When you ask dancers what their biggest fear is – many will tell you it is the fear of getting injured. However, it is important to remember that your dancing life is not necessarily over because of an injury.
In fact an injury can turn out to be one of the best experiences in your dance career. It can give you an opportunity to take the time to listen to and learn about your body and grow as a dancer.
No one wants to get an injury, however, at some stage we all do. Whether it is the niggle in your hip that you try to ignore or a stress fracture in your foot that means you have to stop dancing for a period of time – injuries are going to occur. I believe that as soon as we begin to realise that injuries are a part of being human, the better we will be at recovering from them and preventing them from recurring.
When I was dancing, I had many friends who would get injured but would refuse to go and see a doctor or physiotherapist to have their injury assessed and managed. Most of the time it was because they were afraid of being told that the injury was real, or that it was serious, or that they would have to stop dancing for any period of time. The general advice from doctors or physiotherapists when it comes to a dance injury is usually “to stop dancing for 6 weeks”. However, this does not necessarily need to be the case. When I see young dancers in the clinic with dance related injuries, one of the first things I tell them is “there is always something you can do within class”. If you have sprained your ankle – you still have another foot, 2 arms and a body that you can be working on – plus your rehabilitation exercises. Although we may need to modify class load to some degree, I believe that you can usually still participate in some way. This is when it becomes important to see a health professional who specialises in working with dancers and understands the different components of a dance class.
“To stop dancing during injury isn’t always the answer… there is always something you can do within class such as rehabilitation exercises”.
I thought I would take this opportunity to give you an example of a dancer I have been working with in Adelaide. Earlier this year, she was working on a can-can routine at dance and as she jumped down into the splits she felt something in her hip ping. Following an x-ray she found that she had an avulsion fractured her ischial tuberosity (in normal English this means she broke off a bit of her sit bone). This also meant that she lost the use of her hamstings and inner thigh muscles as they attach to her sit bone. For the first 6 weeks she was not allowed to put any weight through her leg and had to use crutches. She came to see me to discuss how physiotherapy would be able to help her get back to class and what would be involved. We talked about the seriousness of her injury and that it would be approximately 6 months before she could return to classwork. As soon as she was cleared from the doctor to weight bear and start using her muscles again, we started on an intensive physiotherapy program that aimed at building strength through her hamstrings and glutes. We talked a lot about why her injury occurred, how muscles work, what other factors can influence strength and flexibility and the processes involved in recovering from an injury. Although she couldn’t dance she used the time that she would have been in class to do her exercises and learn about her body. Because she worked so hard on her rehabilitation program, she was able to return to basic class work after just 3 months. Following the program we had developed together she has continued to slowly increase her dancing load and by the beginning of 2016 she will be able to be back doing kicks at full height and big jumps. On many occasions through her rehabilitation she said to me that she had learnt so much about how her body works through her injury and even mentioned that she was now interested in becoming a dance physiotherapist. I couldn’t have asked for more.
The sooner you get an injury seen to the sooner you can recover from it. In my experience as a physiotherapist, I have seen many people come in with acute low back injuries. Those who come in within the first 1-3 days of their injury occurring usually recover within 2-3 weeks (providing they follow the advice they are given). Those who think their pain will just go away and leave it for as little as 1-2 weeks before seeing a health professional can take anywhere from 6-8 weeks before they get back to doing their normal activities again!
Another way to think about it is looking at cars (I love it when I can relate dance to other things). Even the best made cars break down. You can buy a $200,000 Ferrari or a $2,000 second hand car – either way you still need to ensure you get it serviced, put petrol in it, check the engine for oil and water – and at some stage something is going to break down. You may have a body that is well designed to cope with the demands of dancing, or you may have a body that you constantly have to work hard on to keep flexible and strong… either way the chances of sustaining and injury are still there.
The most important thing to remember is that injuries are a part of being human. They are not something to be feared, but something to learn from and become a stronger dancer from the experience.