Musicians at the University of North Texas (UNT) College of Music recognize that when it comes to their health, the Texas Center for Performing Arts Health is a helpful instrument.
A musician himself, Sajid Surve, DO, co-director of the Texas Center for Performing Arts Health, a partnership between the UNT College of Music and the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine in Fort Worth, discovered early on that music and medicine share a common goal: to heal. In this edited interview, he discusses the center’s efforts to help change music education and the reason DOs are uniquely qualified to treat musicians.
What is the Texas Center for Performing Arts Health?
The center, known as the Texas Center for Music & Medicine until two years ago, provides health care to performance artists and studies the performing arts population from a health perspective. It’s a lively research hub with a clinical presence. We have pianos with sensors built into the keys so we can measure the forces that pianists use, and we have sensors for trumpets to look at mouthpiece forces.
Is this research influencing music education?
Yes. Music education is changing right now. The UNT College of Music and the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine worked together to build a body of evidence to show that musicians have pretty high injury rates. We then joined with other groups to recommend that the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM) create new standards requiring colleges to make students aware of the musculoskeletal, hearing, and vocal risks of making music. Because of our efforts, NASM issued the new standards a few years ago. The Texas Education Agency adopted similar standards for high school and middle school students.
What’s the most common condition you see in musicians?
In general, musicians suffer from repetitive stress injuries. Every instrument has unique demands and as a result, they have these unique injuries. Trombonists, for example, can develop shoulder problems from the weight of the trumpet. Pianists often have hand problems. Clarinetists and oboists develop right thumb problems.
What does treatment look like?
With an osteopathic approach, we have to consider the whole situation. My focus isn’t necessarily on the instrument. For example, posture is how your body rises up to meet the instrument. Any aberration in a musician’s posture can cause neck and back pain. Maybe we give the patient a strengthening program to improve their posture. Or maybe they need to take more breaks. Or we need to treat their shoulder with osteopathic manipulative treatment. I do a ton of OMT in the clinic.
Treating musicians’ injuries can be really tough if you don’t approach treatment with the mindset of considering the whole patient. This is why DOs are uniquely qualified to treat musicians. I’m so thankful to have my osteopathic background.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
I had the fortune of helping a young singer who had been injured and was unable to sing. She came to me with paperwork to withdraw from the university, but over the course of six to seven months she was able to sing again. She invited me to her senior recital, and sitting in that audience watching her deliver stunningly beautiful arias, knowing that I had a part in making that happen, was one of the greatest moments ever.
What matters to me is that the musician is now better at playing music because of what I’ve done.