One of my earliest back injuries that I can remember was in middle school. We were playing a modified version of hockey with a ball instead of a puck so it could be done in the gym. I don’t remember what caused me to fall, or really anything else about that day, but I vividly remember the impact. I fell sideways and slammed into the corner of the doorway that led to the locker room. I remember my back cracking but then didn’t really think about it until years later when I was in college and trying to figure out why I had so much back pain.
I had been in a few drumlines throughout middle and high school. I had played every instrument so I knew the different weight distributions. And I had used all the big name brands to know how they compared to each other.
This particular year I was marching snare. I remember them being Yamaha because they had those terrible stands that collapse if you sneeze too close to them. I was having some really bad back problems, which I thought seemed strange because I was marching one of the lightest drums after marching one of the heaviest drums and brands.
I went to the doctor and got some x-rays done and it was determined that I have a spinal stenosis. Basically, my spinal canal has some narrow spots that cause pressure on my spinal cord and nerve roots. It isn’t always constant pain but sometimes I’ll just be standing and suddenly I get an immense stabbing pain and keel over. There is also a spot in my back which I cannot have massaged. If anyone presses on it my entire body spasms and it’s extremely painful.
I always thought the pain was from being in drumline. It’s a common thing for people to have back problems when they are in drumline but it isn’t always guaranteed.
I didn’t understand the importance of building up me back strength because the things I did during those years helped keep me in decent shape. I figured we would be doing the things we needed to do to be prepared to march our instruments during rehearsals. Later in high school I started learning things to help strengthen my back for marching and figured the pain was because I had started too late.
The Last Ouchy
The last big injury I remember was the last season I was able to march. I was playing tenors again and it was set to be a really fun season. It wasn’t even a marching related injury which makes me more upset about it.
I was working at the company where I got my first real job. It was near the end of my time there when I was receiving larger parts. Many of the computers I had to scan in and re-pallet were over 150 pounds. We were told that anything over 75 pounds needed to be lifted with multiple people and moved using a special lift cart. There were rare occasions when those were available and we usually got in yelled at for taking too long when we took the time to do so. So we all just lifted things by ourselves.
After months of handling multiple pallets of these every day, my back had had enough. I know it’s because I wasn’t using correct lifting technique. We were always so rushed that I would forget my physical health was more important than their profit.
I never reported the injury. There was a certain stigma about injuries there. Whenever the company went a month without injuries everyone earned 2 hours of un-paid time off. Since paid time off wasn’t offered, everyone got upset when we lost the chance for any time off. So every month when there was an injury reported the entire company would talk about the person like they were the worst disgrace to every cast a shadow on the Earth.
In hindsight I should have just not cared about everyone else and reported it. At the time I thought I would be there longer. I was only there for 3 more months before moving to where I work now.
I wasn’t able to finish the season I was marching. Luckily, it was early in the year so things could be adjusted easily. I said I might be able to march a lighter drum because I didn’t want to let them down. They said I wasn’t letting them down because it was more important for me to recover instead of risking being in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. I still haven’t gone back to try marching again. I think I may be able to if I stay on a lighter instrument but I don’t want to risk it.
When I started teaching I made sure to always find time to teach students how and when to work on strengthening their backs and other muscles to be able to handle years of marching. I still have never had a student leave with back pain after having me as their main instructor.
I would put the details of what I have them do in here but I always have each student do different things depending in their state when they start with me and what they play.
The height of the player effects when the harness places the drum. Some players may just need to work more on stretching than strengthening. Also, too many drum brands make their harnesses for players who are 6 feet tall and un-adjustable.
They don’t work for many of my students who are 5 feet tall without having metal bars pressing into their legs with every step. This also makes the base plate which is supposed to rest on the stomach sometimes not be able to go about the legs. Most of the time the harness can be cut up and modified to put the plate just about the legs but it doesn’t put the weight of the drum in a good spot so they need to work on different muscles to safely perform.
Regardless of the harness, the brand can have a huge effect of the muscles required.
Dynasty has a reputation of having the heaviest drums on the market, but people use them because they are high quality and will last a long time. The one season I marched Dynasty tenors I wore a back brace as a precaution because I was the smallest person in the line and didn’t want to injure myself.
System Blue advertises themselves as being the lightest drums available. This is mostly true. There is another brand that weighs less on average but I haven’t used them yet. The System Blue snares are almost weightless. It’s like having only a harness on so there isn’t as much need for back strength.
However, their tenors weigh 65 pounds so there is a very high need for extra back and core workouts. It would have been much easier if when I was talking to a representative about the tenors and was told they weigh “half as much as other brands,” that they actually did. The other brand we were looking into was confirmed at 20 pounds but wasn’t as well known so the director didn’t want them over the well known brand.
Now that I’ve gotten back into exercising regularly my back doesn’t hurt as often. Stretching more often has really helped as well. I almost never stretched when I was younger unless we did it at rehearsal. I do still have days when my stenosis really gets to me and I can’t move but I don’t have as much constant pain anymore.
The workout program I just started is really causing me some pain during some of the moves. That’s why I decided to write about it today. Hopefully I will be able to finish the entire program and write about it in a few months.