How to recognize and avoid them.
Injuries can be devastating to a dance career, but you can reduce their occurrence or avoid them—if you know what to look for.
1. Neck Strain: Choreography that calls for excessive head movement can easily strain dancers’ neck muscles, especially if dancers do not properly use the full spine when arching the head/neck.
Prevention Tip: Lengthen the neck rather than collapse it. Think of the image of fountains as a long, graceful arch.
2. Rotator Cuff Tendonitis and Impingement: Extensive use of the arms (overhead lifts and falls) can lead to tears in upper-arm tendons or even impingement, painful pressure felt in the shoulder when the rotator cuff and scapula rub together as arms are lifted.
Prevention Tip: Be aware of the actual landmarks of the shoulder girdle. Once dancers understand the scapula is located behind them, they can have better anatomically aligned mechanics.
3. Lower-Back Strain and Muscle Spasms: Lifting, arching and improper technique can all overwork and strain the lower-back extensor-erector muscles. Dancers with lordosis (a swayed back or lower-back curve) are more prone to spasms.
Prevention Tip: Visualize the image of a cummerbund, where the dancer has a more three-dimensional sense of their abdominal wall. Or, imagine the pelvis as a bowl with water. Preventing the water from splashing will improve core strength.
4. Snapping Hip Syndrome: Iliotibial (IT) Band tightness, weakness along the outside of the hip and lordosis can cause this syndrome. Dancers will experience a snapping rubber-band–like sound in the frontal hip joint, as the IT band glides over the greater trochanter (upper-leg bone).
Prevention Tip: Strengthen the lower abs and all pelvic stabilisers (abductors, adductors, hip flexors), and avoid turning out at the feet, which stresses the knees and hips.
5. Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome: This syndrome stems from tight hamstrings and calf muscles, weak quadriceps and repetitive force from normal movement putting pressure on the patella (kneecap), causing the knee-protecting cartilage to lose its shock-absorbing ability. Dancers with high-arched or flat fleet, wide hips and knees that turn in or out are more likely to experience this pain.
Prevention Tip: The knee is the victim between the ankle and the hip, so core strength, hip-abductor strength training and IT stretching are key.
6. Meniscus Knee Tear: Twisting knees during movement, forcing feet in turnout or losing control when landing a jump can tear the cushioning knee cartilage.
Prevention Tip: Strengthening the core is so crucial to knee health. It lessens the burden on the knee, so you are not landing with so much force.
7. Posterior Tibial Tendonitis: Dropping the medial arch during warm-ups or basic barre exercises overworks the tibial tendon. This type of tendonitis also coincides with shin splints or can be the result of chronic ankle rolling.
Prevention Tip: Work to lift the arches and do not force turnout from the feet.
8. Achilles Tendonitis: An overuse injury caused by training extensively during a short period of time, dancing on a hard floor or putting pressure on a tightened calf muscle. Weight pressure or unbalanced range of motion will predispose dancers to this type of tendonitis.
Prevention Tip: Use Thera-Bands when doing tendus, basic flexibility and resistance work.
9. Lateral Ankle Sprain: A ligament tear that happens when the outside of the ankle rolls inward after loss of balance from landing a jump.
Prevention Tip: Use a Thera-Band to keep the ankle flexible and strong.
10. Posterior Ankle Impingement Syndrome: A pinching sensation felt during repeated movement, as the heel bone comes into contact with the talus bone and tissues at the back of the ankle compress. Reaching a full range of motion when pointing the feet or in relevÃ© will be difficult. Dancers born with an extra bone in place are more prone to this syndrome.
Prevention Tip: Vary your training regimen to focus on other types of dance after excessive pointe or demi pointe work.
Stretching is the key to flexibility. To keep muscles supple, they need to be elongated. This will lengthen muscle and connective tissue, increase relaxation by reducing muscle tension, aid in blood circulation and help prevent injury.
Employ both dynamic and static stretches, with a focus on the static stretches. Each of these should be held for between 10 and 30 seconds and move through all major muscle groups. With some muscles, it may help to rotate the limb as you stretch. Don’t put weight on the muscle being stretched, as the muscle needs to be relaxed to be stretched effectively. You Massage Therapist may also offer stretches as part of your customized session before, during or after the massage depending on your needs.
Massage For Improved Health
A massage improves your health by assisting in the elimination of toxins like lactic acid and it improves circulation to tissues within the body including the skin. It can elongate tight muscles, keeping joints ‘less stressed’ from being compressed by tight/short muscles (like those surrounding the knee for example). A major benefit of massage is that it decreases the pain you feel in your muscles after training, rehearsals and performance through the dispersal of the lactic acid. A good Massage Therapist will also give specific stretches to target problem areas. Massage will increase the range of movement through your joints, speed up the recovery after hard training and increase energy flow.
Massage For Immunity
Massage helps the immune system as it increases the number of white blood cells in the body. Research at a Florida university showed an increase in neutrophils (the most common type of white blood cells) after massage. We know that white blood cells protect the body by engulfing bacteria, an indication that, massage indeed boosts the immune system.
It also helps the release of emotions and stimulates inner organs through nerve stimulation, more like Chinese acupuncture.
Massage For Injury Prevention
Massage is considered to help prevent injuries by assisting the body to stay supple, de-stressed and in better shape. As there is less tension in highly used muscle groups they react better to the ‘stress’ of dancing. The most affected muscle groups are illustrated below:
Massage For Injury Recovery
Massage is often associated with injury recovery, depending on the type of injury. Always seek advice from a medical practitioner first who can check whether there are hairline fractures or spinal alignment problems, a severe inflammation or contusion – bleeding after an injury to the muscle.
The medical practitioner often recommends massage as treatment in recovery from injuries which produce swelling in muscles and joints. But it is important to have a good understanding of the injury before applying massage, because a deep massage to a freshly injured muscle will only increase the problem and damage the muscle fiber further.
Sometimes a dancer may use their ‘turn out’ muscles to such a degree that it prevents them from being able to ‘turn in’, limiting the range of motion in the hip. Recommended stretches and massage to correct the one sidedness of the training can help. Always think of doing the opposite moves from the normal class movements.
When should dancers get a massage?
A dancer’s body is highly tuned and sensitive, and a deep massage with strong release techniques can make your body parts sore for a day, until you reap the benefits. It can also give you the feeling of being in a different alignment or ‘place’, so that lifting your leg up or doing a turn could feel completely different than before – you might feel ‘out of sorts’ or ‘out of tune’ so to speak. If that is the type of massage you need, please make sure you get one just before a rest day, but not on a performance day or even a day before as it can ‘throw you off’. However, shorter massages on local areas such as the calves or thighs, if you are getting cramps or lactic acid build up, are beneficial right there and then even during rehearsal/ performance.
There are special techniques that help dancers gain quick recovery during a performance. There are stretches specifically designed for the dancer’s body, and other methods of targeting lactic acid build up which can be extremely helpful when applied at right moment.
How often should a full time dancer have a massage?
I would seriously recommend a dancer to have a decent massage at least once a month, if not every two weeks, depending on your schedule. A good massage once a month, before a rest day, will keep you free from problems building up over time.
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