How to Cope with and Recover from Dance Injuries
August 21, 2013
Participating in any enjoyable physical activity often comes with the risk of injury, and dance is no exception. So it becomes necessary for dancers to build their strength and flexibility slowly and safely over time to avoid getting injured (See Related: How to Prevent Dance Injuries). Taking time to properly warm up the major muscles in the body is one important way to prevent dance injuries. But despite your best intentions, dance injuries can still occur.
For dancers, injuries are more than a torn tissue or broken bones. They often come with a deeper kind of loss, the momentum of a burgeoning career, precious stage time, and even personal identity. During the early stages of injury, dancer's physical pain is often overlooked as a minor incidence, which is lost in pursuit of loftier goals. But no pain or injury should be simply ignored. Instead, listen to your body. It's trying to tell you something.
Type of Dance injuries:
Dancers may experience acute or chronic dance injuries, the difference is largely in the frequency and intensity of any related pain or discomfort. Another way of classifying dance injuries is by the type of tissue that has been injured. Three musculoskeletal injuries include strains, sprains, and fractures.
Acute injuries may result from a single occurrence or trauma, like landing wrongly from trips or jumps and falls. Examples of acute injuries include dancer's fracture, ankle sprain and so on. They are very serious, but are easy to detect and treat before they become a bigger problem.
On the other hand, chronic injuries develop over time and are typically caused due to improper technique or overuse. Treatment and recovery of chronic injuries is a little tricky, because the dancer should address his/her flaws in the technique which caused the problem while also focusing on physical recovery. Examples of chronic dance injuries include Sesamoiditis, Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis and Talar compression syndrome.
Physical impact of dance injury:
Initially the body will react to the injury with a physiological response. Mechanical and chemical changes in the body tissues occur due to localized tissue damage after an injury, which is often followed by redness, swelling, heat, and pain. If, these symptoms are ignored, it may lead to further tissue damage, thus increasing the severity and lengthening potential recovery time.
Physiological pain can be experienced in many ways; aches, superficial pains, neural pains, deep pains and throbbing pain. It is often difficult for the dancer to know whether pain should be ignored and continue dancing. However, pain that occurs after an acute injury, pain that gets worse and is still there after the activity is over, pain that recurs after dancing activity, pain during night or any pain that the dancer is worried about should not be ignored.
Psychological impact of dance injury:
The dancer may show psychological reactions following a dance injury which may evolve in a number of stages. Often, the dancer is likely to see the injury with denial which quickly turns into anger. With time, the real consequences of the injury become apparent to the dancer and depression sets in. Lastly, the dancer accepts it and takes a more constructive approach to recover from his/her injury.
Coping with dance injuries:
When a dancer is injured, his/her coping mechanisms may vary based on personality traits, available social support, previous history of injury, drive or competitiveness and the seriousness of the injury. Coping with dance injuries deals with physical, mental and social dimensions, all of which involve a great deal of trust.
Psychological aspects of injury: Dance injuries can be a serious stress for a dancer. It might be missing out a very important training session which leads to fear about the future. Although, it is normal to get frustrated after an injury, it can intensify and lead to feelings of anger, depression and hopelessness, if the injury is severe. However, a professional assessment and a proper plan for rehabilitation can definitely help to establish a strategic approach to recovery.
The best way to minimize the physical and mental impact of a dance injury is to have a positive attitude and a more pro-active approach to recovery. Stay socially connected and try to maintain a daily routine with by just attending dance classes without actually participating in it. Talk with friends and discuss your concerns and challenge negative patterns of thinking.
Another way to improve mood and maintain focus, is to set achievable goals that may be directly connected to recovery or on other areas of life. Above all, dancers should enhance their confidence levels, sense of control and motivation.
Key steps in coping psychological aspects of dance injuries include
- Being honest about the injury and your feelings
- Looking for proper professional and social support
- Re-focus your training on achievable goals
- Give yourself time for recovery
- Maintain a daily routine including social calls
- Avoid getting sucked into negative patterns of thinking
- Stay motivated and give yourself rewards for small improvements
- Turn the injury into an opportunity to explore new ways of dancing or having fun
Physical aspects of injury: The severity of physical pain following a dance injury can be minimized by following the standard procedure of care, RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation).
REST: Stop dancing immediately after getting injured. This will protect and prevent the injured area from getting worse further.
ICE: Within 5 to 10 minutes from getting injured, ice should be applied for around 20 minutes. This should be done every 2 to 3 hours for the first 2 days. Ice helps cool tissues and minimizes inflammation, bleeding and muscle spasms. Care should be taken while applying ice to the injured area. Ice should never be applied to direct skin, otherwise skin burns can occur.
COMPRESSION: Compression using bandage, tubi grip, strapping, or air splinting should be done with ice to minimize swelling. It should be applied in such a way that it is tight to limit the development of swelling but not compromise blood flow to the region.
ELEVATION: The injured area should be raised above heart level to minimize swelling and stop bleeding.
After RICE process, the dancer should try smaller movements than a typical strenuous activity, but still tries to perform stretching and strengthening exercises. If pain gets worse, it is advisable to consult a medical professional for advice.
Dance injuries are often inconvenient and frustrating to the dancer. However, treating the injury as an opportunity to learn something, will help dancers return to dancing career as a stronger and more aware dancer, person, and artist.