This report gives a small flavour of some of the highlights of a packed conference programme with content covering all forms of the arts and many of the conditions that performing artists suffer from. It was a wonderful opportunity to hear from experts across the world, including Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Spain, UK and USA who are researching and implementing best practice in performing arts health.

Apart from the chock-full official conference programme, there were several opportunities to network and lunch-breaks provided opportunities to attend special interest meetings such as the Research Committee, and a chance to discuss the needs of PAM research with a broad range of interested and enthusiastic colleagues. A research workshop also provided food for thought on improving the quality of PAM research to ensure optimum ‘performing artist-centric’ care.  Performers experience several health problems as a result of their work, and it is our task to develop solutions that work for, and are acceptable to performers.

Dr. Victor Dzau of the National Academy of Medicine, outlined the work being undertaken to prevent clinician burnout, and made the comparison with performing artists. Both professions aim to improve the lives of the public and both suffer health problems as a result. Dr. Dzau recommended bringing together stakeholders to collaborate on solutions to support the workforce.

One fascinating area of development in the USA is new research coming out of the National Center of Complementary and Integrative Health, particularly in the application of complementary therapies to chronic pain. We heard now the opioid epidemic in the USA has resulted in opiods being the leading cause of death in under 50s. Often caused by over-prescription of painkillers, US policy makers and practitioners are seeking alternatives to manage pain. What this means is that significant randomised control trials are now being conducted which will give much better evidence on the use of complementary medicine as part of standard of care. This will be something to watch over the next few years.

Still on the theme of improving health, there were several presentations on techniques to prevent overuse injuries and in one of them renowned drummer Joe Corsello spoke about how his playing had been affected after performing for years and demonstrated techniques to avoid injury. We also heard several examples of how multidisciplinary teams of clinicians, therapists and educators had worked with patients to create holistic treatments to enable them to overcome injuries, including dystonias, enabling them to return to performing. It was humbling to hear from several elite performers whose own injuries had caused them to develop an academic career investigating and evidencing solutions to enable other performers to avoid similar problems in the future.

Dr Dan Bernadot, a nutritionist working with athletes outlined his approach to supporting performers to understand the importance of diet and hydration so that they have the energy to do what they need to do and how to manage this in the context of performance schedules.

In a series of moving presentations, we heard about the culture of bullying and harassment in some music conservatoires that had come out after the #metoo campaign and how one performing arts education provider was changing attitudes by bringing in policies to reduce the possibility of this happening by introducing regular training to all teaching staff; having glass doors on all teaching rooms; acting on all rumours about suspect behavior and forbidding any student/teacher fraternization beyond the professional relationship.

A mental health panel, led by Dr Susan Raeburn, considered the mental health issues that particularly affected popular musicians and how these were exacerbated by life on tour. We heard about the personal experiences of artist Darren Hayes and the therapist Dr. Nancy Sobel who had worked with a number of top bands and soloists in the USA.

This in no way does justice to the many insightful presentations we heard over the four days and we’d like to thank Mike Shipley and Phillip Rudge for their financial support in enabling us to attend. We were excited to learn that the PAMA Committee has decided that the 40th conference in 2022 will hopefully take place in London and we look forward to supporting the development of an equally memorable event in the UK.

Written by Claire Cordeaux, Diane Widdison, Dr. Finola Ryan