The Rock and Roll doctor is in. Dr. Ricky Fishman, San Francisco, CA,-based Chiropractor and veteran bass player is uniquely qualified to evaluate and treat the challenges that musicians face. Back pain due to hauling gear, repetitive stress injuries due to hours of playing – the “Musician’s Chiropractor” has seen it all. Visit Dr. Fishman’s website for information about him, his philosophy and the Musician’s Chiropractic Project. Read his previous blog post: Rock and Roll Ergonomics: Low Back Protection.

By Dr. Ricky Fishman

It’s one AM. You’ve been living inside your DAW laying down beats, working the MIDI since 10 PM, creating your latest masterpiece. Lost in the music, the creeping pain in your neck reminds you that it’s time to stand up and move around.

Hunkered over the big board and reaching to push one of those 48 faders to get the mix just right, you feel your low back ache, reminding you that it is the end of another fourteen-hour session.

Whether you are working in your home studio, or in a fully equipped professional control room, studio work today is mainly computer work and the ergonomic principles that apply to most high-tech work stations are relevant for engineers, producers and players.

Being seated in front of a computer screen for many hours, mesmerized by a sequencer is simply an unnatural act. The tendency to slump into the chair and round the low back and shoulders forces the head to be pulled in toward the monitor. This causes both low back and neck strain. Compounding the problem is that your love of the craft kills all sense of time. Mind and body disconnect.

Start with your chair. No need to purchase a $1000 Aeron. Just head down to the local office supply store and find one that has a nice padded seat that swivels, has good lumbar support, arm rests, and adjustments for height and back angle. The test is comfort here.  Next is monitor placement. Always in front of you, the center of the screen should be no more than 10-degrees up or down from your central line of sight. When working, your arms should be supported whether you are on the MIDI keyboard, the computer keyboard or the mouse. Adjust the height of your desk so that your elbows are angled at approximately 90 degrees and keep your work as close to the desk edge as possible. Arms suspended or reaching send damaging forces directly to the cervical and upper thoracic spine.

Take breaks. You can embed software that reminds you to stand up every 30-45 minutes. Roll your shoulders back ten times and then forward. Take five deep breaths. Do ten standing backbends and every few hours go outside and take a walk.  Even five minutes of rapid movement will help to circulate your blood, wake you up, and loosen up your stiffening joints. Remember, pain and discomfort do not support the creative process.

Finally, be aware. Of posture and movement. Know that bending forward and twisting will, over time, cause low back pain, and slouching, neck pain. But maintaining proper posture requires internal musculoskeletal support. This means exercise. Without core strength, you will overstress your joints and while exercise is not generally associated with the rock and roll lifestyle, staying fit will prolong your working life and enhance its quality. Basic stretching, cardio, and strengthening can even be done completely in-studio. A mini trampoline, a gym ball, a Styrofoam roller, and a floor are all you need.

There are few things as joyful as making music and the studio is a fantastic workshop for its creation. But we must be aware of its occupational hazards. As mechanical beings, we are designed to move and when we do not, our bodies break down. But fortunately, Rock and Roll is not a spectator sport. It is for neither the timid nor the meek. So stand up, breathe, dance, roll tape, and rock out!