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Anxious musos gets the shimmy, shimmy shakes

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Australia’s orchestral musicians are often in physical pain and anxious when they perform, according to new research.

University of Sydney psychologists examined 377 members of Australia’s eight state and opera orchestras and found more than 80 per cent reported experiencing physical pain severe enough to impair their performance, and 50 per cent reported moderate to severe performance-related anxiety, while 32 per cent had symptoms of depression.

Lead author Professor Dianna Kenney said there was a strong relationship between the severity of performance-related pain and music performance anxiety, with those who reported the most severe pain reporting higher music performance anxiety.

Professor Kenney said that music performance anxiety can manifest itself physically as trembling, shaking, elevated blood pressure and heart rate, and cognitively as dread, worry, rumination or catastrophic thinking.

“Seventy-five per cent of the musicians showed the expected relationship between pain and depression,” Professor Kenney said. “Those reporting no depression were also more likely to report little to no pain. Those who reported some depression reported higher levels of pain.”

In contrast to those musicians who displayed the expected relationship between depression and pain, there was a substantial minority who reported no depression but severe pain, and Professor Kenny said this group warranted closer examination.

“These results suggest some musicians might somatise their pain. This means that they may convert their psychological distress into muscle tension, which leads to physical pain,” she said.

“The implication of these findings is that physically-based treatments of performance-related musculoskeletal pain that do not address associated anxiety and depression might not prove to be effective.”

The findings were published in Psychology of Music.

Kirsty Waterford

Image by Andrew Yee on Flickr, used under Creative Commons licence