Some musicians at risk for injuries

November 28, 2012

They march, blow and jive to energize crowds. But playing a brass instrument can be hard work.

Just ask Stephen O'Connor. A trumpet player since fifth grade, he's been in marching bands, stage pits and orchestras – practicing at least an hour each day.

"I love music, and I love the trumpet, and at this point, it's become like an extension of my body," said O'Connor.

But playing the instrument caused muscles to weaken and scar in O'Connor's lip.

"I couldn't hit the notes. I couldn't hit them consistently," said O'Connor.

Dr. Craig Vander Kolk sees about two brass instrument players every week with lip problems.

"I think every horn player has put his lip, or his embouchure, under stress," said Dr. Vander Kolk.

He says over-use, not warming up and incorrect form are to blame. If the lip muscle is strained, he recommends rest, ice and alternating practice sessions with 20 to 30 minutes of rest. If the muscle scars, surgery is the best option.

"We need to actually cut that scar tissue out and bring the muscle back together," said Dr. Vander Kolk.

He removed O'Connor's scar tissue and sewed the muscle back together. After a successful procedure and months of rehab, O'Connor is back to playing his instrument.

"I wake up, and I've got music going through my head already," said O'Connor.

Dr. Vander Kolk says the worst instrument for lip injuries is the french horn because it causes the most stress and pressure. The trumpet is next, and the trombone is also high on the list.

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