Cross Training For Dancers
Whether you are a dancer, basketball player, or distance runner, high repetition and practice will develop areas of strength and weaknesses. Overdevelopment of muscle groups can lead to overuse syndromes, while neglecting others can lead to muscles strains down the road. Additionally, hours of high impact activities can lead to increased stress on your joints. Many athletes participate in cross training activities to enhance their performance and prevent injuries. Just like any other athlete or performer, dancers can greatly benefit from cross training activities. So the question is not, “should I?”, but “what should I do?” and “why will it help me?”.
Pilates will help to give you strong technique by strengthening your core, reducing stress on your lower back and improving spinal and alignment. This will help your arms and legs move more freely, allowing you better extension and better overall movement quality. Pilates also helps you determine which parts of your body are weak, tight or overstretched. Because the exercises target specific muscles and joints, they make you more aware of your body so you can work to prevent future injuries.
Yoga will help strengthen and elongate your muscles. Its focus on the intrinsic muscles of the feet is especially good for tappers. Tap dance is known to develop stability in the core, hips and thighs, but requires the lower legs to be loose and agile. Yoga is beneficial because it puts you in an environment where you are barefoot with improved awareness and flexibility in the feet.
Swimming is beneficial for several reasons. First it allows for significant decompression of your joints. Your muscles and brain enjoy the benefit of multiple repetitions without stress on your joints. There are also many different strokes you may choose from. Backstroke will help to open your chest and shoulders, while breast stroke will tone and strengthen these muscles and provides a different movement pattern for your hips and legs. You may also choose to aqua jog or tread water for a great cardio workout.Dancers are often wary of weight training as they do not want to gain bulk to their muscles. However, resistance training is an excellent way to strengthen lean muscle and bones. It is also important for partnering in order to lift or be lifted. In order to develop a successful resistance training program the key is to strengthen with relatively low resistance and higher repetitions. Start by training with weights that can be sustained for 2 sets of 15 repetitions and don’t work up to higher than 3 sets of 10 repetitions.
These are just a few examples of cross training activities that can strengthen your performance and reduce your risk for injury. The key to building the right cross training program for you is to examine your strengths and weaknesses. Based on these findings, step outside your comfort zone or typical routine and try something new. In addition to “filling your fitness gaps” you may just find it opens your mind giving you a mental edge as well.
Speed of Movement
As a dancer it is imperative that you work on your craft at the speed which you have control over your body. Many athletes try to perform too fast and with flare in order to impress teachers and coaches. The truth is that each dancer has an individual speed which they perform at their most efficient tempo. Each person must find that speed which optimizes movement and allows the observer to perceive a natural and smooth flow of technique and artistry.
Speed which is too slow or fast leaves the dancer prone to injury on both ends. If you go too slow, weak muscles won’t be able to keep up with balance activities and too quick of movement leaves you prone to falls and speeds which your muscles and tendons aren’t use to which leaves you open to tendon and muscle injuries. Each dancer must find their way in many ways with dance, but speed of movement is a key. Use your teachers to help you find the balanced speed for your skill level in order to avoid injuries.
Rotator Cuff Tendinitis
Ouch! Have you ever had that achy pain right on the edge of your shoulder? It burns down the side of your arm and it can be tricky to get rid of. Rotator cuff tendonitis is one of the most common shoulder injuries in dancers. This is due to all of the overhead lifts and falling during practice and performances. There are several issues that can cause tendinitis in the shoulder. It is important to determine the cause in order to find the right solution.
The scapular stabilizers, the muscles that cradle the shoulder blade, must be very strong and stable in order to withstand hours of rigorous practice and performance. Weak scapular stabilizers can lead to overuse of the rotator cuff. Regularly performing a series of postural exercises called scapular stabilization can help to wake these muscles up, create a strong foundation for overhead shoulder movement and avoid overusing the rotator cuff.
Another cause for rotator cuff tendonitis is poor posture. That’s right, slouching can set your shoulder up for serious aches and pains. When your shoulders round forward your shoulder shifts forward creating pressure on the rotator cuff, which can lead to tendinitis as well. Postural exercises including foam roller alignment exercises and pilates can help get your posture back on track and allow your rotator cuff muscles to heal.
Straining or a direct contact on the shoulder can cause injury to the rotator cuff as well. It is important to seek medical care if the strength of your shoulder has been affected. It is important after these types of injuries to rest the shoulder. Modalities such as moist heat, ice, ultrasound, laser, or electrical stimulation may be used to calm the shoulder down and relieve pain.
Dancers should seek the care of a physical therapist if they are injured. A physical therapist can help a dancer pre-injury by evaluating their strength, range of motion, and flexibility deficits, helping to fine tune their technique.
As dancers, we’re all used to feeling some degree of pain…and often ignoring and pushing through that pain. In some cases, pain can be persistent and interfere with our desired activities, including dance. Researchers are studying pain and we’re learning more about the science behind it. As a result, we’re also learning more about what we can do to address pain. Pain and science that explains pain are very, VERY complex, but there are some things we can all learn and remember.
Our natural instinct is to correlate pain with tissue damage. If something hurts, we think there must be an injury…a tear, a break, a sprain, etc. However, that’s not always the case. Pain is the brain’s interpretation of information it gets from the body. We feel pain when the brain senses potential danger to a structure area in the body. Remember, this doesn’t necessarily mean there is damage to the tissue, but the brain senses a threat. Many factors can affect the brain’s interpretation of information and how we feel that as pain. Things that can affect our sensation of pain include: inflammation, tissue temperature, blood flow, and various psychological and social factors. These factors can help explain how everyone interprets and feels pain differently.
Although pain doesn’t necessarily mean that damage has occurred, pain is our way of knowing that the body has recognized a threat. It is our body’s way of telling us that it may be time to take action or make a change. This could mean it’s time to rest, change our habits or techniques to avoid injury, or, if the pain and threat persist, seek medical attention to address the pain and risk of tissue injury.
Moseley GL. Reconceptualising pain according to modern pain science. Phys Ther Rev. 2007;12:169-178
Anderson, B. Polestar, the modern day painkiller: discover Polestar’s simple formulas to pain relief through movement. Presented May 7, 2017.
Hip Weakness in Dancers
Many of the dancers we see at Magna Physical Therapy & Dance Medicine Center present with significant hip weakness. How can that be if dancers use their legs continuously in class? Our theory is that dancers actually have a great deal of underlying hip muscle strength, but develop what we call “fatigue weakness”. Most of this type of fatigue occurs in the gluteal and rotator muscle groups of the hip. This type of weakness develops when dancers overwork their muscles by continuously dancing everyday with minimal tests. Daily dancing doesn’t give muscles enough time to rest and recover which could lead to injury.
Solutions to fatigue weakness are to make sure that surrounding muscles including the hamstrings, quadriceps, psoas and core groups are sufficiently strengthened since they would absorb extra forces when the rotators and gluteus muscles develop fatigue weakness. Strengthening in this manner combined with cardiovascular training will significantly reduce your risk of injury while simultaneously improving dance technique.
If you need instruction on how to develop the above musculature, Magna Physical Therapy offers 1-2 visit programs for dance fitness evaluations and program development. Many of our dancers have found the program to be very beneficial for strengthening and injury prevention.
To schedule your customized program, call 860-679-0430.
Adolescent Growth Spurt
If you are between the ages of 11-14 and frequent your local physical therapy clinic, you are in good company! Why, may you ask? Is it the incredible staff or the enlightening experience you have? Perhaps, but it could also be possible that you are experiencing the effects of an Adolescent Growth Spurt (AGS). These growth spurts typically last about 18-24 months, are highly individual and can be very frustrating, especially if you are serious about dance.
During AGS, your body does not grow proportionately. Long bones grow faster than tendons which can lead to overuse syndromes (including many forms of tendinitis). Additionally your bones do not grow symmetrically which can cause temporary scoliosis. Other issues include decreased flexibility, fragility of growth plates, decreased motor awareness and lack of balance (feeling clumsy), and fatigue. All of these issues can lead to time away from dance and a loss of self-esteem.
If treated properly, these injuries can be temporary and reversible. Here is what you can do to minimize your risk: limit heavy impact, big jumps, jumps on one leg, and pointe work on one leg. Limit the amount of weight bearing on your knees and grande plies. Increase your core conditioning, time and quality spent stretching, and proprioceptive balance training. You can also support your growing body by maintaining a healthy and balanced diet, getting plenty of rest, and limiting your stress. A physical therapist can assess your imbalances and help you to develop a program to correct them.
Dunn, J. (2013, March 21). Dancing Through the Adolescent Growth Spurt. Retrieved from http://www.4dancers.org
All About Anatomy
As dancers, our body is our tool and our instrument. Whether it be a musical instrument or types of paint, other artists spend time learning about their tools. Shouldn’t we do the same? When we talk about studying our bodies, we talk about anatomy and physiology. Anatomy is the structure of our bodies, what they are made of. Physiology is the function of our bodies, it is the study of how things work within the body and how the anatomy is put into action. When we are dancing, anatomy and physiology are a part of every move.
I personally find a lot of value in considering the anatomy and physiology behind our dancing. I think that understanding your body and how it works is an important part of preventing injuries and promoting a long and healthy dance career. Also, understanding the body helps us to use it more effectively to be better and stronger dancers.
When starting to learn about dance anatomy and physiology, here are some tips:
1. Start with the basics – Start with the skeleton and learn to identify each bone in the body. Work on identifying bones in pictures and within your own body. Then start learning about joints, where bone comes together. Then learn about muscles, where they are and what movements they produce.
2. Find a book or website – There are many great resources available for learning about anatomy. Of course, the internet has a lot to offer with websites dedicated to anatomy. There are also some great books devoted to dance-specific anatomy. These books describe bones, joints, and muscles with specific examples of how they relate to dancers and dancing.
3. Apply it to your dancing – Once you start learning about anatomy, try to become more aware of how it comes into play while you’re dancing. Think about which bones and joints are moving with your tendus and port de bras. Try to imagine which muscles are contracting with your pliés and relevés. Once you start learning about anatomy, you’ll continue discovering more and more resources to further your learning. Hopefully, you’ll begin to apply that knowledge while you’re dancing and find it quite valuable.
Brian Magna, DPT, ATC
Eventually it will happen. Eventually you will suffer some type of injury during your dancing days. How are you going to handle this? What is your definition of rest? How will you modify your dance activity in order to decrease pain and let your body heal? I believe we have the answer.The role of the physical therapist is not to keep you from dancing, but to keep you dancing as much as you can physically, but most of all safely. Therapists often have to deal with dancers and parents not willing to modify their dance intensity or activity levels. Their reluctance is their fear of losing a role, missing a competition or falling out of the graces of their dance teacher.
The dancer only has one body and a window of time in their lives to dance effectively and should be willing to sacrifice time when injured to keep chronic problems from setting in. Keeping an open mind, listening to your therapist as well as listening to your body is always the best choice in order to have a positive recovery and return to the studio in a more productive manner.