pandemic and ensuing lockdown and disruption to life are a prime example.

(I couldn’t resist another Pinkerton shot. I’m serious when I say he comes to work with me…)

Like chronic stress, chronic pain wears both the body and the psyche. Sylvain asked in the comments section of my last post for a discussion of injuries among musicians; there are many. If you think of the position a flute player or violinist takes, with one arm twisted over the torso, another arm holding the weight of an instrument, you can begin to imagine the kind of small stress that is constantly asked of the body.

Bass players need to hunch over their instruments to draw the bow over their strings; pianists need to create downward force on the keyboard with the arms in a pronated position. As musicians we’re put in unnatural positions, and the motions are repetitive and incessant.

Most musicians I know are always nursing some sort of pain; tendonitis is a constant affliction, neck pain, elbow inflammation. It’s essentially like being an athlete, it’s just that we use smaller muscles and finer motor movement.

As a conductor my shoulders get tired; I’m try to do a lot of exercises for my upper body – yoga, weight lifting – to keep those muscles strong. And as my work requires that I stand for hours on a podium, I have to be very mindful of how I’m balancing my body and if I’m favoring one leg over another.

Most working musicians I know are always dealing with some sort of pain, and one becomes accustomed to it. There’s the delicate balance of knowing what you can bear and what might become something more serious, of course. There is also the sense that life is not always comfortable, but that it’s possible to find a way to make it work nonetheless.

It’s a kind of practical resilience that stands us in good stead in times of difficulties, and it’s a quality that I’ve witnessed in my colleagues as this pandemic continues. Many of us, especially freelancers/independent contractors have found all of our work dissipate like so much mist, no income in sight, maybe for a year. Yet I see my colleagues finding ways to stay creative, to engage, to adapt and to be open to a future vastly different from our not-so-distant past.

As I reflect back on these 2 1/2 months since the world changed, I’ve been thinking about the incessant stress on our lives, and the need to mitigate it as the world lurches forward into uncertainty. I’m going to continue that thought tomorrow – I’m back on nurse duty with Pink, the best stress reliever I know!

2 thoughts on “Chronic pain, chronic stress

  1. Thank you, Sarah.
    It was interesting as always to read your post. It is always sad to notice those health issues. As I said in an earlier of your blog post, we see the final product when we assist to a symphony show. It is not always written on the forehead of a conductor and/or musician(s) that he, she or they is/are in pain while performing.
    In my ‘parallel universe’ back, neck and shoulder injuries are also among the most common cause of acute and chronic pain for beneficiary attendants, orderlys, lpn, rn and even md.
    Keep up your good nurse duty with Pink. Ask Paul to be on call overnight so you can get some sleeping time. I was just kidding. Who am I to tell you what to do. Don’t forget to rub Pinkerton’s ears.
    n.b.: I have more ideas for you. I’ve written key works on a piece of paper. That’s all folks..for tonight!


  2. Robert says:

    Looking past the seriousness of your life’s musical journey and the affected area of possibility to that of repetitive stress and anxiety disorders concerning various types of health issues which may occur from being a successful orchestral conductor Sarah.
    You’re phrasing of ” favouring one leg over the other ” must be the most cool, and brilliantly put way of describing anyone’s plight to relieving any form of fatigue and stress issues regarding one’s career ☺️
    Congratulations Sarah, on finding a phrase that’s probably the most enlightening and benefitial way of putting things, all things considered, in trying to ease the transition from being comfortable and uncomfortable !
    I think ” favouring one leg over the other ” could possibly help in quite a lot of situations where applied. Like putting your “best foot forward” so to speak !
    You would be forgiven if conducting and conductors were allowed to sit on a specialist stool or some other classical high chair for some orchestral pieces, when you don’t need to move to the ambiance too much.
    As for the weight lifting part of you’re exercise routine. I’m sure glad you have included weight training as part of you’re regime. As my twitter profile name sugest’s, Bob the builder isn’t only a day job sudonym.
    I do Bodybuilding, so I can understand how weight lifting can strengthen not only you’re shoulder muscles, but also help with blood supply and ligament reconstruction.
    But don’t go too heavy, keep things toned and supple, be careful.
    Eat healthily and keep hydrated.
    You already do jogging, great for endurance and getting plenty of oxygen into those lung’s, fresh air if possible !
    You’re health is your wealth, it’s essential to be aware and to look after our wellbeing , keep fit for the future !
    And you’ll be conducting for a great many more years to come, and other things as well 💯
    Stay safe and sound 💗🙏
    And keep putting your best foot forward, whichever one that may be 💝


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s