When you’re at a football game, and the marching band comes out onto the field at halftime, do you think of the musicians as being at risk for injuries to their muscles, bones and connective tissues, in much the same way as the athletes who have just left the field? The musicians aren’t usually colliding with one another, but they do have to cross the field, sometimes many times in a short span of time, in elaborate formations, carrying heavy instruments. And the equipment they use to balance and carry their instruments has not received as much time and study as the protective equipment worn by football players.
What these players need to avoid injury hasn’t been studied as carefully as what keeps the other players – the one more likely to land on their backs – safe. Until a recent study undertaken at Oregon State University.
When Xinhui Zhu, an independent ergonomics consultant who formerly worked as an Assistant Professor of Industrial Engineering in the Department of Mechanical, Industrial & Manufacturing Engineering at OSU, began the study which was recently published in the scholarly publication Work: A Journal of Prevention, Assessment & Rehabilitation, she wasn’t even sure whether the greatest strain would be felt in the back or the neck, the left or the right arm, by men or women, or by leaders vs. the rank-and-file marchers.
The answers turned out to be: in the neck and the left arm, by leaders, and by both genders equally.
What it showed most clearly was that band members are at severe risk of developing musculoskeletal disease – a category which includes strains sprains and arthritis, commonly called MSD – typically brought on by overworking body parts in ways to which they’re unable to adapt. The study consisted of surveys which were distributed to 70 marching band members at Oregon State University on four occasions, before and after football games, in September of 2017.
“The study really seems to indicate that a player’s level of experience and role within the band are what drive how much discomfort they feel,” Zhu said. “This is one of the first looks at college band members’ susceptibility to musculoskeletal disorders. More research needs to be done to confirm trends in the data and provide more factors to compare, such as instrument type, but this is an important early step.”
Study co-author Robyn Wells, an OSU Honors College graduate and a mechanical design engineer at Sound Devices in Madison, Wisconsin, said, “Developing an MSD can have a huge impact on a person’s life. You can end up with pain that restricts your ability to work or participate in physical events. Any task that requires the same movement again and again is a potential cause of an MSD.”
“The risk of developing MSDs among marching band players in college settings is high,” Zhu said. “Musicians, who are also full-time students, participate in long practices, and for band players, game day is a nine-hour commitment. They carry a wide range of instruments in terms of shape, size, weight and playing positions. But to date there has not been much research about the factors that contribute to MSDs among college players.
“The only statistically significant difference of discomfort found between the two experience levels was the left hand. Novice players had significantly more discomfort than experienced players within this body part. Both groups had relatively high discomfort in the neck, shoulders, back and feet. Leaders had higher neck discomfort and upper back discomfort than non-leaders and reported an overall higher workload.”
Wells cautioned musicians about carrying straps and other accessories which are widely sold to facilitate the carrying of instruments.
“The accessories apply a lot of stress on the neck and upper back as shown in the results of this study,” she said. “This research also has broader implications, extending to any job in which someone is working long hours with awkward postures while carrying and picking up heavy objects and executing mentally demanding tasks. Through this study and others like it, new designs can be developed to help prevent MSDs.”
By: John M. Burt