"If It Hurts, You're Doing It Wrong" and other Confusing Proclamations
I should know better than to read snarky comments on blogs, but sometimes, I just can't resist and read them anyways. One I read last week was in response to an innocuous interview with an somatic teacher, and the comment was "If someone hurts while playing their instrument, they're doing it wrong." This comment had nothing to do with the teacher, or her thoughts on pain while playing, but was just a knee-jerk reaction on the part of someone. I see this idea in so many different disciplines- music, yoga culture, pilates, athletics, and more, but it is incredibly short-sighted in light of the many different factors that affect injury. If someone has pain while walking, running, and completing everyday activities, do we initially assume they're doing everything "wrong?" Probably not, although there are factors in all of those activities that increase and decrease healthfulness.
What if a professional athlete injures himself (or herself)? Is the assumption that their form in their sport is "wrong?" If a normal person injures themselves running even though they’ve run for years, are they doing it wrong even though it worked before? In regards to music, the action of making music and studying music for twenty plus years is a complex process, involving many areas of fine motor control, skill acquisition, coordination, proprioception, adaptation, and more. To tell someone after studying for many years that they're doing it incorrectly is essentially placing a value judgment on someone's health and abilities in music, sport, or life, despite the many different variables that affect injury and tissue damage.
Here's a truth: There are certain aspects of our technique, setup, practice habits, and day to day self-care that can affect our long term health, mobility, and endurance. All that means is that pain is MULTIFACTORIAL. It’s a combination of biological factors, emotional factors, stress, environment, and more. If someone’s neck hurts, I don’t know if “they’re doing it wrong” with the skills I have as a movement teacher. I don’t know if there’s tissue damage or if something is not “on.” Sometimes good alignment helps pain, sometimes it doesn’t.
Here's another: If someone is injured, it's not necessarily their "fault" or because their setup is dubious. That's not to say that we can't all expand our proprioception, refine our technique, or learn new ways of working around tension and compensation patterns, but that there are also other factors at play in injury management.
Biomechanist Katy Bowman talks about frequency, duration, intensity, and other variables that affect the loads placed on a body. In terms of music study, factors might be
-size of instrument relative to the person
-frequency of rehearsals/personal practice compared to frequency of breaks
-duration of rehearsals/personal practice
-intensity level of rehearsal/personal practice
-height of chair/stand
-difficulty level of music
-an individual's other non-mudivsl activities (computer, driving, lifting, etc.)
-an individual's self-care practices (massage, strengthening, etc.)
-an individual's tissue elasticity, strength, hypermobility, arthritis, etc.
-an individual's age and gender
-an individual's relationship to pain
And so forth.
For a movement client, that might be similar
-volume of training
-adaptation to training weight or intensity
-fatigue from work or life
-hormonal or internal challenges
-nervous system adaptability
Some of these factors include things that we can control as musicians and movement teachers, but many of these are beyond our control. As a movement teacher, I feel like I have to remind clients that if something is hard, it doesn’t mean they’re doing it wrong, and if something hurts, it may be something to pay attention to, but not necessarily correlate with tissue damage. I’m also not a clinician, have no access to imaging, and have no idea if they’re pulling a muscle, putting something “out of place” or why things are hard sometimes. If someone is experiencing pain or difficulty, we can't assume it's their fault or that they are fundamentally doing things wrong- there's no one "right way" for everyone.