Dancing Away From Injury
Growing up being highly involved in dance, as a dancer and a teacher, our Physiotherapist Samantha Church has been through her fair share of injuries, but also knows what dancing is all about and the strain that it can put on ones body. Having also taken a course entitled ‘Introduction to Dance Medicine and Survey of Dance Injuries’ through the Harkness Centre for Dance Injuries, she is our in house expert for anything related to dance and injuries. This article comes from her years of experience.
If you are performing a sport at an elite level, there is usually the risk of injury. Certain athletes in particular put their bodies into contorted positions and move with extreme amounts of speed. We’re referring, of course, to dancers. From grand jetes to petit allegro, barre exercises to floor work, the joints and muscles that make up a dancer’s body are pushed to the limit for the sake of their craft.
When treating dancers, we see a number of back and ankle injuries. Physiotherapists are equipped with the knowledge and tools to optimize your function during recovery – meaning that we can keep you moving safely and get dancers back to performing full-out ASAP.
When treating the lower back of a dancer, the cause of pain is usually muscular in origin. However, a common injury in dancers is spondylosis. Spondylosis is basically microfracturing in the vertebrae caused by excessive back extension, and can lead to pain and instability of the lower back. A physiotherapist can help identify whether back pain is caused by muscular spasm or spondylosis, and can refer to a physician if medical imaging is warranted.
As someone with an extensive dance background, I am aware of the vigours that dancer’s bodies are put through on a daily basis, and which movements put the lower back into a compromised position. I was a dance teacher for several years, and can help correct technique and offer dance-specific exercises to train a strong and well aligned core.
Here are some exercises to train the lower abs and glutes, and prevent excessive hyperextension:
- Flutter kicks: Lying on your back with your hands under the lower back, lift the feet and shoulders just off the ground. Kick your legs as if you’re doing flutter kicks in the pool for 30 seconds.
- Dead bugs: Lying on your back with your arms in front of you and your hips and knees bent to 90 degrees. Lower your right arm behind you like you’re doing the back stroke, while simultaneously lowering your left leg down towards the ground until it is just hovering off the ground. Return to starting position and switch to the other arm and leg.
- Single leg glute bridge: Lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Lift your right foot off the floor, push into the floor with your left foot, squeeze your glutes and lift the buttock off the table. There should be a straight line between your shoulders and left knee. Be careful not to twist your core. Slowly lower the glutes and leg, and repeat lifting the other foot.
As a dancer I am no stranger to ankle injuries and know how heartbreaking needing to take time off for an injury can be. Not only do dancers jump frequently, but they also are forced to land while moving forward or turning at high speeds. Dancers feet are squeezed into pointe shoes, scraped and sat on during floor work, and stretched to the limit every day. It is no wonder we see ankle sprains in the dancing population. A physiotherapist can determine which structure in the ankle requires strengthening and rehabilitation in order to prevent re-injury in the future. Not all ankle sprains are created equal, and a physiotherapist can help treat your specific case!
TIPS TO PREVENT INJURY
Always do a proper warm-up – there is a reason ballet classes start with barre, and end with grand-allegro! Get your heart pumping, your muscles warm, and your spine moving comfortably.
Footwear, footwear, footwear! Socked feet on a slippery floor may make your turns easier, but put you at risk for a bad landing that could set you back several weeks.
Whether it is for rehabilitation or injury prevention, a physiotherapist can help optimize your function and technique, prevent re-injury, and keep you dancing for many years to come.