New technology tackles a classical problem

WAAPA Dr Luke Hopper with Miranda Murray-Yong WAAPA Classical Music studentMotion capture technology popularised by Hollywood is helping cellists prevent and overcome chronic injury.

A collaborative research project, between the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), the University of Western Australia and the University of Sydney uses this technology to investigate movement patterns of elite cellists, aiming to inform the prevention and rehabilitation of injury.

Elite cello playing requires complex and refined motor control. Cellists are prone to right shoulder and thoracolumbar injuries. Research informing injury management of cellists and cello pedagogy is limited. The aims of this study were to quantify the torso, right shoulder, and elbow joint movement used by elite cellists while performing a fundamental playing task – a C major scale, under two volume conditions – loud and soft. 31 Western Australian cellists with an average experience of 19 years participated in the study.

The research follows WAAPA Postdoctoral Research Fellow Dr Luke Hopper’s previous study, which used motion capture technology for dance. “Dancers tend to get injured from the bottom up, however cellists are the opposite because most cello playing injuries occur in the upper half of the body,” said Dr Hopper.

“Cellists tend to suffer from forearm, shoulder, elbow and lower back injuries, which are predominantly caused by overuse because they spend huge amounts of time rehearsing, practicing and performing.”

Breaking new ground:
Dr Hopper said the clinical needs of a performing artist are quite different to those of a dancer or sports person and research into music injuries was still relatively new. “Performing artists often don’t know how to manage an injury or they might try to hide it,” said Dr Hopper. “There’s a bit of a stigma that if you can’t perform you’ve somehow failed, but a lot of injuries are preventable if they’re addressed at an early stage.”

Using motion capture:
Dr Hopper said the motion capture system works by placing dots on the cellist and creating a virtual skeleton. Researchers can then use this to measure the range of movements made while performing a fundamental playing task. “We looked at the normal movements a cellist would use when they are in good health, so if they do become injured clinicians have a baseline to work towards,” said Dr Hopper.

Elite cellists use specific movement patterns to achieve string crossings and volume regulation during fundamental playing tasks. Implications of the static left-rotated torso posture and high degrees of combined shoulder flexion and internal rotation can be used to inform clinical and pedagogical practices.

Co-authored with Clifton Chan, Suzanne Wijsman, Timothy Ackland, Peter Visentin and Jacqueline Alderson, the research paper was published in Medical Problems of Performing Artists.

Image: Dr Luke Hopper with Classical Music student, Miranda Murray-Yong – courtesy of WAAPA