Injury Prevention for the Marching Performer
What is a ‘marching performer’? A marching performer is an active member of marching band, drum and bugle corps, or winter drumline. They combine musical and visual arts by performing an entertaining program on a football field, or in the case of winter drumline, a gymnasium.
Elements of the Marching Activity
During the performing season, the body is continuously exposed to a variety of stresses that can lead to injury if not adequately prepared. The marching activity can be considered a high intensity sport that requires the ability to simultaneously perform at high levels of excellence both musically and visually. The visual portion involves these areas of exercise:
- Cardiovascular Capacity
A competitive field show lasts between 8-12 minutes in which the performer is active throughout the duration of the show. Since most of the instruments require respiratory contribution, such as the woodwind and brass sections, the body needs an appropriate amount of cardiovascular training to successfully play the instrument during active marching and choreography. While one may train to run for a certain amount of time or distance, the physical demand increases when breathing is inhibited by the demands of the instrument.0
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During the training season, members often suffer from muscle soreness due to the sudden increase of exercise frequency, intensity and duration. Strength is important for the marching member to execute the technique properly and avoid injury. They must be able to hold their instrument with excellent posture for long periods of time. During marching exercises and drill on the field, they will change directions quickly and often and need strong legs, ankles, and core muscles to make those moves. In addition, choreography is a common element of the field show and requires well-conditioned muscles to support the complex body movements.
Flexibility supports the performer’s ability to apply the marching technique safely and properly. Without a good range of motion in the active joints, the movements will be uncomfortable and could cause injury. During training, consistent stretching will help to decrease sore and stiff muscles that occur with the prolonged exercise.
Other demands of the marching activity include:
- Long rehearsals (up to 12 hours/day)
- Repetitive movements
- Exercising in the sun and heat, cold and rain
The best performers are proficient in these areas and consequently have fewer injuries. It is best to prepare for intense training before the season begins. If the body is ready to handle these different elements of activity, injury is less likely to occur. To adequately prepare the body for the demands of the activity, it is helpful to understand the motions and active muscles commonly used. These are the basic movements used in the marching activity:
- Hip Flexion – forward marching
- Hip Extension – backwards marching
- Ankle Dorsiflexion – high toes for technique
- Ankle Plantar Flexion – direction changes and halts, hip usually internally or externally rotated
- Trunk Rotation – slides (marching sideways)
- Hip Internal and External Rotation – direction changes, halts
These motions are repeated many times a day during rehearsal and need to be supported by the muscles involved. Here are the primary lower extremity muscles/muscle groups responsible for the marching motions that are susceptible to injury due to the repetitive nature of activity:
- Hip Flexors
- Calves (Gastroc and Soleus)
- Tibialis Anterior
The muscles/muscle groups of the upper body, core, and lumbar stabilizers are important to support marching movements, maintain posture and carry the instrument:
- Abdominals (obliques and rectus abdominis)
- Latissimus dorsi
Common Injuries and Symptoms
Most injuries related to marching activities are considered overuse injuries. Overuse injuries occur when the body does not have time for the muscles and tendons to adjust to added stress and begin to break down. Improper training and application of technique are usually the cause of these injuries. If a member begins to rehearse and train without prior conditioning, the sudden increase of intensity, frequency, and duration of exercise will most likely develop into an overuse injury. It is not unusual to have complaints of aches and pains during the marching season, however if left untreated they can develop into serious injuries.
Some common injuries and symptoms of marching are:
- Back Pain
- Hip Flexor/Groin Strain or Pain
- Shin Splints
- Knee Pain
- Achilles Tendonitis/Pain
Since marching activity requires many repetitive motions, a slight change in technique can be serious as the season progresses. It is important to focus on perfecting the marching technique to ensure maximum support to the body and decrease chance of injury. For example, during the forward march motion, it is desirable to keep the ankle dorsiflexed as much as possible for the front step. Proper technique emphasizes keeping the heel low as the leg swings forward; however when the knee is bent too much during the swing phase of gait, it creates unnecessary impact to the heel with each step. This repetition of heel impact throughout the season can cause injury to the lower leg, most commonly shin splints. In order to avoid injury, it is suggested to prepare the body for the cardio, strength, and flexibility demands before the season begins.
This information is meant for general informative purposes and for specific treatment and appropriate preparation for marching activities, please contact a physical therapist to provide a full evaluation that will best suit individual needs.
Jen Quillen has a passion for competitive marching activities and has been involved with the award-winning Oregon Crusaders Drum and Bugle corps as a member from 2003-2006 and continued as the visual staff since 2007. She has also taught marching for high school bands in both California and Oregon. In her spare time, she enjoys running and spending time with friends and family, though in the summer she is usually on tour with the drum corps traveling to compete throughout the United States.