'I’m not injured, this is just my life': an exploration of the experiences of conservatoire students with chronic playing-related musculoskeletal disorders

Austen, C. (2020) 'I’m not injured, this is just my life': an exploration of the experiences of conservatoire students with chronic playing-related musculoskeletal disorders. Masters thesis, Royal College of Music.

Abstract

Playing-related musculoskeletal disorders (PRMDs) are a notably common problem among both professional musicians and conservatoire students. However, the primary focus of PRMD literature is on professional musicians. In addition, the word ‘chronic’ is rarely used in relation to musicians despite nearly two thirds of professional musicians displaying long-term or chronic PRMDs (symptoms lasting over 3 months). PRMDs affect musicians physically, psychologically and socially, particularly in the case of chronic conditions. There are limited qualitative studies regarding PRMDs, meaning the lived experiences of musicians with these conditions are often overlooked. This project aimed to begin filling a gap in the literature by holistically exploring the experiences of conservatoire students suffering from chronic PRMDs. This study used a qualitative approach and phenomenological methodology. Participants were recruited from conservatoires in the United Kingdom and Ireland. An in-depth semi-structured interview was conducted with 5 students who self-reported to be suffering from a chronic PRMD. The interview schedule was informed by the biopsychosocial model, ensuring that pain was explored in a holistic way. Interview transcripts were analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) and preliminary findings were cross-checked with participants. Four key themes emerged from the data 1) Adapting to a new lifestyle 2) Dealing with internal and external pressures 3) Searching for guidance and support and 4) Living with stress and insecurities. The key findings support and elaborate on previous studies and are discussed in relation to existing literature and the biopsychosocial model. Using the biopsychosocial model in conjunction with IPA explored the individual holistic experiences of conservatoire students with chronic PRMD. The findings highlighted how physical, psychological and social aspects were all interconnected and constructed each participant’s individual chronic PRMD experience. Based on the key findings, implications for further research and recommendations for injury assessment and management in conservatoires are discussed.

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