Effects of Playing Position on Back Injury in Cellists

Instrumentalists are at high risk of injury, with the vast majority of musicians experiencing musculoskeletal disorders due to playing their instrument.  String players are prone to upper limb injury, and cellists are particularly prone to lower back injuries.  Such injuries can limit a musician’s ability to play.  In the case of professional musicians, the inability to practice and perform can cause serious economic hardship.  The relationship between playing position and muscle activity and force distribution is unknown, yet is critical for determining the demands that a given playing position places on the musculoskeletal system. 




This study seeks to understand how playing position determines the forces and muscle activity that an instrumentalist produces, relative to individual anthropometrics (body size measurements), enabling the development of recommendations for reducing forces and muscle activations that may result in injury.  Specifically, the aims of this study are to determine what combinations of posture and chair height and incline can reduce back muscle activity in cellists (potentially reducing back injury), and how such playing positions vary with individual anthropometrics.  

Popular literature suggests that higher seat positions and inclines distribute static and dynamic ‘ground’ reaction forces between the buttocks and feet so as to decrease strain on the erector spinae musculature during cello playing, thereby reducing injury.  We will test these hypotheses by measuring the back muscle activation, using surface electromyography (EMG); back angle, using goniometers; and force distribution, using a large force platform.  An adjustable chair and wedge-shaped cushions will be used to vary the height and incline of the seat.  Data will be recorded from cellists playing short pieces while seated in different postures, including their preferred playing positions.  Cellists will also maintain a record of back pain experienced over the course of several months. 

These data will suggest which playing positions result in broader force distribution, reduced muscle activity, and reduced risk of injury.  Future studies will investigate upper limb position and injury in cellists, and the biomechanics of playing position in other instrumentalists.