We've all felt nagging pains in our lower backs, necks and shins—and we've all ignored them. It's easy for dancers to chalk these seemingly minor afflictions up to nothing more than #dancerprobz. But there comes a point when it's time to stop pretending everything's fine. “Most bigger dance injuries occur because of overuse, so dancers need to be diligent about the little problems," says Sean Gallagher, PT, founder of Performing Arts Physical Therapy in NYC. Dance Spirit spoke with Gallagher and Laura Hohm, PT, DPT, CFMT, of PhysioArts in NYC, about how to care for these unloved body parts.
You Feel: Sharp twinges of pain or stiffness when you turn your neck, especially when spotting or performing choreo with lots of head movements.
If Left Unaddressed: Neck symptoms are often indicative of overworked, strained muscles. Continued stress can cause irreversible tissue damage, loss of motion in the cervical spine and nerve pain.
Try This: “Stretching the neck muscles can make the pain worse in certain situations," Hohm warns, so use caution when you feel the urge to stretch it out. Hohm recommends The Thinker pose: Make a fist with your right hand and place it under your chin, supporting your right arm by holding your left arm across your body and tucking it under your right elbow. You should feel the tension in your neck begin to release as you relax on your fist.
You Feel: Pain or soreness along the front of your lower leg, especially while jumping or in relevé—commonly known as shin splints.
If Left Unaddressed: Shin splints can progress to stress fractures, which are twice as painful and difficult to heal.
Try This: A full calf and foot warm-up prior to dancing should do the trick, as well as gentle calf stretching and periodic icing when soreness occurs.
You Feel: Sharp, persistent lower back pain that worsens in arabesque, cambré back and with jumping.
If Left Unaddressed: Pain from prolonged and repetitive strain on the lower back and lower lumbar spine can be early symptoms of a stress fracture.
Try This: Abdominal strengthening exercises done while maintaining neutral spine alignment (Pilates is especially good) can help support the torso and back.
These solutions are potential fixes for minor problems. “But if symptoms last more than one to two weeks, it's time to see the doctor," Gallagher says. Hohm agrees: “If the pain persists and doesn't change with warm-ups, cool-downs, rest and ice, it's best to seek medical advice.