Musicians' Health Collective

Musicians' Health Collective: Supporting the health of musicians

I'm All About that Base (Standing Better, I mean)

Here I am with both legs turned out.  Notice how my spine is asymmetrically slumped and collapsing back? My pelvis is also tucked, but that is less visible.

Here I am with both legs turned out.  Notice how my spine is asymmetrically slumped and collapsing back? My pelvis is also tucked, but that is less visible.

So I've been in the process of revising my writings from last year about standing posture and alignment for musicians, especially in regards to turn out while standing.  I think I wrote 2 or 3 posts last year about it, but here are some things to add (or if you've never thought about it, welcome!).

Most of us violinists/violists were taught to turn out our feet (hopefully our hips) when we started our instrument.  Some teachers suggest turning out the left foot more than the right, which is a problem in itself, but others recommend turning out both feet.  In small doses, external turn-out is not the worst thing, but as a way of standing for 20 years-it's not great.  Here's why.

I know, my pants are terrific.  But seriously, here's one foot forward and turned out.  See how the left pelvic bone is higher than the right?  How can I stack my spine well on top of that?

I know, my pants are terrific.  But seriously, here's one foot forward and turned out.  See how the left pelvic bone is higher than the right?  How can I stack my spine well on top of that?

1. If you turn out one leg more than the other, your external rotators on that leg will work more than the opposite side, which can create asymmetry between the muscles of the hips, as well as create issues down the line with the piriformis and deep rotators.  This also creates an asymmetrical pelvis in the sense that one hip lifts higher than the other.

2.  If you turn out one leg more than the other while playing, you may find that the habit extends to walking, standing, and running without your instrument.  This is not good for the wear and tear of your bones and soft tissues, especially in response to gait and load.

3.  If you turn out both legs, there's a high chance that you tuck the pelvis under in standing and sitting.  That can create big issues in pelvis floor muscle issues (hello incontinence!), and as well as misaligned viscera (uterus, intestines...you know, no biggie).  Misaligned pelvis also leads to a misaligned spine, which can transfer to head, neck, and shoulders. 

Image from Happy Tail, Sad Tail.  Notice the rounding of the pelvis and how the sacrum is contacting the ground in sitting?  The two on the left are a tucked pelvis.

Image from Happy Tail, Sad Tail.  Notice the rounding of the pelvis and how the sacrum is contacting the ground in sitting?  The two on the left are a tucked pelvis.

4.  Your tissues, through a process of mechanotransduction, respond to the loads placed upon them.  That means your body is adapting to how you stand or sit, whether you want to or not.  Even if you or a student is not currently in pain, you may be loading the joints and tissues in a way you don't want to if you keep turning out.

5.  There are legitimate medical issues associated with turnout in standing, sitting, and walking.  In the "scholarly" article I'm editing, there's lots of footnotes, but let's keep it short: piriformis syndrome, sciatica, osteoarthritis of the knee, bunions, pelvic floor disorder, psoas dysfunction, and back pain, for starters.  (If you want to read the scholarly article, it'll be in the American Viola Society journal at some point.)  I'm not just making this stuff up. 

So I care about how your feet are because that's the foundation of standing.  Not just standing for musical purposes, but standing at the grocery store, post office, yoga class...you catch my drift.  I can talk about this endlessly, but to make change, you can read the 5 or 6 articles I wrote last about this, or just bring your feet to parallel for starters.   Notice how the image here has feet in parallel, knees stacked over the ankles, spine over hips, and so on.  Foundational good standing starts in the feet and legs, ok?

Awesome alignment image from Christine Altman of Vital Gaitway.  (Brilliant pun, right?)

Awesome alignment image from Christine Altman of Vital Gaitway.  (Brilliant pun, right?)