Active Voice: Athletes And The Arts

Make a Difference

By Randall W. Dick, M.S., FACSM

Randy Dick, M.S., FACSM, worked for 20 years with the National Collegiate Athletic Association, managing its sports medicine and injury prevention programs. He now serves on the U.S. Lacrosse Sports Science Committee and has authored more than 50 peer-reviewed publications. In 2008, Randy joined Eli Lilly and Company in Indianapolis, where he is working with real world data and health outcomes. Two of his current consulting projects are Athletes and the Arts (AATA) and Major League Baseball injury surveillance/research.


Athletes and the Arts is a collaborative enterprise aimed at better understanding health, physical performance, and physical activity needs unique to performing artists.

Performing artists are athletes. Just like “sport” athletes they:

  • Practice or perform almost every day
  • Play through pain
  • Compete in challenging environments
  • Experience little “off season”
  • Face extreme competition
  • Risk the temptation of substance abuse
  • Face real risk of career-threatening injury

Yet, performing artists rarely have access to the nutritional, injury prevention, training and over-arching practice and competition guidelines afforded most sport athletes, even at the youth level. Performing artists (musicians, dancers, singers, conductors, actors, marching band members, etc., of all ages)needthis information, along with education and research associated with unique performance-related problems, like hearing loss.

Launched at the May 2013 American College of Sports Medicine meeting, Athletes and the Arts is a multi-organizational initiative recognizing that athletes exist throughout the performing arts community and that established practice, wellness and injury prevention research for sport athletes also is applicable to performing artists.

Jonathan Batiste, a talented musician, is the first Athletes and the Arts artist-in-residence and will promote the initiative throughout his upcoming U.S. tour.

“You play in a bar room, people are smoking, there are long hours, practicing, you carry equipment to your gig. The idea of all of this (health needs) is foreign to the music community, from the conservatory level to the level of street performers and everything in between.” —Jonathon Batiste:

  • “Common” Issues: Nutrition, overuse, injury prevention, cross-training and acclimatization strategies (think marching bands/drum corps) are applicable to sports but also have relevance to performing artists.
  • “Unique” Issues: Noise-Induced hearing loss is a flagship issue that affects up to 50 percent of musicians. Performing artists, especially musicians, should have baseline hearing screenings and ongoing reviews by a qualified audiologist as their careers develop.
  • Injury Prevention & Recovery: While health professionals know how to strengthen or rehab a quadriceps muscle, little is known about training and recovery for the small muscles around the mouth (the embouchure) which are so critical to a wind or reed player. Clinicians should observe a performance to understand the ergonomics of the activity.
  • Practice and Performance: What is the volume and type of practice needed to optimize health and performance? When do additional practice hours hurt rather than help? These questions should prompt specific research, as many artists are known to practice as much as 6 hours per day. In contrast, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) limits collegiate athletes to 20 hours practice per week. We address overuse by monitoring how many steps a cross-country runner takes; we have no idea how many strokes a violinist performs in a typical week.

Get involved!

Through AATA influence, the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM),representing 644 schools of music, recently created its first–ever Health and Safety Standard that reads, in part:

It is the obligation of the institution that all students in music programs be fully apprised of health and safety issues…inherent in practice, performance, teaching and listening….

While the standard applies to every NASM school, most institutions do not have the knowledge or resources to address these issues. There is a great opportunity for ACSM members to collaborate with their local schools of music through this standard to develop specific health and safety guidelines. Collectively, this effort can enhance the knowledge and wellness of 100,000 music students annually and the future generations they touch, through both performing and teaching.

MTNA is an AATA partner organization. For additional information, contact MTNA National Headquarters.