New U of O health centre addresses 'taboo' of musicians' pain

The centre's clinic, which opened Saturday, will both treat musicians' physical injuries and help them cope with mental health issues like performance anxiety.

Musicians often play through the pain and anxiety, says director — or self-medicate

Gilles Comeau is the head of the Piano Pedagogy Research Lab at the University of Ottawa and the director of a new wellness centre at the university devoted to preserving the health of musicians. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

The University of Ottawa has launched a new "wellness centre" devoted specifically to meeting the often-underreported health needs of musicians.

The centre, led the university's School of Music and Piano Pedagogy Research Lab, will help musicians with everything from repetitive stress injuries to hearing loss and performance anxiety.

It's open to both university students and professors and members of the public.

For the musically-inclined, the idea of talking about their pain or mental anguish was considered "taboo for many, many years," said Gilles Comeau, the centre's director.

"Performance anxiety was often something that nobody was talking about," Comeau told CBC Radio's All In A Day.

"It could have an impact on your studies. It could have an impact on your career."

Coping with pain, anxiety

The centre opened Saturday, on the 50th anniversary of the founding of the university's music school.

Comeau said historically, musicians have either taken medication and simply played through their pain or searched fruitlessly for treatment to meet their needs.

"They just hope that [the pain] will not reach the stage where it becomes an injury, or that it does not reach a stage where it will impact on the quality of their performance," he said.

That's a problem, Comeau added, because when that pain or anxiety becomes difficult to cope with, many musicians end up putting away their instruments.

Some also self-medicate.

"They resort to drugs [or] alcohol. The number of musicians that have to use those in order to cope with the performance that they do is quite high," Comeau said.

"What happens sometimes [is that anxiety puts] an end to a career, because you reach a point where you just can no longer cope with that amount of anxiety."

The University of Ottawa's new wellness centre will treat both stress injuries and performance anxiety in musicians. (The Associated Press)

Education and research components

The centre will offer its users access to medical practitioners like chiropractors and physiotherapists, Comeau said. 

There will also be education and research components, with one of the centre's goals being the development of a master's program in musicians' wellness.

While there's been a lot of research into sports injuries and psychology, similar research into music-related injuries hasn't kept up, Comeau said.

"Musicians are a particular kind of people with specific needs, specific difficulties and it's important now that people understand that."

With files from CBC Radio's All In A Day


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