Dancers can glide with ease across the dance floor, elegantly twisting their bodies and capturing the audience’s attention with show-stopping acrobatics while maintaining a beaming smile on their faces. After years of practice and seemingly endless hours of intense rehearsals, dancers make the near-impossible look easy. Despite the popular debate of whether dancing is a sport or not, dancers are undoubtedly athletes. Just like ‘traditional’ athletes, dancers undergo intense physical regimes to keep their bodies and athletic skills in tiptop condition.
Because of this, it means injuries come as part of the job. As well as strengthening the body, those vigorous, sometimes near-unnatural dance steps can strain the muscles, leaving the dancer with aches, sprains and other injuries that can negatively affect their next performance. Sometimes it can even affect their career.
Is there anything a dancer can do to prevent this from happening?
Divided in dance style, united in pain
You can easily develop aches and strains by doing something seemingly ordinary such as walking down a flight of stairs or lying down on a bed. It’s no wonder that performing deep stretches and complicated dance choreography can lead to injuries. Bodily aches are something that all dancers share, regardless of the intensity of their training. There are many, many different styles of dance and each come with their own set of hazards. Ballroom dancing might look mild compared to, say, break dancing, but you can bet that there have been as many ballroom wipe-outs as there have been break dancing. From jazz and ballet to hip hop and b-boying, trained dancers can make every move look so fluid and effortless, but you can be sure their muscles will be sore the day after. No matter the style, dancers are all united in their pain.
Cramping is a common nuisance that can attack dancers at any time. It can strike up when the body is totally relaxed or right in the middle of a performance. Cramping is something that all dancers suffer from and can stop them from doing their best. However, cramping is a minor annoyance compared to the more serious sprains, twists, shin splints, plantar fasciitis or stress fractures.
A study conducted in 2013 by the Centre for Injury Research and Policy of The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital focused on dance-related injuries among children and adolescents between the ages of three and 19 within the time period of 1991 and 2007. The study found that the annual number of dance-related injuries increased by 37 per cent within those 17 years – from 6,175 in 1991 to 8,477 in 2007. As well as this, an estimated 113,000 children and adolescents had been treated in US emergency departments for dance-related injuries. At 52 per cent, sprains and strains were discovered to be the most common types of injuries, and falls were the most common cause for injuries at 45 per cent.
The study also found that four out of 10 injuries were suffered by dancers between the ages of 15 and 19. The researchers attributed this to their more advanced skills and demanding choreography. Kristin Roberts, lead author of the study, said in an interview with News Wise: “We believe this could be due to adolescent dancers getting more advanced in their skills, becoming more progressed in their careers and spending more time training and practicing.
“We encourage children to keep dancing and exercising. But it is important that dancers and their instructors take precautions to avoid sustaining injuries.”
Massage therapy is a popular, highly versatile way of preventing and treating these problems.
How massage can prevent dance injuries
Dance injuries are just like the injuries you’d expect to experience from traditional sports. Just like professional runners, footballers and boxers, dancers run, jump and endure long periods of intense, high energy activity. Although they may only spend a few minutes on the stage, they have actually endured long hours, typically six to eight hours, of rehearsal several days of the week. As well as the physical exercise, dancers may have to wear heavy costumes or hold props, which place extra strain onto the joints, tendons and muscles in the arms, legs, neck and back. This additional exertion can lead to the body being very sore the following day – a condition also known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
Massage therapy can help reduce, soothe and prevent the pain caused by DOMS. Massage is a therapeutic treatment that involves manually applying varying pressures to specific parts of the body. The aim is to target problem areas – the muscles and joints that are causing the most pain – by stimulating blood circulation, encouraging a more efficient flow of nutrients to the injured area, enhancing the body’s natural healing mechanisms and thus, ultimately reducing the level of pain.
By this reasoning, it’s logical to assume getting a massage after the injury will help speed up the recovery period. However, what dancers should realise is that massage should play a regular part of their routine. As the saying goes, prevention is better than a cure and massage before as well as after the workout can go a long way. Massage therapy is somewhat of a miracle at optimising the body and maximising its physical capabilities. It primes a dancer’s body and mind for the gruelling physical workout. This allows them to go far beyond their usual boundaries and lower the likelihood of injuries.
Using sports massage to enhance overall strength
A sports massage can be helpful on a daily basis. A sports massage is bodywork that uses a blend of deep tissue and Swedish massage techniques. It’s been specially adapted to treat and soothe the effects of intense physical stress placed on the body from, as the name suggests, sports. Its main purposes are to reduce aches, ease stiffness, encourage mobility and to soothe pain. The motions of the massage also help to stimulate blood circulation and increase the speed at which metabolic waste and toxins are removed from cells.
Sports massage is also known to enhance athletic performance as it helps to keep muscles in premium condition. A 2012 study examined how sports massage affected the body at a cellular level. Participants peddled vigorously on stationary bikes for 70 minutes before receiving a 10 minute massage on their quadriceps. It was found that massage stimulated cell production, particularly for mitochondria which are cell centres that produce energy. This suggests massage helps improve athletic endurance and reduced recovery time, so dancers can resume their rehearsals in less time. As well as this, the study found massage inhibited the production of proteins that caused muscle fibre injury and stress – suggesting that massage helps to reduce pain and inflammation.
One of the key ingredients to being a good, successful dancer is dedication. Every dancer who longs for success endures long, intensive workouts, endlessly practising routines alongside stage performances. The days they take off from dancing can cause the body to quickly lose tone, strength, flexibility and stamina. Massage therapy can help with this by reducing the amount of time dancers need to recover, keeping them on their toes for longer.