While interest in the physiology of music making dates back to antiquity, the first real summary of the occupational diseases of performing artists is Bernardino Ramazzini’s 1713 treatise Diseases of Workers. Sporadic interest in arts medicine continued through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In 1932 the English translation of Kurt Singer’s Diseases of the Music Profession: A Systematic Presentation of Their Causes, Symptoms and Methods of Treatment appeared. This was the first textbook to bring together all the current knowledge on performing arts medicine. After World War II, the medical literature began to feature case reports of injured artists. The musical literature also began to carry short items and letters. There was a parallel growth of awareness among dancers.
One of the catalysts for the development of performing arts medicine as a cross-disciplinary field was the Danube Symposium on Neurology, held in Vienna in 1972. The conference focused on music and led to the publication of Music and the Brain: Studies in the Neurology of Music, by MacDonald Critchley and R.A. Henson. Also in 1972 the first Care of the Professional Voice Symposium was organized by the Voice Foundation. This has become an annual conference, with proceedings appearing in the Journal of Voice.
While injured performers and the health professionals serving them began to cooperate more closely, the general public was unaware of these developments. In 1981 a New York Times article described the hand problems suffered by pianists Gary Graffman and Leon Fleisher, and their treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital. These were virtually the first well-known musicians to admit to physical problems, so the publicity generated by their cases brought forth a large, previously unknown group of injured artists.
Since then, the field of performing arts medicine has advanced rapidly, with conferences, publications, clinics and associations. In 1983 the first Medical Problems of Musicians and Dancers symposium was held, in conjunction with the Aspen Music Festival, in Aspen, Colorado. This has become an annual conference and is perhaps the most important in the field. Meetings such as these usually include lectures by health professionals as well as demonstrations and master classes by artists.
In 1986 the journal Medical Problems of Performing Artists was launched. This is the only journal completely dedicated to arts medicine, and it publishes many of the Aspen symposium presentations. Related journals include the Journal of Voice, Kinesiology and Medicine for Dance, and the International Journal of Arts-Medicine. In 1991 the Textbook of Performing Arts Medicine, edited by Robert Sataloff, Alice Brandfonbrener and Richard Lederman, became the first modern, comprehensive text on the subject.
As publishing grew and conferences continued, clinics serving the performing arts community were organized. Generally these clinics are in large cities that support an orchestra or dance company, such as New York, San Francisco and Chicago. There are now more than twenty such centres in the United States and several in various other countries.
Those active in the field of performing arts medicine have also founded associations to further research and education. The Performing Arts Medicine Association, set up in 1989, now co-sponsors the Aspen symposiums. Other organizations include the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science, the International Arts-Medicine Association and the Association of Medical Advisors to British Orchestras.
Research in performing arts medicine has grown from case reports and prevalence studies to sophisticated projects using advanced technology. New treatments, more responsive to the artists’ specific needs, are being developed and the emphasis is beginning to shift to prevention and education.