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Jazz Musician Eases Neck Pain with Ergonomic Harness

Posted Apr 17 2010 12:00am

I recently came across a great article about a new design for holding heavy instruments (such as a saxophone), something that is going to help many musicians avoid neck and back pain.

Judith Hills is a design expert at Unversity of Glamorgan . She researches about posture and performance differences between musical genres as well as ergonomic changes to ease neck pain and back pain while playing an instrument. Usually, most musicians carry their instrument around their neck. She recently wrote a paper entitled “Hanging 10 kilograms of brass from my neck: posture problems in bass saxophonists”. Saxophone player, Jim Barret, suffers neck and back pain from playing and carrying his instrument

This study was based on Mr. Jim Barrett a bass saxophone player. He is excited about this new prototype harness because it spreads the weight of the instrument away from his neck and more evenly around his body.

According to Ms. Hills, "Musicians who stand or walk while playing are likely to display different musculoskeletal problems to those who remain seated," Mr Barrett had been suffering pain since he began playing bass saxophone with his band Wonderbrass, 10 years ago. Mr. Barret plays the Bass, one the heaviest instruments one can play. He states that playing and holding his instrument created health problems such as neck pain and back pain. It affected his working life as well as his musical performance. "At the worst point I was experiencing considerable back problems, having to use two pillows to be able to sleep, in extreme discomfort both standing and sitting - especially in long and boring meetings - and with very restricted ability to play when marching, totally destroying myself on longer marches," he said.

Mr Barrett had already modified his existing harness to shift the weight of the saxophone from his neck to his right shoulder, but it was still far from ideal. After studying the musician's posture, Ms Hills developed a prototype harness which moved some of the weight to his waist, kept his hips and shoulders level and his head upright. "Transferring the weight to a hip strap is the central design issue with the harness I am working on,” said Ms. Hills. Mr Barrett said the new design felt much more comfortable and he hoped it would prove to be so over time.

"Judith's design will bring the weight down to my waist greatly improving comfort and posture," he said. "The idea is, if she can crack the problem for me, it will be fairly straight forward to scale this solution to suit baritone players or even tenor players who are experiencing problems.
"Besides all this, the new harness will be a bit of a fashion accessory and I have requested a music pocket to keep my manuscript book in while on the march."

Judith Hills gives other suggestions to musicians that will help to ease neck and back pain:

  • Don't support too much weight on your neck and shoulders and ensure that any straps do not create point pressure - padding is important
  • Try to keep your back in a natural position with the spine vertical and head upright; this should give a small of the back curve and a small neck curve . Research has shown that medium to high weights are best supported by the pelvic girdle/hips, as in rucksacks.

Saxophone's heavy metal neck pain eased by harness , BBC News April 2010

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