BACKGROUND: Repetitive actions while playing piano may overload forearm muscles and tendons, leading to playing-related musculoskeletal disorders (PRMDs), including lateral epicondylitis.
METHODS: In this pilot study, surface electromyography (sEMG) activity of the extensor carpi radialis (ECR) was captured in 10 conservatory piano students while playing a fast and a slow music score selected from the individual's repertoire, each 3 minutes long. Measurements were made at baseline and again after 2 hrs and 4 hrs of rehearsal time of the piano études. The amplitude of the sEMG signal was processed by a smoothing algorithm, and the frequency component with a non-orthogonal wavelets procedure. Amplitude of the sEMG was expressed in percent of maximal voluntary contraction (%MVC) at baseline. Statistical analysis encompassed 2-way repeated measures ANOVAs for the amplitude and frequency components of the sEMG signal (a set at 5%). The students also rated the intensity of rehearsals using a VAS.
RESULTS: The ECR presented with a mean amplitude of 23%MVC for the slow scores, which increased significantly to 36%MVC for the fast scores. The sEMG signal presented a significant though small decrease of 1.9%MVC in amplitude between baseline and 4 hrs of rehearsal time and no shift in frequency, which may indicate that the rehearsals were held at a physiological steady-state and suggesting optimization or complementary muscle loading.
CONCLUSIONS: These data accentuated that the loading of the ECR (as reflected in the amplitude component) was higher than that seen for computer keyboard workers. The augmented loading of the ECR and reduced blood flow to forearm muscles may be a factor in the development of PRMDs in pianists.