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Your Overtaxed Eyes

December 1, 2014, 10:15 AM · Generally, we think of overuse as applying to large muscle groups and in relationship to pain sensations, i.e., I played too much this weekend and my forearms/shoulders/back hurt. But what about our eyes? Just as our larger muscle groups can be overtaxed, our eyes can as well, especially when we're constantly engaged in work close to our face.

Most of us are looking at sheet music, books, computers, and phones for many hours a day, which keeps the ciliary muscles contracted and our eyes engaging in things close up all of the time.

*Quick time out: your ciliary muscles are the middle layer of eye muscle and change the shape of the lens of the eye. To simplify, the muscles contract in order to look at things close up, and must relax in order to look at objects far away.*
When most of us use our eyes only in a close distance (2-20 feet), our eyes never have a chance to relax. Add to that dubious lighting either for reading music (in a pit, in orchestra, etc.) and no wonder your eyes are tired! Our eyes thrive on seeing both near and far, and in order to see objects far away, the ciliary muscle must relax fully. So what can you can do to facilitate an eye reset?

1. Try to go outside and truly observe the landscape, both near and far, side to side, etc. See how much you can allow your eyes to move without moving your head to facilitate peripheral viewing.

2. Notice if you're overusing your phone, i.e., doing emails and substantial work on your phone. The small text, the bright light, and the proximity to your face isn't helping things, especially if you're on it when you could use a computer with larger text.

3. If you're in an ensemble rehearsal, take a moment at breaks or before rehearsal to look into the depth of the hall or rehearsal space and then come back to the music. If your eyes are feeling particularly overworked, spend more time looking into the seats or outside into the landscape.

4. If you're desk bound or chair bound for most of your day, take a few moments to look out of a window every hour or so, not only to get in some natural light, but also to give your eye muscles a chance to change the loads and stresses placed upon them.

On a side note, can you see better from one eye or from one side of the stand (inside vs. outside) than the other? Do you have one sided headaches, jaw pain, or neckaches after playing that correlate to eye fatigue? Poor instrument alignment can certainly contribute to vision strain, so be mindful of your position seated and standing, especially when your in a pit or in a cramped situation.

Above all, remember that your eyes need care too, just like the other muscles of your body!


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