For the last 2 weeks I have been treating a professional singer, which for an amateur singer like me is always an enjoyable experience as I always learn something in our discussions – part of the reason I love being an osteopath is that the people I treat are so interesting! And it’s great when I can help them improve performance in their work or their passion, not just reduce their pain.
For a professional singer, their voice is their instrument, and like musicians (or indeed anyone who has mastered a movement-based physical skill at a high level – dancer, dressage rider, plasterer etc.), singers are very aware of what is going on in their body, and if there is any restriction (even though there may be no pain) that is affecting the ease or control of their breath and voice, they will feel it.
This particular singer did have a specific problem – a mild rotator cuff (shoulder) tendonitis following a sprain while gardening. However, they also had an intermittent spasm in the area of the lower ribs & an area of the upper thorax that felt stiff and achy, and generally (as someone both body-aware & some experience as both a cranial patient & practitioner) felt out of sorts. Addressing the underlying deeper tensions through the spine, diaphragm and pelvis using cranial osteopathic techniques (as well as doing massage & movements to the injured shoulder) made a noticeable difference to the patient’s experience of their breath control – at the second appointment this week, they said they could carry long lines through which they’d be unable to do the week previously (and the painful areas were less painful), and their experience of singing was a greater sense of ease than before the treatment.
Another singer I treated – this time an opera singer from abroad with no experience of osteopathy (cranial or otherwise) – fell and injured themselves in rehearsal (oddly enough, another shoulder injury!). I happened to be singing in the chorus, so was happy to treat them as the staging meant they had to climb a ladder – a bit difficult when you can’t lift your arm above 90 degrees! While assessing them using a ‘cranial’ osteopathic assessment, I found another problem unrelated to the injury – tension in a muscle (psoas) that from an osteopathic point of view is integrally linked to diaphragm function. The singer was a bit surprised, as they hadn’t told me about an accident they’d had (hit by a car on that side of the pelvis as a child). They were also surprised that when I treated them, they could feel their ‘spinal cord dancing’ (their words not mine), and similar to my more recent case, after treatment experienced an increased sense of capacity and ease in their singing – sufficient to suggest I might like to move to their country and treat them & their friends!
Similarly, treating musicians can help performance in ways that are about freedom or ease, not just pain reduction. Earlier this year I treated a flautist who had come to me for shoulder & neck pain. In the course of our conversation, I mentioned that I could see they had a bite problem with their jaw, which they then told me they had previously been offered surgery for, but had declined, since it would mean they couldn’t work after the surgery, and even worse, there was no guarantee that their playing would be the same once they’d recuperated. For an osteopath, the relationship between the jaw & the upper neck is crucial, since a failure of compensation in one area (say, the jaw) may lead to other muscles of the head & neck becoming symptomatic through increased compensation or altered mechanics. As part of my assessment and treatment, I used some intra-oral techniques (working with my fingers on the bones inside the mouth) to release tension around the palate – this is what they emailed me after the treatment:
“Just wanted to let you know that I had a fantastic rehearsal tonight following my session with you today. Face/sinus/jaw area felt really free and I was able to play without feeling strain. What a difference to be able to work with my body feeling like that.