As we all know, playing the drums is a very physical activity. The shear forces and repetitive motions that occur with drumming can result in a number of maladies and physical injuries to the upper extremities, lower extremities and spine. Most of the injuries that occur due to drumming can be prevented or avoided with proper posture, technique, keeping our muscles and joints flexible and strong, by practicing proper warm-up and cool-down and by maintaining a relatively ergonomic posture. However, they’re are other factors that might affect our health without us realizing there adverse affects, particularly those associated with vibration.
Continuous exposure to vibration has been shown to cause a variety of health problems such as back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and vascular disorders.
Vibration exposure can be classified into whole-body vibration exposure or hand and arm vibration exposure. The various types of vibration can have different sources, affect different areas of the body, and produce very different symptoms.
Exposure to hand and arm vibration is limited to the hands and arms and was originally described in workers that used power hand tools such as jackhammers. I have noticed with greater frequency in my medical practice drummers being evaluated with signs of hand and arm vibration exposure. This I feel is a direct result of the continuous repetitive motion of the hand and wrist involved in the act of drumming in addition to the constant vibration that is transferred from the drum stick to the hand.
Whole-body vibration occurs with vibration transmitted to the entire body through the seat or from the feet, or a combination of the two. This potentially can occur in musicians through standing on vibrating floors or sitting on a vibrating seat.
The health effects of vibration exposure in drummers can result from extended periods of contact between a drummer and the vibrating surface they are exposed too. Drummers particularly are at risk since they can be exposed to vibration through multiple body parts such as the hands-stick-drum head, feet-pedals-base drum head and or hi hat or from the buttocks-seat-floor interfaces.
Drummers can develop symptoms including back pain, diminished sensation and dexterity in the hands or feet, decreased grip strength, vascular injury resulting in finger blanching or “white fingers”, tendonitis’ or a variety of nerve entrapment neuropathies such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
Whole-body vibration levels can often be reduced by using vibration isolation or by utilizing suspension systems between the drummer and the vibrating source such as using a cushioned drum throne.
Hand and arm vibration may be more difficult to control. Vibration levels depend on numerous properties including size and weight of the drumstick, hand grip, handle location on the stick, and drum head tension or cymbal density. Primary prevention through eliminating excessive vibration and shock can be accomplished potentially through better ergonomic drumstick design or by cushioning of the hands by wearing gloves or wrapping sticks with a vibration absorbing material. Drumsticks have also evolved over the last few years with manufacturerers experimenting with different stick shapes, materials as well as dipped or coating sticks for better grip. A number of stick manufacturers have now introduced anti vibration sticks, which they claim will reduce vibration to the hands.
Next months article will take a closer look at these anti vibration sticks and the data that supports their efficacy as well as how we can recognize the affects of vibration exposure and prevent further injury due to vibration.
Dr. Luga Podesta is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, practicing orthopedic sports medicine and rehabilitative medicine in Thousand Oaks, California, specializing in the non-surgical treatment of the upper extremities, knee, and spine. He is a sports medicine consultant and team physician for Major League Baseball’s Los Angeles Angels and serves as head team physician for the Los Angeles Avengers of the Arena Football League, Los Angeles Riptide of Major League Lacrosse and is a drummer. Dr. Podesta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org