Injuries while playing drums can happen to anyone from the most beginning player to the most advanced. One of my favorite players and teachers Karmba Diabate for example is constantly in pain. His hands constantly hurt. He get’s amazing sound from his djembe, but at a price. I have seen every player at every level with hand or finger injuries.
So, what do we do to not get injured? Why do injuries occur and how do we avoid them? And what do we do when we have an injury.
The unavoidable fact is that as hand drummers we are hitting hard unforgiving skin with force. There is no way of getting around that fact. There are physics and dynamics at play here.
The first thing you can do to avoid excessive hand pain and injury is to check your technique in the mirror while you are playing at home. Make sure you are hitting the drum correctly. Also, check your bodies posture when you are playing. Make sure you are not leaning too far to one side or another.
Also, check out where you are holding tension in your body when you are playing. You will be surprised how much you can learn about your playing by simply watching yourself play in the mirror and then correcting yourself. Since we are sitting or standing for long periods of time it is important that we have correct posture and support when we play.
When we get excited playing drums be it in a class, drum circle or a performance we do not pay attention to our hands, posture and playing technique. That is why it is so important to polish your technique and when you practice, play, stand (or sit) like you would at a performance or outing. If you are well practiced you can have fun and not worry when you are performing.
Drumming is physical and takes training just like any other physical activity. You would not enter a marathon without running everyday. So play, practice and train the same as you would for any other event of this nature. I can not stress this enough, “practice makes perfect”!
If you have room mates or neighbors close by this may be hard for you to play as loud or intense as you like at home. I take my drum out to a park by the beach when no one is around, and I try to play at the volume levels and intensity I would in a class or performance. While I do this I constantly check my hand position, posture and how I am hitting the drum and also check for pain.
If there is any pain I try to readjust my hands or fingers so there is none. A perfect time to check out your technique, or to check in with yourself is during a dance class or whenever you are playing accompaniment. Experiment with how hard you hit the drum. Many of us are unaware of how hard we are hitting and how loud we are playing. Since our teachers often encourage us to play with more intensity, we tend to hit the drum much harder then we need to.
I am not saying to play softly when you play, but instead try to experiment playing with less volume and see if you can still be heard and still have fun. As your playing technique improves you will notice you do not have to hit the drum as physically hard as you did when you first started to learn. Your goal should be to have maximum output with minimum input. To me this is the essence of good technique.
A great player told me to relax more when I play. Try to relax your hands and your wrists and play with out tension. You do not want to be floppy and you do not want to be stiff. You have to find the balance that works for you in between. This is another key to avoiding injury.
Also, practice stretching and specific moves for you body that focus on relaxing your arms, wrists and fingers. I like to stretch before I play and if there are any breaks durring a performance, dance class or whenever you are playing make sure to stretch.
Body position when playing is also another factor in injuries. Many of us do not notice it but we are playing with bad posture. If you are sitting when you are playing make sure you do not get stuck and try to subtly shift your weight around when you are playing. Don’t get stagnant sitting, and don’t be afraid to stretch or move. There is a lot of force going through your body and it is important not to get locked into any positions that might not be beneficial to your bodies well being.
When my hands are swollen or hurting from a performance or playing too hard I like to coat them with shea butter and soak them in hot water with epson salts. it is a method I learned from a long time drummer. Everyone has different techniques but I find this one works best for me.
I also find that applying a small amount of shea butter 20 minutes before I am going to play (rather then right before I play) helps me to avoid cracking and splits in my hands and fingers. If you live in colder climates you will find this a necessity. The problem with putting shea butter on right before you play is that you do not get a chance to let the shea butter seep into your skin enough and it ends up seeping into the drum skin too much. Then your skin is too oily and it can effect the performance of your drum. You do not want an oily drum head.
If you already have cracks in your hands then I use cloth sports tape. This helps me play no matter how bad my hands are.