The prevalence of playing-related musculoskeletal disorders in selected Western classical music students at the South African College of Music, University of Cape Town

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The study aimed to ascertain the prevalence of playing-related musculoskeletal disorders (PRMDs) among Western classical instrumentalists at the South African College of Music. Seventy-two undergraduate string, woodwind and keyboard instrumental students were approached during classes or individually and asked to complete a specially designed questionnaire. Data were sent to a statistician at the University of Cape Town Statistics Consulting Unit and the statistical package SPSS (Version 22) was used to analyse the data. Seventy-one (71) of the 72 questionnaires were returned. The average respondent was a 20-year-old, right-handed female who had been playing her instrument for 10.8 years; 88.8% of the respondents had experienced a PRMD at some point in their lives, 82.1% within the preceding 12 months and 46.3% had a PRMD at the time of the study. No correlation was found between the prevalence of a PRMD and age, gender, instrument type, number of years of playing the instrument, playing another instrument or the university programme, stream or year. A significant relationship was found between the instrument level and the current prevalence of PRMDs. The most commonly affected area was the shoulder followed by the back, neck, hand or wrist and fingers. The most commonly indicated duration was 1 week (35.3%), though many PRMDs had lasted for more than 2 years (19.6%); 46.3% of the PRMDs had a severity of 3/5 or higher, and 34.2% of PRMDs were both 3/5 or higher for severity and frequency. Only 3.7% of the responses indicated that a body awareness technique was being used regularly, while 37.4% of the answers indicated that the techniques had "never been heard of". Over half (51.7%) of respondents had consulted a health professional. Physiotherapists and Alexander teachers were the most frequently consulted professionals. Treatment strategies were non-invasive and mostly self-reliant and though most respondents felt that the treatment strategies had helped temporarily, there was little long-term satisfaction. This study concludes that the prevalence of PRMDs in students at the South African College of music is high and around half of the PRMDs affect the students' ability to play or perform their instrument at an optimum level. Actions can and need to be taken to reduce these values in future.