Musicians' Health Collective

Musicians' Health Collective: Supporting the health of musicians (and normal people)

Filtering by Tag: physical therapy

A Flutist with a passion for Physical therapy: Alexis Del Palazzo

Alexis del Palazzo is a flutist turned DPT student, marathoner, and  "Musician with a passion for physical therapy." Naturally, I thought she'd be a great fit for our this community of readers and bodynerds, and I'm happy to have her contributions here!

Kayleigh: What is your background in music and performance?

Alexis: I began playing the flute in 6th grade band when I was 11 years old. Exhibiting innate musical talent, I sang all the time but the only real music education opportunity available to me in my rural school was band. My older brother had been in band, and I was so excited to join when I was old enough. 

In 9th grade, I decided I wanted to take music seriously and pursue a career. I started taking private lessons, and did everything I could to improve as a musician. A series of personal choices landed me in Oklahoma and I attended the University of Oklahoma where I studied with Valerie Watts, and I received a Bachelor of Music Performance degree in 2007.  At that time, I was burned out and I needed a day job so I took a break for about a year and a half. I built a small studio but I wasn’t performing during that time. In 2009, I rediscovered my passion and for a period of about 2 years, I focused on building my career and getting into a MM program.  That pursuit actually led me to physical therapy...

K: Tell us a bit about you got interested in physical therapy.

A: I never knew any physical therapists growing up, and my impression was that most of them were former athletes. A DMA student at OU who attended the school while I was an undergraduate had a previous background in physical therapy but that was the extent of my exposure to the field.  As I worked towards a MM program, one of my mentors and teachers during that time reawakened my interest in the body and movement. I reacquainted myself with my copy of Lea Pearson’s What Every Flutist Needs to Know about the Body and I attended the 2011 Andover Educator conference in New Jersey. At the conference, I met an Andover Educator who was also a hand therapist. During this time, I was having problems with my right arm. I was battling severe performance anxiety with huge adrenaline rushes that would make it difficult for me to play. In response, I would grip the flute incredibly hard and post-performance, I would have pain in my right forearm for hours afterwards. In spite of being prepared, my audition for grad school didn’t go very well - I was not only trying to play through extreme performance anxiety, but I was also playing through pain in my arm. The inflammation and pain was becoming more persistent.

I had a similar problem as an undergraduate but the doctor only prescribed me a hefty dose of ibuprofen and told me to rest. That advice was totally useless to me as a musician, and I was hesitant to see another medical professional. Meeting and talking with this person at the conference helped me decide to see a doctor again and ask for a referral to physical therapy. Because I was wary of being treated by a PT unfamiliar with the demands of being a musician, I first drove from Central Pennsylvania to the D.C. area for an evaluation with a physical therapist there (also a musician). She shared my evaluation results with my local PT, and we got to work. As I watched the clinic staff work with other patients during my treatment, my interest level increased and I began researching everything I could about physical therapy and what was involved with becoming a PT.

I was hooked. It took a month from the AE conference to receiving my own PT treatment to make a decision that this was what I wanted to do. In addition to educating musicians about moving better, I also wanted to be able to treat them as a medical professional.

K: Amazing!  How has your understanding of the body changed in your studies?  How has your own relationship with your body evolved?

Alexis' book,  The Practice Matrix.   Definitely worth checking out!

Alexis' book, The Practice Matrix.  Definitely worth checking out!

A: Life never happens the way you want it to. It took 2 years for me to arrive at a place where I was able to begin the huge list of pre-requisite courses needed to even apply to a program. In those 2 years, I became an Andover Educator trainee to train to teach the course What Every Musician Needs to Know about the Body™. I revamped my practice routine, and incorporated all the bodywork lessons and time management techniques I was learning during this time. Via Body Mapping and the Alexander Technique, I discovered what habits were hurting my playing and through intensive, patient work, I began making changes to my body map and I made huge strides in my playing. I even wrote a book to help other musicians incorporate the same kinds of changes into their practice routines.

Prior to starting work with Body Mapping and the Alexander Technique, my mind and body weren’t very well connected. As an introvert, I spend a lot of time in my mind and my thoughts tended to control me. I believed that I had no control over how I moved. The musculoskeletal system was also a huge mystery to me as well, and I had many mismappings to address. I began practicing mindfulness, and I learned that I did have a choice. I could choose to simply notice my thoughts but let them go. I could choose to stop a movement and replace in its stead a healthier, more efficient movement. And learning this with my flute helped me become a better human being, a better musician, and a better teacher.

In retrospect, I am so happy to have had that 2 year period to spend so much time on somatic bodywork. It helped me learn about my own body and help me develop my own self-awareness. These are all skills I can transfer into my own practice as a future physical therapist.

K: What's one thing you wish musicians knew about health, wellness, and body!

A: I wish that musicians would learn about health and wellness prior to being injured! I didn’t learn about the resources available to musicians until I was injured, and I regret not learning more sooner. Knowledge is power.

Learning the structures of the body and how it works, and learning how to keep your body healthy will prolong your musical life. Make time to learn now, and you will avoid having to take time off later for pain or injury. Unfortunately, because these topics are only slowly becoming integrated into our music education system, most musicians don’t recognize the need for this kind of information.

We have a long path ahead of us but it is encouraging to see increasing numbers of musicians become involved with somatics, medicine, and other modalities to improve the quality of musicians’ lives everywhere.

K: How do you plan on combining music and PT in your life?

A: This question is a work in progress. In addition to orthopedic physical therapy which is the most relevant type of PT for musicians, I am also nurturing a strong interest in neurologic PT and would like to possibly work with patients with traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord injuries. Ideally, I would like to be able to spend my days coaching and treating musicians, but also be engaged in patient care across all demographics. Physical therapy fits my wide range of interests from music, movement, fitness, education, and helping people and I want to cast my net wide. As I progress through school, this evolution will become more clear. I wish that I had discovered this path sooner, but I wouldn’t be the same caliber of musician I am, and I certainly wouldn’t have the understanding I do of musicians and the unique health challenges they face.

K: How can people find you on the internet or contact you?

A: I live in Central Pennsylvania with my husband, 3 dogs, and 5 cats. As of May 2015, I am a first year Doctor of Physical Therapy student at Neumann University. My current homes on the net are my Facebook page, twitter @sensibleflutist, and on my tumblr where I’m blogging about my DPT journey

From Violinist to Physical Therapist: Talking With Arlyn Thobaben, D.P.T.

Arlyn Thobaben is a professional musician turned physical therapist working in the San Antonio area.  We have a number of mutual acquaintances from her time at Community Musicworks in Rhode Island, and as a body nerd, I truly appreciate the amount of work and dedication needed to transition from performing artist to healthcare professional. 

Kayleigh: What is your background in music and performance?

Image by Marc Arevalo.

Image by Marc Arevalo.

Arlyn: I have been involved in music as long as I can remember. My two older sisters played the violin (and later, my younger sister) so it was inevitable that I would too!  In high school, I took as many music classes as possible! I was in Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra, Show Choir and Cantorum, and even played the lead role in my high school musical. I began as a Music Education major at Baldwin Wallace University Conservatory of Music, but soon shifted my focus to Violin Performance with Dr. Julian Ross. I have always wanted to be a teacher, and my goal was to be the BEST teacher I could be! 

I completed my graduate studies at the Longy School of Music, where I studied violin and viola with Laura Bossert. Laura is one of the most incredible, life-changing teachers I have ever worked with. I believe that she planted the seed for my curiosity and fascination of the human body and how people learn to learn about the human body. She helped me transform my left hand technique to function with less pain and energy in a totally unorthodox, but truly effective way!  Upon graduating from Longy, I started my musical career as a Fellow with Community MusicWorks. My work with CMW combined my interests in teaching, performance, and community involvement and was the perfect environment for me to cultivate my ultimate professional interests (see below).

K: How did you first get interested in physical therapy?  Did that interest come from being injured?

Arlyn at Community Musicworks, circa 2008/2009.

Arlyn at Community Musicworks, circa 2008/2009.

A: My first experience with physical therapy came through my own injury that hindered my ability to function as a musician. I woke up one morning and couldn’t move my neck. My left arm was tingling! I couldn’t teach or play. Luckily, one of my colleagues at CMW suggested that I call her physical therapist’s office. In Rhode Island, where clients have direct access to physical therapy (without the need for physician referral), I was scheduled and seen that same day. My physical therapists worked with me for a few months, until I was back to 100%. I learned so much about myself, and was touched by what I saw around me in that outpatient clinic. I witnessed people struggling with pain and  rehabilitating from major surgeries, working through to reach their personal goals and get back to their lives with the help of a mentor who knew so much about the human body and how it moves. Soon after, I volunteered at the University of Rhode Island school of physical therapy and had my first exposure to a Parkinson’s exercise group. I watched a professor/therapist work with a woman in the later stages of Multiple Sclerosis, where the focus of problem solving around her functional activities transcended her grim diagnosis. After witnessing that particular interaction, I knew for sure that I wanted to use my talent and the strengths I developed as a musician to become a different kind of teacher—a physical therapist.

K: How has your understanding of the body changed in your studies?  How has your own relationship with your body evolved?

A: I immediately became more reverent and awestruck by the human body through my work in cadaver lab (first semester of PT school, when the going gets tough and you have to learn how to use a scalpel and bone saw with ease). In working to help improve real problems with live bodies (clients), it helps to remind myself of that respect that I developed that first semester.  I remember how everything works together and try to maintain a positive outlook, no matter how difficult the case. In other words, I think, “how is this spine, as is, trying to help my client get through their day? How can I create a window of opportunity to improve how it works?” vs. “my patient has severe lumbar spondylosis and it is causing a lot of pain. X-rays say it’s bone on bone. My exam says so too. What can I do to help fix this mess of a spine?"

In looking at my relationship with my own body, I am hardly ever deeply bothered by an injury or pain. I try to approach my physical impairments with the same sense of curiosity and respect that I use with my clients. My training has taught me to think about the problem, reason through what is most likely to help, make a plan and then take action. 

K: What has been the biggest epiphany with your studies and work so far?  

A: The one idea that has changed my outlook on practicing physical therapy is this: the more complicated the client presents, the simpler it is to discover the appropriate treatment for that client. This provides hope for both clients and their physical therapists! I won’t go into great detail here, but just know this: as a client struggling with complex, severe or elusive injury or pain, you are more likely to find the right treatment with the help of a skilled therapist. 

K: What's one thing you wish musicians knew about health/wellness/the body?

A: I believe that musicians who play an instrument should know that first and foremost, your own body is still your primary instrument! Take care of it as you would your violin (or insert your instrument here). Would you leave your violin in the car when it’s 0 degrees outside? Forget to rosin your bow for 3 months because you don’t have time? Taking care of your body with intention is just as important as practicing with intention. 

K: How do you plan on combining music and PT in your life?

A: I hope to one day play a large role in facilitating access to physical therapy for student and professional musicians of all ages.

K: How can people connect with you and your work?

A: I am currently practicing as an Orthopedic Resident with Texas Physical Therapy Specialists in Selma. (San Antonio, TX area)  Andrew Bennett  is my clinical mentor.  Dr. Bennett is an expert clinician and teacher, and I am so excited to develop my practice and prepare for the Orthopedic Specialty with him!  We are available to clients through physician referral OR for free screenings / consultations (no referral required.)   You can also e-mail me directly at!

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