Taking care of your body is one of the most important things you can do as a musician. Studies show that up to 80% of music students and professional musicians have suffered from a playing-related injury. It’s important to address any pain you experience while practicing or performing in order to prevent it from becoming a serious injury. Here are five ways to treat sore muscles from cello playing, as well as help prevent future injuries.
1. Stretching - Stretching can help treat sore muscles, as well as prevent muscles from getting sore in the first place. For cellists, areas of potential discomfort and injuries include the hands, wrists, forearms, shoulders, neck, and back. Try these stretches before and/or after a practice session to release tension in these areas. However, you should consult a physical therapist if stretching triggers more pain.
Hands and forearms: Extend your arm in front of you with your palm facing toward the ground. Bend your wrist down (so your fingers are pointing toward the ground) while using the other hand to gently push the hand farther until you feel a stretch in the hand and forearm. Make a fist to deepen the stretch. Next, bend the wrist up (so your fingers are pointing toward the ceiling) while using the other hand to gently push your palm toward you. Repeat on the other side.
Wrists: Bend your elbows at a 90-degree angle so your hands are in front of you. Make a fist and circle your wrists.
Shoulders: Raise your shoulders toward your ears and release them back down. Next, gently roll your shoulders forward and backward.
Shoulder girdle: Place your forearm against a doorway with your elbow at a 90-degree angle. Using the doorway to resist, slowly lean forward until you feel a stretch in your shoulder. Repeat on the other side.
Shoulder blades: Put both hands behind your back and lace your fingers together. Squeeze your shoulder blades together while lifting up your arms. Hold for a few breaths and release back down.
Neck: Make sure you are sitting upright with good posture for all neck stretches. Roll your head to the left to stretch the right side of your neck and vice versa. Stretch the back of your neck by looking down towards the ground and using your hand to gently pull your head down. Lastly, put your index and middle fingers on your chin and gently push your chin toward your chest until you feel a stretch from your neck to the base of your skull.
Back: Sit upright with your arms crossed over your chest. Rotate to one side until you feel a stretch in your back. Repeat on the other side.
Cat-cow pose: Cat-cow pose brings flexibility to the spine. Start on your hands and knees. Round your spine toward the ceiling and release your head toward the floor. Next, slowly lift your sit bones and chest toward the ceiling, allowing your belly to sink into the floor and your eyes to look straight forward. Release and repeat.
Child’s pose: I like to end in a gentle resting pose, such as child’s pose, to calm my mind before practicing. Start on your hands and knees and slowly lower your hips toward your heels. Walk your hands forward and rest your head on the floor. Release the pose by gently using your hands to walk your torso upright to sit back on your heels.
2. Self-massage - Massage therapy can help the body de-stress and provide relief from pain caused by muscle tension. Getting a massage from a professional massage therapist is beneficial, but also costly. It can be just as beneficial, and much more convenient, to use self-massage techniques at home. One of the most common places we hold tension is the neck and shoulders. The scalene muscles in particular are important to be mindful of because tension in this area can cause headaches, pain in the arms, shoulders, chest, or back. To massage the scalene muscles, place your fingertips above the collarbone and press inward. Continue massaging up along your trapezius muscle on top of your shoulder and the front of your neck along the outsides of the V-shaped muscles near the throat. The suboccipital muscles on the back of the neck are another great place to massage, especially if you’re prone to tension headaches. Reach underneath the back of your skull and massage from ear to ear. Another way to massage this area is by lying down to rest the muscle group on a tennis ball and gently moving your head back and forth. Continue massaging down the back of the neck and the top of the shoulders. This area often holds a lot of tension from practicing and other activities of daily life. Hook the fingers of your left hand over your left shoulder. Squeeze the muscle and slowly rake your fingers over the top of the trapezius toward the collarbone. Repeat with the right hand on the right shoulder. Next, move down to the shoulder blades. Start by reaching behind your back to find the outer edges of the triangular shaped infraspinatus muscle, which is located on the back of the shoulder blade. Use your fingertips or a tennis ball to massage the area. When you have finished around the shoulder blades, move to other sore areas of the back. If you’re having a hard time reaching these areas on your own, I recommend trying a massager, such as this Zyllion Massage Pillow with Heat, to help apply pressure to the muscle knots that are out of reach. You may also have sore areas on the chest, particularly the pectoralis major muscle, which is involved in arm movement. The muscle is easy to find my placing your fingertips directly underneath your collarbone. Use your fingertips, thumb, or knuckles to massage the area. The last part of the body that is particularly important for cellists is the upper extremity. Massaging the arms and hands can be a great way to relieve tension after a long day of practicing. Start by holding out the left hand and wrapping the right fingers around the back. Massage the palm of the hand by making little circles with the thumb. Apply firm pressure to help you find sore, tight spots. Next, pinch the front and sides of the fingers from the base to the tip. Then turn over the hand to massage the webbed area between your thumb and index finger. Repeat with the right hand. Continue to massage up the forearm. Unlike muscle knots in the back or shoulders, muscle tightness in the arms often goes unnoticed. You can release tension by massaging with your fingertips or rolling a tennis ball up and down the arm.
4. Essential oils - Essential oils can be used topically (applied to the skin) to sooth muscle aches and headaches. I recommend Saje Peppermint Halo, which comes in a roller bottle and can be easily applied to the neck and shoulders. You can also make your own essential oil blend by mixing together your favorite essential oils, such as peppermint, eucalyptus, tea tree, lavender, or rosemary. Then, add a few drops of your essential oil mixture to a 5 ml roller bottle. Next, fill the rest of the bottle with a carrier oil, such as jojoba oil or coconut oil. Lastly, put the lid on and roll the bottle between your hands to mix.
5. Rest - Taking a day off from practicing may feel a huge offense, but it’s important to let the body rest. Over-practicing and playing through pain can cause a repetitive strain injury, such as tendonitis or carpal tunnel syndrome. If your body is telling you to take a break, listen to it.