New Clinic to Prevent and Treat Performing Artists’ Injuries

Published in Restore - Winter 2018

When Serap Bastepe-Gray pursued a degree at the Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University, one of America’s first and most prestigious conservatories of music, the hours of practice were tough on her body. With a focus on classical guitar, she developed a pervasive pain in her left elbow and a tingling sensation in the little finger on her left hand. Doctors weren’t helpful, so Bastepe-Gray eventually developed a plan to heal herself.

With both a medical degree and a music degree in hand, she says, “I had to combine my medical knowledge with my knowledge of my instrument in order to find a solution.” Her plan involved altering her biomechanics to use less force, incorporating more rest into her practice schedule by using a timer for breaks and spending more time listening to pieces and imagining her hands playing chords.

Now director of the Guitar Ensemble Program at Peabody with a joint appointment in the Johns Hopkins Department of Neurology and a master’s degree in occupational therapy, Bastepe-Gray has the ideal background to treat injured musicians. That expertise is one of the driving forces behind a new collaboration between Johns Hopkins’ Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Department of Neurology and the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University: the Peabody Clinic for Performing Artists.

According to Ken Johnson, director of outpatient rehabilitation therapy services, the hours of daily training that professional musicians require to hone their craft is similar to that of professional athletes, but without the same visibility. Consequently, while numerous therapy programs exist for injured athletes, there are few for musicians, who suffer injuries as diverse as carpal and cubital tunnel syndromes, tenosynovitis, bursitis and tendinosis.

“The cumulative stress and challenges that playing music has on posture and the musculoskeletal system can put musicians at risk to have repetitive strain injuries at a greater frequency than someone playing golf, tennis or baseball,” he says.

The Peabody Clinic for Performing Artists aims to diagnose and treat musicians and other performing artists in novel ways at Peabody and beyond.

A unique and pivotal aspect to the program, Bastepe-Gray explains, is the plan to have trained instrument pedagogues — specialists in a particular instrument who can evaluate injured musicians while they’re playing to identify problems with their form or technique that might contribute to their injuries.

The clinic will also incorporate high-tech solutions to better understand the root of a musician’s problems, including motion-capture technology and “smart” instruments that can measure the force a player is applying.

“These efforts not only aim to treat a musician’s current issues but help prevent future problems,” says Andrew Kunin, a Johns Hopkins physical therapist and amateur guitarist who treats professional musicians from the Baltimore-Washington area. “If we only treat a single problem area, the likelihood of recurrence of a musician’s injuries is high,” he says. “By evaluating our patients from head to toe to identify the root-cause of their injury, then by providing the best evidence-based care, we hope to keep them performing healthy for a lifetime.”