Overwhelmingly when we talk to dance teachers, we are reminded that while teachers want their students to perform well, it is more important to them that they are keeping their dancers safe at all times.
Often teachers commence each class by asking dancers if there are any injuries that they should know of. The challenge, however, is knowing what to do with that knowledge. When should a dancer sit out of class? When are they better to continue to dance in a modified capacity? The truth is, there is no rule book that answers these questions. And generally, if in doubt, doing less and recommending that a dancer seek medical advice is the safest option. The reality is that pain in growing bodies deserves attention, even if it seems minor. The most likely outcome of a medical review is that a dancer can confidently return to dance quickly and without fear of exacerbating an underlying injury.
The below checklist is not exhaustive, but it is designed to give you some indication of how to manage some of the more common complaints.
When should a dancer sit out from class and be encouraged to seek urgent medical attention?
- If there has been trauma associated with the dancer’s pain, i.e. – their pain came on suddenly with a twist, stretch, or a fall
- If they are unable to put weight through their injured body part
- If the pain is worsening, or comes back with the same or greater intensity every time they dance
- If the pain wakes the dancer at night
- If the pain is not eased by rest, or with a change in position
- If the pain is accompanied by a general feeling of unwell, loss of appetite, or fever
- If the pain is severe, i.e. – it is difficult to distract the dancer from the pain
- If the pain is worst in the mornings, affects multiple joints, and doesn’t ease after moving around and a warm shower
When does a dancer need to modify their involvement in class, and seek medical advice?
- Pain that has not improved over 48-72 hours
- Pain that eases with activity so that class can be completed pain free, but is consistently sore the morning after dancing*
* This is a typical feature of tendon pain which needs to be managed carefully to avoid long term consequences.
When can a dancer be encouraged that it is safe to continue dancing?
- Short lasting, mild muscle ache in the days following a particularly intense class, or where muscles have been used that haven’t been used in that way for some time.
This ache is often attributable to Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). Symptoms generally include muscles that are sore to touch, reduced flexibility in affected muscles, and stiffness. DOMS usually occurs 24 hours following exercise, and peaks anywhere from 48 to 72 hours post exercise.
As to what a dancer should be expected to do during this period depends on the pain severity. Mild muscle soreness can be monitored, and a dancer can still participate in class as pain permits. In severe cases, returning to dance too early places a dancer at risk of further damage. If a dancer is struggling to move well due to this muscle ache, a short period of rest, or avoiding exercises that cause an increase in pain is recommended.
The reality is, most of the aches and pains a dancer experiences will fall into this third category and will resolve quickly with very little need to modify class, or seek medical advice. Should you be unsure of what advice to give, talk to your dance physiotherapist. Some simple clarification over the phone may be all you need to determine whether a dancer needs to rest or rally!
- Main Image: Ballet For Adults