Active Voice: Athletes and the Arts – Make a Difference!

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

 Originally published in Sports Medicine Bulletin (SMB) from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), February 11, 2014 issue

Randy Dick, M.S., FACSM, is a past member of the ACSM Board of Trustee. He worked for 20 years with the National Collegiate Athletic Association, managing its sports medicine and injury prevention programs. He now serves on the US 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.

AATA is a collaborative enterprise aimed at better understanding health, physical performance, and physical activity needs unique to performing artists. ACSM is one a founding sponsor, helping to establish ideas for the development of research, education, and wellness interventions to meet specific needs of performing artists. In this issue, SMB is pleased to share Randy’s perspective on the goals and activities of AATA. He presents an extensive description of the issues and plans for this novel initiative in the Nov/Dec 2013 issue of ACSM’s Current Sports Medicine Reports. The article is available online for full-text access through the end of February.

Performing artists are athletes. Just like all 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) NEED this information, along with education and research associated with unique performance-related problems such as hearing loss.

Launched at the May 2013 ACSM Annual 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 & THE ARTS artist in residence and is promoting the initiative throughout his current U.S. tour.

“You play in a barroom, 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.” – Jonathan 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% 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 six or more hours per day. In contrast, the 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.


Performing artists of all ages and genres are underserved in aspects of health care, injury prevention and wellness. ACSM members can fill this gap by applying their existing knowledge of treating sport athletes while gaining a better understanding of the performers’ unique needs and environment. By integrating the science of sport and Exercise is Medicine® concepts, you can expand your impact to a new population that desperately needs your help.

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