Let’s start by saying dance is tough! No one can 100% prevent injuries. Maybe you slip, someone bumps into you, a shoe comes off, etc. Any of these things can lead to an injury.
Our goal is to decrease the risk of this happening and increase your body’s resilience, to limit the amount of injury or damage sustained. These are not quick fixes, but instead things to take your training and preparation to the next level.
Keep up with these throughout your career and you will definitely limit the risk of future injuries and more quickly recovery from setbacks!
The 5 best things you can do to limit the risk of injury of your hips (our whole body) are as follows:
- Learn to gain mobility, not just flexibility
- Cross train to improve not only safety, but also your performance
- Be sure you can engage and connect with all your muscles
- Find ways to modify and dance around aches/pains
- Know when to seek professional advice and always from a dance specialist
Mobility over flexibility
Let’s first define these terms, or at least, how we will be using them in this post.
Flexibility is the total motion available to a joint in the body.
An example would be this common stretch one of our clients is demonstrating for this post.
Dancer: Erin McMahon
Mobility is how much of your flexibility you can actively control.
Following the same example, this would be how high you can extend your leg with only your leg muscles, think a développé or kick, particularly with a hold at the top.
What almost every one of you actually wants is better mobility, or active flexibility, but you typically spend more time working passive flexibility.
Training flexibility, more joint range of motion, without developing more control, leads to loose joints and much higher risk of injury. Does your hip ever pinch when you lift your leg above 90 degrees in the front or does it ever lock up when you are doing a lot of kicks?
These could be good indicators of an unstable hip!
Mobility requires adequate strength!
Here’s an easy test.
Repeat a heel stretch (similar to the above image) to see how high you can lift your leg to the front.
Next, only using your leg muscles, try to slowly lift/extend your leg to the front. Was there a big difference?
If there was a major difference, you should start training your hip strength and take a break from a lot of aggressive hip stretching.
Here’s one of our favorite hip strength movements! If you are a dancer who gets pinching in the front of the hip, tightening the band to limit how high you can lift your leg typically helps!
Cross Train for Superior Results
Hopefully you’ve heard of cross training before? Though you may not have heard the definition.
Cross Training – the practice of engaging in two or more sports or types of exercise in order to improve fitness or performance in one’s main sport.
So it’s doing things besides dance, with the goal to improve your dance. We already know overuse injuries are the most prevalent type of injury for Artistic Athletes. So clearly, trying to add more and more dance is not the answer. That just leads to more overuse! The latest trend has been doing dance technique, but with weights or on wobble boards. This is not cross training and is not beneficial. First, you are still overusing the same muscles/movements! Even worse though, when adding weights to arabesque and such, you change your center of gravity, you change how the muscles are used, and likely to disrupt your technique, not improve it. Instead, in cross training, you would break down the different components of a technique and train it from different angles or positions. This allows you to focus on your weak links, achieve better improvements, and not overuse the same patterns!
Check this clip out for one way we train the hip component of arabesque or extension to the back!
So cross training has a few benefits
- Improve your ability to engage and isolate different muscles to improve your ability to engage them during dance
- Spend time in different positions like in parallel or different ranges of motions, to further help limit overuse
- Improve your coordination by learning and mastering new movement patterns
- Train muscles in their midranges, where they have the most potential for improvement. More strength and control gained in mid range leads to more strength and control in the end range!
Looking for simple cross training workouts for Artistic Athletes? Feel free to sign up for 10 free at home workouts at: https://dptfit.com/home-free/
A great time to include workouts like this is as warm-ups, just be sure to not push too hard the first few times you try them.
Improve your Mind Body Connection!
How many of you know what your glutes are? How many of you feel it work easily in exercises?
How many of you know your psoas major from your TFL?
These aren’t meant to be trick questions, but we have been surprised how many young dancers have never really felt their glutes working, despite how often instructors tell you to “use your glutes!”
This follows hand in hand with the prior point of cross training. Cross training or adding in new exercises as warm-ups can be a great opportunity to improve how easily you can engage different muscles.
Here’s a quick video on feeling the different hip flexors muscles!
This goes for the whole body though. If you are doing glute bridges and feel it in your lower back, something needs to change.
You are compensating and not getting what you should be from certain exercises and likely increasing your risk of overuse injuries.
A good thing to start asking, is “where should I feel this?”. If you are not feeling it correctly, or not getting what you think you should, it’s time to seek some help!
When it comes to the glutes, most Artistic Athletes simply allow their back to compensate. The first step is engaging your core and flatten your lower back.
Below is a one leg bridge variation. By pulling one leg up to your chest, you cause your pelvis to rotate posteriorly, and help to flatten your lower back. This should help you start to finally feel the glutes working!
Know When to Hold Back
We realize, this one is not just up to the Artistic Athlete, but also the instructors or directors as well.
Too often we think of class/rehearsals as an all or nothing situation. This leads to many dancers not letting anyone know when something starts to hurt, so they can keep dancing.
This just leads to worse pain and injury. What’s next? They sit out and “rest” (eg. do nothing) for weeks. When they come back, the pain just comes back as well.
This is a vicious cycle we need to stop.
Step 1: Listen to your body. If something starts to feel weird, try to modify it. Maybe this means for a few days you don’t jump as high, maybe you stop extensions at 90 degrees, or take a few extra minutes of rest throughout the day.
Step 2: Try to address the cause of the problem. Icing, ibuprofen, estim, etc are all bandaids. They do not improve the injury, they simply mask the pain. This doesn’t mean they are wrong; it just means you should look to add things to prevent this from happening again.
Step 3: Avoid aggravating your symptoms. Try to avoid specific movements and positions that seem to increase your pain the most. Try to find things that are not painful or do not affect your symptoms that allow you to stay active.
- Cross Training is a great option here!
Step 4: Gradually return or increase those movements. Instead of coming back and pushing 110% to make up for lost time, try to ease back into things. If you didn’t jump for 3 weeks, maybe limit your jumps to only double leg jumps and 25% as many as you used to do. After a week or two, you can add single leg jumps again.
Step 5: Don’t delay in seeking help!
- This is covering in the next section, but can be a lifesaver!
By listening to your body, adjusting your technique, intensity, and so forth for a few days to a week, we can typically catch things before they become serious.
This requires honesty from you, the dancer, but also support from the management in studios and companies.
See a Dance Medicine Professional
Don’t try to figure this out on your own!
If you have symptoms or recurrent injuries lasting more than a few days, it’s time to reach out for help!
The sooner you address an injury, the sooner you can overcome it! Injuries that have gone on for months to years will likely take months to fully recover from.
But don’t go to just any healthcare provider, make sure you find someone who specializes in Dance Medicine. That’s where a resource like Doctors For Dancers is so helpful.
You can find someone close to home or find people who offer virtual sessions through video chat!
A dance specialist can help you in modifying your participation in class, provide guidelines to your instructors, and ensure they are preparing you for the demands and rigors of dance!
All physical activity carries some risk. Our goal is to better prepare and protect our body to limit the risk and improve recovery should something arise.
To do this Artistic Athletes should look for more than passive flexibility, but improve their control in all positions! They should also gain a better understanding of their body. This includes knowing some of the major muscles groups as well as finding exercises that work for them and allow them to feel the muscles correctly. Not all exercises work for every dancer!
Cross training is not only supported in almost every professional sport out there to decrease risk of injury, but also will improve the prior to points of control and mind body connection!
You should also know when and how to modify your dance schedule to assist in keeping your body at it’s best! A dance medicine specialist is now only a few clicks away on Doctors for Dancers, so there’s no reason not to get help when needed!
About Dr. Scott
- Scott Ruth, PT, DPT: Dr. Scott has been working as a personal trainer since 2009, earned his BS in Exercise Science from FSU in 2010, then earned his Doctorate of Physical Therapy in 2014 from USF. He began his career specializing in pediatric Sports Medicine with Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. Specific focus in Dance Medicine began in late 2016 and he has been dedicated to personal growth in this area with numerous advanced courses, journals, and hands on experience. Then creating his own company, DPT Fit, dedicated to improved care for young dancers. He provides expert care in both rehabilitation from injury, but more importantly, in prevention of injury through proper training.