Piccolo pain: The perils of band life

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Can injury result from playing in a marching band? It can; especially if it’s a collegiate marching band.

Aside from the expected konks on the head from the trombones or a collision with someone who hasn’t yet figured out left from right, the prospect of injury to the lower extremities while marching is relatively high.

“Marching band is a formidable sporting activity that puts its athletes at risk for injury,” said podiatrist Allen S. Mehler and University of Michigan band alumnus.

Out of condition. Some of these injuries are the result of band members reporting to preseason practice in poor condition, Mehler said.

“A majority of these injuries were recorded before the first game. The number of injuries decreased significantly by October, November, and December as the practice hours decreased and the members’ general cardiovascular fitness and technical skills increased.”

For 10 years, Mehler has volunteered his expertise in the band’s preseason and performances to ensure that over-use injuries, tendinitis, and ankle sprains are kept to a minimum. There are about 25-30 common injuries that can occur, Mehler said. Though most of them are not major.

Causes. Especially during the pre-season, Mehler evaluates the band members’ injuries, pads and tapes feet and ankles and tries to help eliminate the risk of injury.

Marching on inappropriate surfaces; utilizing many bands’ ballistic style of high-step marching; inadequate shoes; and a rigorous training schedule all contribute to the injuries seen.

So who sustains the most injuries in the ensemble? If you guessed the tuba section, you would be half right. Add to that the piccolo players.

It’s relatively easy to conclude that the weight of the tuba may contribute to that section’s high injury rate, Mehler said, but the injury rate for the piccolo players is more difficult to explain.

“A unique factor that may be considered is the mechanics of playing the piccolo,” Mehler said, “which requires both hands to be held to one side, increasing upper extremity torsion. Playing most other instruments requires the arms to be held near the midline. The combination of upper body torsion and a high-step marching style may be responsible for added biomechanical stresses.”

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