Pain is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong. Because daily aches and pains are a part of every dancer’s life, how do you know when what you’re feeling is simply soreness from a tough rehearsal or something more serious like a pulled muscle? The following advice will help you decide when it’s OK to go to class and when you need to see a doctor.
Know Your Body
“Some aches and pains with dancing are normal,” says Genevieve De Celles, MPT, who has worked with Indianapolis-based Ballet Internationale. Knowing what symptoms aren’t normal to your body is key to identifying a serious injury. One indicator is pain that shows up suddenly. If your hamstrings are tight and an intense class usually leaves them sore, the pain is likely nothing to be concerned about. But if you’ve never had problems with your back and it suddenly seizes up when you bend over, your body is telling you it’s injured. De Celles recommends asking yourself the following questions when trying todecide whether or not you should be taking class.
1. Do I have swelling now?
2. Do I have pain now?
3. How bad is the pain? Give the pain a number on a scale from 0 to 10, where 0 is no pain and 10 is I-need-to-go-to-the-hospital-now pain.
4. Do I have difficulties accomplishing daily activities, like walking up the stairs or bending over to pick
If the answer to any of these questions is yes (or in the case of #3, higher than 4), De Celles recommends sitting out of class.
During and After Class:
1. Do I develop swelling during class or immediately after class?
2. Do I develop pain during class or
immediately after class? Use the pain scale to rate your discomfort.
3. If the answer to #4 from above was yes, are these difficulties made worse during or after dance class? For example: Is it
difficult to put weight on the injured leg?
4. Do I have difficulty landing on the leg when jumping in dance? Is it harder to walk after dance?
If you answer yes to any of these questions, call a doctor.
Know Your Options
When you’re sidelined due to an injury, take the opportunity to learn from observation. When Stephen Schroeder, a member of Minneapolis’ Zenon Dance Company, sits out class, he says that he picks up tips on technique by studying how other dancers execute movements. He also pays attention to the mistakes they make, so when he’s back in class he knows what to avoid.
If missing a class or a rehearsal is simply not an option, ask your teacher—before class starts, or the moment you feel pain—if you can mark the choreography. Patricia Blair, director of the School of Ballet Chicago, reminds students that sitting out one day could prevent being sidelined for much longer.
If your teacher tells you to go to a doctor, take the advice, but choose your caregiver wisely. Many dancers view conventional doctors as bad guys who will automatically tell them to stop dancing. While some doctors may tell you to back off, there are many who understand that quitting dance isn’t an option. Look for doctors who have experience treating dancers and ask fellow dancers for recommendations.
Pulls, Strains, Sprains, What?
Definitions of three common types of injuries:
• Pulls and strains are injuries to muscles or tendons (the tissue that connects muscle to bone). Tears happen when there is a contraction to the muscle that is more forceful that what the muscle is conditioned for.
• Sprains are injuries to ligaments; ligaments connect one bone to another. They provide stability to joints and are not meant to be stretched, so you may have sprained a ligament if your joint is unstable, painful and swollen.
• Stress fractures are small breaks in the bones. These are common injuries for dancers, typically found in the feet and shins. They develop from repeated impact into the bone. You’ll have pain during impact activities—for example, when landing from a jump. De Celles cautions, “These need to be paid attention to, because if you continue to dance on them, you can actually [fully] break the bone.”