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injury prevention - Djembefola - Djembe Forum

Discuss drumming technique here
User avatar
By e2c
I wanted to mention Darin Workman's book...
He focuses on set and classical players, but the info. in there is (IMO) very helpful for hand percussionists, too.

* You can check it out via Google Book Search (http://books.google.com/books) and the sample pages that are available via Amazon.com

Nothing in the book is a substitute for medical treatment, but the diagrams and exercises (warm-ups, strengthening, etc.) would be helpful to just about anyone, I think...

My own stretch routine is very simple and concentrates on the wrist flexors. I wish I had a diagram to point you to; it's really simple stuff (and only takes a few minutes before and after practice/playing), but hard to describe in words. If I can find some decent pictures, I'll either post them or link to them.
By bubudi
that would be very useful information, i'm sure. warming up and conditioning are very important. it would be great to develop a little book with exercises specific to djembe playing. i know that something like that exists for congas.
User avatar
By e2c
Put another way: When gauges (or "idiot lights") on our cars' dashboards start showing indications of problems, do we run the engines harder so that they "toughen up"? Or do most of us take our cars in for service?

Cars and other mechanical things have replaceable parts; our bodies don't (joint replacement surgeries notwithstanding).

Pain is a red flag - a warning, just as funny gauge readings or flashing indicator lights (or weird noises) are with automobiles. It makes sense to pay attention to it, as well as to find out what to do in order to make the part (or parts) that are hurting function better.

Preventive medicine is a lot like preventive maintenance on cars - it'll keep you and your body functioning efficiently for far longer than is the case when you ignore warning signs and don't take care of necessary repairs.

My guess is that most of us would like to be able to keep playing for as long as possible - 20, 30, even 50 years. If we focus on doing the things necessary to maintain health, our chances of being able to achieve this goal are greatly increased. If we throw caution to the winds, then... not so much, maybe even not at all.

I'm not saying all this to sound preachy or whatever - I guess I'm just trying to encourage anyone who reads this to learn from my mistakes, and from those of my conga teacher. He lost his career for a while... what he'd worked for, hoped and dreamed of. That could have been permanent.

Bodies do get worn down over time. I'm facing some things now that I wasn't facing 2-3 decades ago. The best way to deal with those problems (like a herniated disc in my neck) isn't trying to fight against them. It's in learning how to work with and around them. Listening to one's body is an essential part of that.

I can also remember (pretty vividly) thinking that none of these kinds of things would ever happen to me, when I was younger than I am now.

Even here in the US, it can be the kiss of death for professional musicians to be open about seeking treatment for occupational injuries. There seem to be very real fears about even talking about injuries and treatment, whether it's a preventive kind of thing, or getting help for an ongoing problem that's taking a toll.

Change comes slowly.
User avatar
By e2c
Thread with discussion of serious kidney problems caused by overplaying (etc.):


One of the posters - tauber - has spent time on dialysis - brought on by overexertion and subsequent internal injuries. There's a fair amount of detail about the causes and what happens to the body once the process gets started; also links to medical info.

Edited to add: 2009 medical journal on severe acute renal failure in 2 djembe players (playing in the same session). One was 35 years old. http://ndtplus.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/c ... t/sfp049v1
Last edited by e2c on Wed May 27, 2009 8:11 am, edited 1 time in total.
User avatar
By e2c
Great resource (in PDF form) from pro mallet percussionist Andy Harnsberger: http://www.innovativepercussion.com/pag ... rmance.pdf

There are good, clear directions for all of the stretches + photos. Nice stuff!

Note: the 1st two stretches in the article are *great* for wrist flexors; important stuff for anyone who spends time playing percussion (with hands or sticks) and/or at a computer keyboard. I definitely fit that description... and have found many of these stretches to be extremely helpful in playing healthy. (Pain and injury-free; also for management of prior Repetitive Stress injuries, which almost everyone has, now that we all spend so much time at computer keyboards.)

*** If you're experiencing pain, tingling, numbness, etc., please seek medical attention. ***
User avatar
By the kid
Eventually your hands will be the mallets. :djembe:
e2c wrote: *** If you're experiencing pain, tingling, numbness, etc., please seek medical attention. ***
E2c djembe drumming hurts some times. If you ever experience a serious course in drumming in West africa then you§ll understand better. We cant be over sensitive over little things. Personally i try to beat the drum from the heart and my hands- body feelings are a secondary concern. Sometimes i will adust my technique to work around the pain sometimes felt. this is to advoid developing injuries. When you play for a few years the hands will naturally start to toughen up. Callasus form to protect the hand from the beating. Muscles grow inside the fingers and hands arms- back- shoulders. everywhere gets stronger. You grow around the drum. Thats the way it is.

and dont forget its always good to break your own percieved limitations/Physical and mental/ and understand the real power we have as humans. We aint so fragile as you make out.
User avatar
By e2c
Keanie, I think there are different components to this. Injuries from overuse/repetitive stress - and not warming up/cooling down properly - are one of them. Conditioning - to get and keep yourself fit enough to play well (and healthy) - is another. The latter has a lot to do with things that come gradually, like building stamina as well as strength.

I posted the following in another thread; it'll give some context to what I said above (which bubudi actually moved here from the other thread):
I'll throw in one more comment, then I'm out (for now) - my former conga teacher has beautiful, soft hands. He makes his living from playing - mostly as a sideman (because Latin percussion is very in-demand in many settings).

He told me that he *did* totally ruin his hands when he was in his 20s, from the kind of hard driving, macho style of playing that he *thought* was what it took to be a good conguero. He ended up having to take a lot of time off - and had to totally rethink his technique. (He had to stop working in music for a while, too - taking day gigs in other fields.)

His hands are soft now because he takes care of his body and doesn't overplay.

You know, I suspect he'll be playing well into old age, while many of his peers will end up with arthritis, repetitive stress injuries, kidney damage and worse. (There's an MD who posts on one of the conga boards who lays it on the line about this - and about the number of well-known congueros who've died from renal problems...)

We only get one set of everything (in our bodies) in this life. It pays to take care of it!
* I also wrote a good bit about musicians' injuries in general; it seems to have gone missing. Will try to recreate it so that you get the full picture, OK?

* You obviously don't have to take what i'm saying at face value - but I can honestly tell you that if you accept all of what you said above as the only way - and don't start stretching, etc. - you will pay for it eventually.

I don't think you - or anyone else - wants to do that, really. I can tell you from my own pov that it's miserable having to take time off for injuries to heal.

It's not about "rite of passage" injuries or making yourself "tough" - pain is a warning sign that something is wrong. It's our responsibility to figure out what that is and to take care of it, so that it doesn't keep happening.

I've yet to see an African teacher deal with body mechanics, likely because they don't have anything like the kind of medical care available that we in the West do. That doesn't mean that they - and we - have to do everything the same way it's always been done. I think that *in time,* a lot of people who teach West African percussion (of all sorts) will be dealing with basic warmup and cooldown stuff, to help keep students from unnecessary injuries.

I would bet serious money that players like Mamady and Famoudou have consulted specialists (in sports medicine and also docs and physiotherapists who treat musicians' injuries) since coming to the West...

And Keanie, I've been playing Middle Eastern percussion instruments since 1989 - at least, that's when I 1st started taking lessons. (I'm not so sure that that 1st year or two had much real playing in it, on my part. ;)) One thing I learned from that: the slap technique used in frame drumming adapts beautifully to djembe and conga. I have no calluses, and (please don't kill me!) have not had to work hard to get a differentiation between tone and slap. The techniques that I'm transferring have *lots* to do with playing relaxed - more specifically, with relaxed wrists and forearms.

for my money, getting a nice-sounding slap/tone has a lot to do with allowing the weight of your arm and hand to connect with the drumhead in a relaxed way. It has zero to do with "hitting" or "powering through" a stroke. I realize that this is not the only valid approach out there, but... think about the mechanics involved. Your hands and forearms have very complex groups of muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves. You *don't* want to mess with that structure, because you cannot replace those parts.

There are ways to use gravity to get what you want from a drum. Force has little to do with it; it's about touch, as well as recognizing that the skin is actually a pretty thin membrane. But that's another (related) topic, so I'll quit for now...
Last edited by e2c on Sun Jun 07, 2009 5:59 pm, edited 6 times in total.
User avatar
By e2c
e2c wrote:
*** If you're experiencing pain, tingling, numbness, etc., please seek medical attention. ***
You know what this is mainly about? Nerve damage, what's sometimes called nerve entrapment. Please check out the PDF I linked to above.

I'll mince no words - I've had two serious nerve entrapment problems due to not warming up properly and playing with bad technique. (This can happen even on "low-impact" instruments and is something that *many* musicians - unfortunately - have happen to them, not just percussionsts.)

** It is possible to cause irreversible nerve damage via bad technique resulting in repetitive stress injuries. ** I learned about this the hard way - I almost went there.

The old-school way of treating nerve entrapment is: surgery. Meaning that you have an invasive procedure that is supposed to restore function. If this is the route taken, you will be doing physiotherapy for quite a while afterwards. And you won't be playing for a while - months, even. On top of all that, surgery just plain hurts. (There's cutting involved, after all! ;))

One of the more "modern" (to my mind, more commonsense) ways of treatment is to get the person off playing in order for them to heal up, put them in wrist splints, and teach them stretches. In the mid-1990s, I ended up wearing wrist splints and not being able to play a single note for *six months.*

More recently, I've developed a repetitive stress injury due to not paying attention to the way I'm using the computer keyboard. These kinds of injuries are very common now, due to the fact that just about everyone types on computer keyboards for work and at home.

I had to not play at all for 3 months in late 2007-early 2008 to get one part of the problem (nerve entrapment/compression in my left wrist) to heal up. i *still* have compression/entrapment at a place in my left palm where a couple of tendons and ligaments that attach to the ring finger meet. it's a very common repetitive stress injury (RSI, for short). For that, i stretch, I use an anti-inflammatory medicine in gel form (it goes right on my hand), and i try to be smart about taking breaks, whether I'm typing or playing.

I don't always use commonsense at this, and I have reinjured myself several times. Because I have some ways to help alleviate the pain, I'm more apt to pull back and just take care of it now - plus the warm-up/cooldown stuff really works.

When i don't bother to stretch, i inevitably pay for it.

Please don't make the mistakes I've made, OK? They start showing up big-time from about age 30 onward... they generally don't occur when you're younger and more flexible. What your body can handle easily at age 15 - or 25, or 30 - is not the same thing as what happens at 35+. It's not as if you're falling apart - but body parts *are* subject to wear and tear over time. and - unlike car parts - they can't be replaced.

Preventive maintenance goes a long way to ensuring that you'll be able to keep playing over the longer term. (20, 30 - even 50 - years down the road.) I think some of the older masters - like Mamady and Famoudou - have learned that the hard way. (Due to their years of playing in the ballets, where I can't help but think that injuries are constant; also that there are no substitute drummers or dancers.)
User avatar
By the kid
e2c, Have you got more injuries from typing or drumming?
e2c wrote:I think some of the older masters - like Mamady and Famoudou - have learned that the hard way. (Due to their years of playing in the ballets, where I can't help but think that injuries are constant; also that there are no substitute drummers or dancers.)
they look pretty healthy to me, like what age is famadou? and Mamady? Their still touring, producing albums, teaching students all over the world.
User avatar
By e2c
Your injury question: Probably about 60-40 drumming/typing. The 6 months off back in the 90s came exclusively from drumming.

My conga teacher's flameout (almost - but not quite - career-ending injuries) came from bad technique exclusively. (Happened long before the advent of personal computers.)

I would imagine Famoudou is in his mid 60s; Mamady somewhat younger. It looks to me like both are working to stay healthy, in general. am sure - from their prior careers as ballet players plus the need to stay healthy and keep working - that they've learned a trick or two about conditioning, caring for injuries, etc. (And that don't have anything to do with gris-gris, special leaves, etc.) I think both of them are very aware that percussion is highly athletic. ;)

as for conditioning and getting used to the drum - fitting "yourself around the drum" - I very much agree with you. Having to deal with injuries has changed my take on how to do that in a pretty radical way. And I know that it's easy for beginners to injure themselves - it happened to me, too, on both Middle Eastern drums + djembe.

But the kinds of injuries I'm talking about weren't caused by beginner's overenthusiam. They came from not warming up and from bad technique (and, as you already know, from the same re. keyboarding).
By fiene_bee

I'm afraid that I'm developping my first RSI. I play now for 5 years. Three hours dance classes (no solo-work, but very fast accompagnements), and two hours repetition with the band I'm in. Next to that, I practice up to two hours a week.

Since last week, when I wake up, the fingers in my left hand are stiff and the bones are hurting. Even if I haven't been playing the day before. It vanishes pretty fast, but It scares me...

I love playing so much that I don't want to quit it, certainly not because of an injury. So my plan is to further optimize my technique (which is not that bad, because I have a very nice slap and almost no callus, except some on my finger tips). I avoided callus by optimizing my technique, so maybe it will work on that problem too.

Of course, any advise is very welcome.
By bubudi
it would be a good idea to give yourself a break from drumming for a couple of weeks, work on your technique, then get back into it, taking it a bit easy at first. make sure you properly warm up your fingers, wrists, arms etc before every session. not warming up sufficiently before playing is a big reason people hurt after playing. another reason is playing too loudly, which is easy to do in many dance classes when you are trying to play over the top of lots of other djembe players.
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By Djembe-nerd
another reason is playing too loudly, which is easy to do in many dance classes when you are trying to play over the top of lots of other djembe players
This is a problem for me, when I practice at home its all fine, but at the class its both things more than at home, the volume has to be more, and the time and speed is much more even though I play mostly accompaniments.

No pains at home, some stiffness after classes in the index fingers, goes away next day, I do regular warm up....not so much cool off, a light massage with shea butter in the night is a great help always.
User avatar
By e2c
@ fiene_bee: I know what you mean about your bones hurting! It happens to me at times, too, though not nearly as often as it did when I was 1st starting to play djembe and learning good technique.

I think bubudi's suggestions are good ones - it's better to rest and let your hands heal than play injured and end up making the injury worse. I have times where I have to do this myself, and not just for djembe. (I play other kinds of percussion as well.)

I love playing dununs and have found that I usually can play them when I'm needing a break from djembe. (Of course, it's important to work on technique there, too, so that you don't hurt your wrists! :))
By fiene_bee
Thanks for all the advice!

I'll try the rest strategy :)

What will certainly help is that my drum has a torn skin, since last weekend.

Crazy weather here in Belgium...

BTW: Lovely forum and site, since I have the feeling that everybody is truly interested in african drumming.
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