Tensegrity is a Thing
This question comes from Wannes Debruyne on Facebook.
Hi John, a few days ago I’ve seen your video on drumeo, and I was wondering if you might want to answer one question. A few years I keep on getting upper back pain after I’ve practised several hours a day, it’s driving me nuts.
I’ve seen a chiropractor who examined me and told me that my spine and such on a skeletal level is fine, but I strain the muscles too much. So he advised me to go swimming, which I’m doing twice a week since the last half year. But the pain is still there, so that made me wondering about my posture and the way I play the drums. The pain starts as a little bit punchy and when I played for longer periods, the next day it slightly stings.It’s always the same pain and it occurs in the same pattern, I can play 1-2 hours playing painfree and after that, drumming is like a torture. It’s right between both shoulderblades, but slightly a bit down. I only experience this pain while playing drums.What can I do to prevent this?
In the human body, the hard parts are the bones while the soft stretchy parts are connective tissue (fascia et al) and muscles. Some parts of the body, such are the arches in the foot or the central location and vertebrae-on-vertebrae construction of the spine have major compression elements. These design elements allow for the weight of the body to travel through the skeleton and into the floor or object to be moved.
Other parts clearly have tensegrity components. The arms, for example, barely connect to the rest of the skeleton at all. There is no compressible mechanism for the weight of the arms to travel to the rest of the skeleton. In fact to only joint to connect the two is the sternoclavicular joint, between the collarbone and the breastbone, and compressionally speaking, it only braces the arm when you push something away from you, and doesn’t seem to serve much weight bearing function at all. Instead, there is a dense net of connective tissue that supports the arms – just as you’d expect from a tensegrity structure.
Of course, the body combines both in each structure. If the spine were a compression structure only, you’d expect to see it completely straight in order to support the weight instead of the S curves we actually see. The way the arm bones connect enable it to create a baseball bat of sorts that Kung fu masters use to smash bricks. Overall, this combination allows the body to be flexible in general and rigid when it suits. It is a wonderful thing.
Tensegrity structures have a number of unique properties, such as a high strength-to-weight ratio and high mobility. The relevant property top your question is that the entire structure contributes the movement of any one part. You can think of it as a sweater – if you pull on one part you affect the entire sweater.
We are used to compression structures allow for isolated, independently moving parts. With an action figure, for example, you can independently move one arm without affecting the other. Tensegrity structures aren’t like that. Moving one part pulls on everything around it, and that then compresses the other hard parts, which stretch out the other stretchy parts, … so on and so forth until the entire structure is affected.
This total integration is why a tensegrity structure can be so movable, strong and light all at the same time. The force applied to one part of it is distributed and shared by the entire structure. If one part of the structure is held still, prevented from moving, then this process is disrupted. The force cannot be shared normally, so it builds up and over-stresses something. Additionally, the flexibility of the entire structure is compromised. The forces that would normally be distributed through the entire structure get focus one one area and the structure breaks down.
This is where I finally wind back to your question. A tensegrity structure doesn’t always break down where you expect it to. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Because everything is pulling on everything else, you can get shoulder pain from a hip problem, or wrist pain from a shoulder problem. (I have direct experience from both of these!)
I’ve to say that I really pay close attention to how those muscles are behaving and since I limited my practise sessions to 2 hours each time, the pain almost completely disappeared. Guess I wanted too much, in too short time.
That is fantastic to hear! Simply paying attention to your body as you play is really what I’m trying to get people to do with Anatomy of Drumming. The book is meant to motivate drummers to understand and value the information our bodies are giving us. Through learning about how to body is built and how it works enables us to more quickly understand and appreciate that information.
Also, you might be able to get longer practice sessions if you integrate regular breaks. something like 20 minutes of practice then a 10-minute break might give you a lot more time behind the kit overall. Besides, you can always use the break time to transcribe some songs or study music theory.
This information is for your information only. It is not intended to be medical advice and should not be taken as such. The idea here is that the more you know, the healthier and more effective you will be. If you suspect you have a problem that requires medical attention, please see a reputable doctor who is knowledgeable about your problem. .