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Avoiding or Recovering From a Lip Injury From Playing Trumpet

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Tim teaches musical instruments in schools and colleges. He also plays the trumpet in several bands and arranges and publishes music.

My Trumpet Lip Injury

During my teaching week, I was helping out at a school concert where my brass group was due to perform. I was blowing some air through my trumpet when a child ran around the corner through a door while he was looking in the opposite direction. Even though I was several metres away, I just couldn’t move away quick enough and the child head butted the end of my trumpet. My lips where trapped between my mouthpiece and my teeth; I was fortunate that none of my teeth where knocked out, though one was slightly chipped. This caused severe bruising and muscular damage to the left side of my embouchure.

The First Steps of Recovery

The first step towards recovery from an injury, bruise, or strain is to try and reduce the swelling. You have to be very careful when using ice on your lips. It is possible to cause significant damage by over icing. It is recommended to hold the ice behind a cloth, being careful not to hold the ice in one place for too long. Holding you lips under a cold water tap is also effective at reducing the swelling, and there is no risk of making them worse. Anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen can also be very helpful. The temptation is to play as soon as possible, but it is recommended to wait until the swelling and pain goes away. Don’t play if it hurts!

The First Notes to Recovery

After the swelling had gone down I decided to do some light buzzing on my mouthpiece. Even though it had been a week it was still uncomfortable and the left side of my embouchure felt strange. My lip ”clicked” when it moved and that area was uncomfortable to play on. I used to play with slightly spread lips and by puckingring them in slightly it seemed to aggravate them less and engaged my bottom lip more. I found using a slightly smaller mouthpiece more comfortable and I had less of a reaction after playing. I was pretty confident that I had a slight rip in my muscle and the doctor said that my glands in my lip had enlarged.

First Practise Sessions to Recovery

For my first practise sessions, I used the “John Thompson Buzzing Book”, exercises 1 to 4. Practising along to the backing tracks helps you to structure your rest during and between exercises. The mouthpiece glissandos are particularly good for embouchure recuperation. These exercises only go up to the 3rd space C, which is enough exercise to help the muscle recover but not high enough to do any damage. These exercises take about 15 minutes to complete and I did this as my sole practise every morning for a week, having the odd day off if I felt I needed it. I then started to practise Clarke Technical Studies 1 and 2 in the evenings. I focused on the lower exercises and made sure I took breaks between each line. I kept this routine going for a month, gradually increasing the intensity of the exercises from the Buzzing Book and the Clarke. It was hard, dedicated and disciplined practise, and though I would have the occasional relapse, I slowly started to feel stronger. I wasn’t out of the woods yet put it was a positive start and with continued structured practise it seemed I would be able to make a full recovery.

Structuring Your Practice!

Your practise is the best way to avoid an injury to your embochure. One of the golden rules for practising the trumpet is to rest as much as you play and split your practise in to several sessions. For example, an hour practise could be:

Warm Up Session

  • 20 Minutes. Taking mini rests between exercises, avoid playing high notes/not too loud.
  • Mouthpieces buzzing from the John Thompson Buzzing Book or the Stamp book.
  • Lip Slurs, long notes and some simple tonguing exercises.
  • Break.

Technical Session

  • 20 minutes, while taking mini breaks between exercises.
  • Scalic and interval exercises such as Clarke Technical Studies, Arban, Vizzuti books 1 and 2.
  • Break.
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  • 20 mins, while taking mini breaks between sections.
  • This could be anything and should reflect future performance schedules. This could be performance pieces for exams or concerts or a variety of studies.

Warm Down

  • Take a few minutes to play some relaxing low notes, maybe a few pedals.
  • This practice routine can be extended but the principle is that you want to finish your practise fairly fresh meaning your lips will feel great the next day!

Important Rest Days

Swelling of the lips can be the result of bruising through too much mouthpiece pressure or a result of muscular strain. The lips can feel very stiff and inflexible, which can lead to a less focused sound and a loss of high register. The articulation often becomes less clean, especially on first note attacks.

Taking your time to warm up in the lower register can help revive the lips but you could avoid the the swelling through playing with less mouthpiece pressure, a more relaxed posture and focusing on your breathing, aperture and tongue level.

Muscular strain can be avoided by structuring your practise with plenty of rest and recovery time. If you have had a period of strenuous playing you will then need a period less intense practise to allow your muscles to recover. Typically muscles take up to 2 to 3 days to recover fully after intense use (more if strained). The recovery process is an important part of the muscle strengthening. Without a period of recovery the muscles stay weak and risk the chance of a more serious muscle strain or rip.

You can become more prone to more serious muscle strains or rips if you spread the corners of your lips to far to your ears Like a smile. The musculature of your lips is also stronger if you don’t stretch them too far.

I found the Denis Wick Vibrass helped my recovery as massage can help treat muscle scaring and aid muscle recovery. I also slept wearing a mouth guard which I had fitted at the dentist. This helped the recovery of where the teeth had been hit in to the lip and after a week I could feel the difference.

Treating Sore Lips

If your lips are sore or swollen, it's normally a sign to take a rest or to take it easy. If your lips are sore, there are plenty of lip balms and creams which can be very helpful. Chop saver and Robinson’s Lip Remedy have been especially created for musicians and are used to relieve the symptoms of sore lips and swelling.

A Full Recovery

After a year of dedicated practise, I felt like I had made a full recovery. This process has made me more aware of the importance of structured rest within practice and the benefits of strength and endurance that this can bring. I still have a little lump in my lip from the impact, but it doesn’t bother me anymore.

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