Physiotherapy and dance

Physiotherapy and dance
By Ashley Jeon

There are many sports that demand a great deal from the body, however, dance is one that requires an alarming amount of flexibility, true stabilizing strength and incredible balance. Dancers are constantly pushing the limits of what the human body can do, and therefore often suffer from multiple injuries through their dancing career. Although dance may not be your sport, this will highlight elements that Ashley considers in any assessment. The goal is to keep the individual seeking help with rehabilitation to pursue something they love! This could be you, striving to achieve a goal; professional career in dance, training for a race or competition, going on a hike, being able to pick up your kids or grandchildren pain free!

My personal journey that led me to where I am today:

Having danced for over 15 years, I can greatly appreciate and see the benefit from the help I got along the way for injuries my fellow dancers and I sustained. It not only got us back into our dance shoes but has helped me understand the importance of listening to your body, not comparing ourselves to our friends, and assessing why the injury happened and what is the best course of action going forward. It can be difficult to gauge what is happening when an injury occurs or what is best to do next as we are often motivated to quickly ‘put a band-aid on it’ (figuratively speaking) and get back to what we love. However, it is crucial to reflect on its occurrence and note that not all injuries are the same for everyone. Not only do we want to recover from the injury but thinking about the future, we want to avoid sustaining further injuries through prevention measures.

I found my physiotherapy sessions very enlightening as even post rehab, I was able to use their services to better my dancing and mindset. I could ask questions to learn how turnout works to continue bettering my technique, what were the most efficient ways to stretch, understand why I wasn’t as flexible as some of my friends but had greater ability to jump higher, why holding my posture a certain way helping me turn and much more! I could then share the information with my dance teachers to maximize my individual and unique skills in dance numbers and continue to build on my technique in classes. If one wants to strive to attain their best in dance and achieve their goals, whether it is becoming a professional dancer, doing competitions, getting into point shoes or participating in dance classes, I can confidently say that physiotherapy can come in very handy in the process and throughout the journey!

Dance is a Unique Craft:

Dancers flow through an array of beautiful movements to evoke emotions and feelings within the spectators. This is achieved through lines, weight shifts, energetic flow, and explosive power. Throughout these movements and transitions, there are many different loads applied to the body. Having an understanding of movements and our own body is important to mitigate risks, and hopefully prevent injury.

The Foundations: Technique, Range of Motion & Strength:

Without effective stability at the core and a proper technique as the foundation, the dance posture, and the rest of the body are at risk. As an example, weakness or lack of activation in the small deep muscles in our back, can lead to overuse of our bigger muscles. This movement pattern can lead to abdominal weakness and create a cascade of changes which further contributes to back pain and stiffness, and further while limiting your ability to perform to your maximum capacity.

Not only do dancers require effective stability because they constantly move their limbs at different tempos and ranges of motion, it is also critical to have proper motor and neuromuscular control (the ability for specific muscles to activate/sequence at the right time).

Common Injuries:

Just like other sports, there are common injuries based on the nature of the activity. For dancers these can range from head to toe! Overuse injuries are especially prevalent in adolescent dancers. The combination of a growing body with a large volume of training, needs to be monitored closely to ensure the dancer is not putting their body at risk of long-term damage.

It is essential to note that each body and each injury is different, and one’s capacity will change over time. Some dancers can jump or turn with more ease while others have better balance skills. Thus, the exercises and training programs and devices need to be tailored to meet the dancers specific need to attain optimal training and performance.

Physiotherapy Assessment:

The Dancer as a Whole

The body moves as a whole (and is more obvious in dance!) therefore our physiotherapist assessments look at the whole picture (from bones to muscles, to stressors, variable factors, the environment, motivation, etc. As an example, a simple muscle imbalance in the feet can lead to common foot and ankle injuries, which can then affect the dancer’s movement at the hips and likely make it more difficult to turn on the low back stabilizers we were discussing earlier. The body is great at adapting, whether that is bad compensations or, good movement patterns and it is important to consider that the environment and our emotions also play a big role in how we move. Connections and considerations need to be made to get down to the root cause of one’s injury.

Strengthening the Mind:

The widespread application of physiotherapy can impact one’s physical, mental, and emotional wellness. Being aware that your mind and external stressors can impact your physical wellbeing and strength is essential to attaining your maximal performance.

Are You Double Jointed?

Hypermobility (excessive movement in joints) is often a desirable trait in dancers. Other non-dancers may just use their hypermobility as a cool party trick: touching their thumbs to their forearms or wrapping their feet around their neck! For dancers with hypermobility, physiotherapists often spend a great deal of time educating them on how to be aware of excessive movement and potential long-term concerns. With hypermobility comes increased laxity in the ligaments, which can lead to decreased feedback from your joints (proprioceptive feedback) and thus create more instability. Physiotherapists work with the dancer to ensure mindfulness and awareness is achieved, to hopefully help prevent future injury while still being able to dance.

Are you Breathing?

Breathing is an essential human function! While it is essential, often our breathing patterns are dysfunctional and different from person to person. Ashley can analyze your natural breathing pattern and uncover whether there is a compensatory pattern occurring. Learning and adopting a good breathing pattern and getting your heart pumping is important to help maintain stamina, reduce fatigue and can boost the immune system. For dancers, being aware of the breath and having an efficient breathing pattern is important to optimize energy storage.

Listening to Your Body:

There are often warning bells that our body gives us to let us know we are pushing the limits. Being able to listen, act (which may mean rest), and know what our body needs is essential for full recovery. Ashley can help you home in on these skills of awareness to help prevent injuries in the future.

Prevention & Education:

Due to the volume and intensity of dance, unfortunately injuries are often a part of a dancer’s life. However, preventative rehab work can hopefully help to reduce the frequency and severity of the injuries. As humans, we have an enormous capacity to change the way we move through range of motion, strength, and performance. Having knowledge and awareness on our anatomy, how it works, movements patterns, our natural body transformations, what signs to look out for to prevent injuries are all key! If we can build knowledge and adapt good habits to prevent injuries and maximize recovery, we can enable the dancer to participate in their craft longer!

Integration of a Multidisciplinary Team:

You can imagine that through the dance, there is more than just muscle, joints and ligaments that affect movement. Interestingly, as chronic hip and low back pain are common among dancers, so are chronic issues with their digestive systems. The cause and effect of these two issues could be addressed by exploring other healthcare practitioners, such as posturologists, osteopaths, Pilates, and nutritionist etc. The goal of finding the root cause will hopefully help you get back on your feet even quicker!

As you can see in this article, we can all learn from dancers! Whether you are a dancer or not, being aware of your body (our movement patterns, what seems tight or weak, listening for warning signs, etc.) is essential to injury prevention, and will help us preserve our body’s integrity for many years to come!