I was recently invited to give a talk to a group of very dedicated dancers at the Vancouver Ballet Society’s Spring Seminar. I was asked to speak about injury prevention in dance, and since then have had quite a lot of questions and interest in the topic. Although it would be nice to imagine a world where there are no dance injuries, unfortunately that is not reality. In the literature, it is reported that 90% of dancers experience an injury during their dance career. NINETY percent!!! That’s a lot of injuries! Although we likely can’t prevent all of them (no matter how much we would like to!), there are a few very simple things you can do to reduce your chances of sustaining an injury. The list below is by no means exhaustive, but they are things that you can start implementing into your life right away, and hopefully avoid that next injury.
Warm-up each and every time – This increases blood flow to muscles and primes the nervous system for higher level movement. It is important to be doing a warm-up that elevates the heart rate and is dynamic in nature. Simply sitting in the splits or stretching your leg up on the barre doesn’t cut it!
Fuel your body – This is a huge topic all on its own, so we won’t go in to too much detail. Remember that it’s important to not only fuel your body with enough calories for the amount of activity that you’re doing, but it’s also equally important to adequately hydrate (preferably with water) your body to replace fluid that you sweat out while dancing.
Sleep, sleep, sleep – The majority of injuries happen when fatigued (ie the end of class, end of rehearsal, end of the day, etc) so it’s important to try and combat fatigue by getting enough sleep. How much sleep do you need? Well, that varies a bit person to person, but the recommendation for adolescents is 8-10hrs/night (with 9.25hrs being the ‘magic’ number) and for adults is 7-9hrs/night. Switching off electronic devices and limiting screen time 60min before bed will also help improve your sleep quality.
Cross train – It’s important to let your 'dance' muscles rest and build up your supporting muscles and cardiovascular system. Popular types of cross training for dancers include swimming, cycling, pilates, and yoga. Aim to incorporate some type of cross training exercise into your routine at least weekly.
Technique – One of the biggest predictors of repetitive overuse injuries in dancers is poor or faulty technique. Correcting these technical errors will significantly reduce your chances of injury. Listen to your teachers!
Find your 'team' – Find a ‘team’ of healthcare practitioners who know your body and can help identify any problem areas before they become an injury. Your team might include a physiotherapist, massage therapist, chiropractor and/or acupuncturist.
Regular check-ups – Your ‘team’ can only help identify problem areas if they see you on a regular basis. At a minimum, you should have a full dance specific screening assessment done at least annually. This should happen more frequently during periods of intense training, growth spurts, or if you have recently suffered an injury.
Early recognition of symptoms – It’s important to be able to recognize when the pain or discomfort you are feeling is part of regular muscle soreness from working hard and training; or something more serious that needs to be addressed. If it is more serious, the sooner you address it the sooner it will heal and the less likely it is to have lasting impacts.
Stock your ‘tool kit’ – There are a few things every dancer should have in their bag for ‘self treatment’ of minor aches and pains that arise. A resistance exercise band, a small release ball (I personally love a lacrosse ball), a roller of some sort (either a travel size foam roller or a hand held roller stick) and some soothing muscle rub are my essentials. What do you stock in your dance bag?
I hope these tips are helpful for you in preventing your next injury. Is there anything else you do to try and prevent injuries? I’d love to hear about it!