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Keywords:

  • entrapment neuropathy;
  • focal dystonia;
  • instrumental musicians;
  • occupational neuromuscular disorders;
  • regional muscle pain syndromes

Abstract

Over the past 20 years, there has been increasing interest in the medical problems of performing artists. In this review, the major playing-related disorders seen in instrumental musicians are discussed. Among the 1353 instrumentalists personally evaluated, the major diagnoses included musculoskeletal disorders in 64%, peripheral nerve problems in 20%, and focal dystonia in 8%. Of these instrumentalists, 60% were women, although men were the majority in the group with focal dystonia. The average age at the time of evaluation was 37 years for men and 30 years for women. Among musculoskeletal disorders, regional muscle pain syndromes, particularly of the upper limb, upper trunk, and neck, were most common. Specific entities such as tendinitis and ligament sprain were less common. Frequent peripheral nerve disorders included thoracic outlet syndrome, ulnar neuropathy at the elbow, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Each instrument group showed a characteristic distribution of symptoms and signs that appeared to be directly related to the static and dynamic stresses inherent in the playing of the instrument. Electrodiagnostic studies are an important part of the evaluation of these disorders, particularly nerve entrapment syndromes. With carefully designed treatment, the majority of instrumental musicians can return to full and pain-free playing. Nerve entrapment syndromes have the highest treatment success rate, followed by musculoskeletal pain syndromes. Despite some recent innovative approaches, focal dystonia remains largely resistant to therapy. Muscle Nerve 27: 549–561, 2003