Understanding and Relieving Muscle Knots from Overuse

Happy Monday everybody! I’ve received a few questions on what a muscle knot actually is and ways to relieve and treat knots outside of the usual massage therapy.

Muscle knots, or myofascial trigger points, are a common occurrence especially in areas where you experience muscle overuse from playing an instrument, etc. These knots can consist of muscle contractions within the fibers, and can result in a slight blockage of blood flow to the muscle tissue which can lead to tightness, pain and sensitivity in that area. Because muscle knots do not typically appear in medical scans, some professionals believe that the soreness experienced from these trigger points is likely caused by irritated nerve endings rather than the tight muscle area itself.

While massage therapy is an excellent way to relieve tightness in muscles, if you do not have access to a massage therapist you can try self-massage by rubbing firmly directly into and around the trigger point, or by placing a lacrosse ball between the wall and your upper back/shoulder area and gently rolling it back and forth and up and down around the affected area. Another alternative to pressing the lacrosse ball against the wall is to place it on the floor and lie on your back directly on it, placing the ball between the floor and your trigger point area. Lighten up your pressure and do not use the lacrosse ball if this is notably painful, and any moderate to severe pain should be examined by a medical professional immediately. Placing heating or cooling packs directly on the affected area is another method that can relieve tightness or soreness temporarily, but if the problem is consistent it is best to seek consultation from a professional. If you are planning to use a cold pack on the affected area, place it on the area for 10 minutes and then take it off for 15 minutes. Repeat until you feel relief in the muscles. A heating pack can be placed on the area for 10-15 minutes at a time as well to loosen muscles and relieve pain.

Medical professionals may recommend acupuncture, trigger point injections to relax the muscle, or physical and massage therapy depending on your medical history and the severity of your pain and discomfort. Below are some further articles with more information on muscle knots ✨ #playingwithoutpain






Andover Educators 2019 Conference Reflection by Sarah DelBene!

Flutist Sarah DelBene is a long-time fan of body mapping, and has recently attended the 2019 Andover Educators Conference in Redlands, California where she was able to further study the art of body mapping and learn how to re-train musicians’ bodies to become freer and more efficient in movement while playing. Below is a reflection of her experience at the conference and the benefits of body mapping on all musicians.

I am now over a week removed from this year’s Andover Educators Conference held at the University of Redlands in Redlands, California, and I am still amazed by the quantity of information packed into a four-day conference. Andover Educators is an organization committed use the somatic technique Body Mapping to retrain musicians in order to have the most free and efficient movement while playing. In their words they are “a not for profit organization of music educators committed to saving, securing, and enhancing musical careers by providing accurate information about the body in movement.”

            The theme of this year’s biennial conference was “Building Bridges Through Collaboration.” The wide variety of seminars offered at this conference included Feldenkrais morning movements sessions, the integration of yoga into music-making, presentations on the concept of Core Movement Integration (CMI), and even neuroscience related to finding quantifiable evidence on the physical locations of body maps in the brain. This was in addition to the overall focus on the organization’s presentations related to Body Mapping, and even taking one day to present the core course to Andover Educators, “What Every Musician Needs to Know About the Body.” While I will spare you the in-depth details of this plethora of topics, I did walk away with so much useful information that I am working to incorporate into my own music-making. This information can be divided into three broad ideas or categories.


Balance is Dynamic.


            A large part of my music education I heard the term “posture,” and was in a search for the perfect one for flute-playing. I eventually ended up tying myself up in knots with tension and misuse that I eventually developed hand and back pain my sophomore year of my undergraduate degree. Over Christmas Break of that year I had to take over a week off from playing because I had pulled all the muscles in my back. I knew something had to change or else I may risk severely injuring myself and put my musical career at risk. This is when I coincidentally found the technique of Body Mapping and took my first course on it with Lea Pearson at the Wildacres Flute Retreat in June 2016. My concept of “posture” was shattered, and the concept of proper body balance took its place.

            After being equipped with knowledge and skills to save my future playing career and improve my playing, I continued to self-study body mapping in order to improve my awareness of balance and better movement while playing.

            The biggest revelation of all came at the conference last week. With all my time spent relearning human skeletal and muscle structures, I forgot one big concept: balance is not the same of posture, and I was making them the same thing. Posture has the connotation of one position being the best position for playing. In my understanding it was rigid and static, like the posture one assumes on the marching band field. However, music making requires a variety of different small muscle movements, so staying in one static position or posture is counter to the need for movement to make music. After this week, I am starting to view balance as dynamic rather than static, almost like a home base I can always come back to as I move in and out of it while playing.


Somatic Education is a Collaboration.


             Somatic education can be defined as “the use of sensory-motor learning to gain greater voluntary control of one’s physiological process.” While this conference is a meeting of Licensed Andover Educators, affiliates, and other guests with a strong passion for the Body Mapping technique, other somatic practices were acknowledged and explored. As part of the conference, there was a Morning Movement Session in which a Feldenkrais instructor led us through an Awareness Through Movement (ATM) session, which encouraged fluid movement and inclusive awareness of such. There was a seminar discussing Core Movement Integration (CMI) which likens back to aspects of the Alexander Technique and provides systematic, structured building blocks to quality movement called “pathways.”

            By expanding my awareness of different somatic practices, I realized they all work towards the same goal, but take different paths to get there. Taking a Feldenkrais ATM session, I was able to work on my inclusive awareness (a major principle of Body Mapping) of my whole body and the kinesthetic feeling of quality, fluid movement. Participating in the CMI seminar allowed me to explore different types of movement in relation to picking up, holding, and playing the flute. While I have more experience with Body Mapping and it is my preferred practice, my willingness to be open to and learn from multiple somatic practices has expanded my knowledge bank and has given me more tools to better equip myself with more ways to improve my overall balance and quality of movement. This is true not just in relation to music making but in my everyday life as well.


Embodiment is a Lifelong Journey.


            As with music, the journey to embody (or fully express) the tenants of Body Mapping is a lifelong practice, there is always something to be learn. There is always another stone turnover. As previously stated, I spent awhile relearning my own body maps (or understanding of my own anatomical structures in relation to size, shape, location, and function). Furthermore, I used these retrained body maps to teach myself how to properly stand and sit balanced to avoid pain and injury. However, after going to the seminar on CMI, I was blown away by experimenting with types of full body movements I could use while playing. The realization that balance is dynamic and not static blew my mind. I also learned a great deal when I played for Amy Likar, the current president of Andover Educators, in a masterclass. She told me that learning a passage of music is not just about notes, fingerings, rhythm, and sound, but it is also about using your whole-body awareness to live in or embody the quality and type of movement required to achieve the desired musical effect. The masterclass was video recorded, and I had the biggest “lightbulb moment” when I played an ornamented passage from Telemann’s Fantasia for Solo Flute in B minor perfectly. I surprised myself with my ability to move freely however I chose while playing. True to the supportive and generous nature of the Andover Educators, my success was met with overwhelming kindness and applause.




            While I have made significant strides since my first encounter with Body Mapping in June 2016, my journey is far from over, and is a process I will continue to explore for the rest of my life. The Andover Educators is an organization committed to their work, and they are driven by a belief in their practice and the relentless desire to help other musicians succeed and find freedom in music-making. Attending this conference broadened my circle of friends in the music community and solidified my desire to be more deeply involved in an organization whose technique altered the course of my music career. I would not be where I am today had it not been for the Body Mapping technique and the loving and patient guidance of my mentors in the organization.


To learn more about Andover Educators, Body Mapping, and to find the educator nearest you, log on to their website bodymap.org.

Seeking Treatment - It Is Not Worth the Wait!

This year marked a lot of changes in both my personal and musical lives. It is the first year of my master’s degree in flute performance, which began with a far move away from home and the adjustment to a busier schedule and an increase in the hours of practice, rehearsal, and work I had been used to. While I have always suffered from performance-related injuries, I was sure to seek a new physical therapist immediately upon the start of my semester as a preventative measure to ensure that I was managing my injuries properly with my new lifestyle. Although I still do not live a completely pain-free life, seeking regular treatment has been extremely beneficial in ensuring that my injuries do not worsen. I have also recently been seeing a body tuning physical therapist specific to musicians, which has shed light on a new perspective of possibilities in healing and - for the first time in my life - moving forward from my injuries and having the privilege to perform in anything I want without the lingering fear that my body may physically prevent it.

It is so important to find which treatment method works best for you, because every body is different and has different needs. It has taken me years of trial and error to figure out the things that work best for my individual healing process, and starting now is essential to maintain the longevity of your career as a musician. If you are experiencing pain on a regular basis when you play your instrument and are worried about it, book an appointment with a musculoskeletal doctor in your area as soon as possible. Think of this as a step forward in self care, and do not be afraid of hearing your doctor’s diagnosis. The vast majority of performance-related injuries are 100% treatable, and if you consult with your physician and catch the warning signs early, in most cases the treatment process can be worked around maintaining a consistent practice schedule as long as you follow the instructions of your doctor and seek consistent treatment. Most insurances either mostly or completely cover the costs of therapy prescribed by your doctor depending on the company you are working with.

If you are currently seeking treatment for a performance-related injury, what types of treatment methods work best for you? What are some options you could recommend for your fellow peers or colleagues who may be struggling and are not sure where to begin in their healing process?

No matter what you are dealing with, you are not alone. Know that this website is always a resource to consult if you are feeling worried about the pain you are experiencing, as well as consulting with a trained professional, your private teacher, or a doctor.

-Francesca Leo, Founder

Reducing Pain During Music Festivals

Hi everybody!  I hope you're all having a great summer break so far.  This month's post will be focused around ways to relieve and prevent pain and injury during intensive summer festivals.  My most recent instagram post (@playingwithoutpain) featured some TSA-friendly items you can pack in your suitcase on your way to summer festivals that are good tools to help reduce and relieve pain before and after long rehearsals, but I wanted to ask you all a bit about your experiences with pain during summer festivals as well.

Let me know in the comments below what types of summer festivals you typically attend or plan to attend (orchestral, instrument-specific workshops, masterclasses, instrument-specific intensives, etc.), whether your pain (if you experience any) tends to worsen or improve during these summer festivals, and any tips or tricks you would like to share to prevent and relieve pain that are manageable and simple enough to incorporate into your daily festival routine.  Summer festivals are a great way to maintain your "chops" in between periods of rest and meet/play with new people, but they can sometimes take a great toll on your body.  If you are currently treating an injury or hoping to prevent a future injury this summer, check out my latest posts on social media for some quick tips and tricks that have helped me a great deal.

I'm looking forward to hearing about your experiences in the comments!



Francesca Leo

Types of Pain Experienced in Music Students

Hi everybody, welcome to our first discussion post!  These discussions will be initiated by me once a month.  I will ask a question about your experiences with pain, treatment and prevention methods that have worked for you in the past, and ask to tell us a little bit about yourself (what instrument you play, which school you attend, etc.). I look forward to meeting everybody, and I hope to cultivate a safe and comfortable environment where you can share your experience with injury and connect with others experiencing similar situations.  

To begin, my first question is: what type of pain do you most commonly experience in your practice sessions, and where is it primarily located?  While I know these answers will be dependent on instrument and voice types, do you mind sharing what you play and how long you have been playing? Please type your answers in the comments below.

Thank you, and please let me know if you have any questions/concerns.  I look forward to hearing from you!


Francesca Leo, Founder of Playing Without Pain