Lots of musicians are playing in pain — and a Hamilton-based performing arts doctor is trying to get them to pipe up and stop suffering in silence.
"Many musicians are playing hurt and are leading a very stressful lifestyle," says John Chong, the new president of the Performing Arts Medicine Association (PAMA).
"It's kind of like 'don't ask, don't tell.'"
Chong is the first Canadian president of PAMA — an American-based organization comprised of physicians and therapists who are trying to help performers.
He's been a performing arts doctor for 26 years, and runs an occupational medicine clinic based out of Hamilton. Chong has treated everyone from local working class musicians to members of the Tragically Hip.
His clinic runs the gamut of traditional medicine and physical therapy to more specialized services for addictions and occupational stress counseling.
And it's all for performers — musicians mostly, but also some dancers and writers.
Chong says it's important for musicians to have access to therapy that caters to them in a specific way — much like athletes having doctors and therapists that cater to their jobs.
He says at his clinic he treats the underlying problems performers face, not just their symptoms. For many, traditional therapy alone isn't enough.
"A lot of musicians are going to physiotherapy and just aren't getting anywhere," he said.
For example, a guitarist who smashes his wrist and can't play might have to deal with more than just physical pain — he could also face depression because he can't do what he loves.
"But addictions really are the most troubling," Chong said, adding that it is a fairly common problem amongst the patients he sees.
He says the pressure and criticism musicians face can get more intense the more successful they become.
"There's a lot of stress," he said. "Performing art really is the backbone of any society — but it means you have a deep seated love for something that isn't very practical."
Though he sees some big time musicians, Chong says his biggest interest is in self-employed "weekend warriors."
"They work, then they play — their body is on all the time," he said.
Chong says Hamilton is teeming with wonderful musicians, and he sees lots of them. "We're really proud to work here and train here."
"It's tough work, but I wouldn't do anything else," Chong said. "It's really heartening to see people onstage again getting their jollies."