Most injuries in dance don’t happen suddenly. Instead, students often suffer from chronic overuse injuries. Some minor impairments can be treated without visiting a physician. Too often, though, smaller injuries become more severe because proper care is not administered early or because dancers continue self-care despite warning signs that more specialized care may be necessary.
Parents and teachers of children and teens want to know, “What are the warning signs that a dance student should see a doctor?”
1. Here is what you need to know…
Pain = Cause for Concern
Pain is our body’s way of telling us something is wrong. Even the youngest children (3 or 4 years of age) can tell us where and when something hurts. Unfortunately, sometimes dancers learn very early to overlook or ignore pain. Teachers and parents can create an environment in which students develop a mindset to recognize and respect their body’s warning signals. There is no gain in ignoring pain.
2. Here is the answer to the question…
If the pain, discomfort, or problem persists beyond 2-4 days, consult your teacher. If the teacher does not see the source of, or cannot correct the problem your child should see a doctor.
These are usually obvious because they come about as a result of an incident. Landing wrong from a jump. Falling from a lift. Slipping while crossing the stage. Severe injuries like broken bones obviously need immediate attention and a visit to the doctor. For most common ailments…
- First aid suggests the R.I.C.E method (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) for strains, sprains, swelling, etc.
- In addition, staying hydrated and eating well promotes healing.
- See #2 above
Overuse or chronic injuries are sometimes triggered by an event that is allowed to persist without proper rest or rehabilitation. However, often they are caused or aggravated by other circumstances (this is a great list, adapted from this one about kids in sports):
- growth spurts
- imbalance between strength and flexibility
- inadequate warm-up
- excessive activity (for example, increased intensity, duration, or frequency of training)
- improper technique
- unsuitable floors
Signals of Chronic Pain
Deborah Vogel (thebodyseries.com) offers these four signals of chronic pain, as well as an excellent explanation of how dance injuries start in small ways, in an article about a hamstring/sciatic injury. I highly recommend you read her words for yourself.
- Pain that gets progressively worse during working out.
- Pain that comes after you work out and the next day comes back after less working.
- Pain that is accompanied by a certain movement (e.g. arabesque).
- No real sense of “pain” but a definite restriction of movement.
It is normal to have temporary muscle soreness after a challenging class or when working in a new way. Anything that persists, particularly in the ways mentioned above, should be discussed with a physician or dance/athlete specialist. This should be done sooner, rather than later (see #2 above).
A Note on Anti-Inflammatory Drugs
These are often overused in the dance community. Sometimes a doctor will recommend them and they can help bring down swelling. However, they are misused when taken to “get through a class” or otherwise mask pain (see #1 at the top of this post).
Dancers often re-injure themselves when they return too quickly to activity. Temporary muscle soreness can sometimes improve with a return to class. However, if moving makes it feel worse, the body may need more rehabilitation time and/or medical attention.
After and injury, always ease back into activity. It is better to be safe than sorry. Dancers don’t like to hear this when they are eager to get back or feel pressure to return to class but, remind them that temporary setbacks are just that – temporary, and not worth permanently injuring oneself.
Of course, preventing injury in the first place is ideal. Although sometimes this is not entirely possible there is a lot a parents can do to keep their dance students injury-free.
Find a studio that is committed to safety
- What is your studio’s philosophy?
- Is there proper flooring (i.e. – something sprung or with some “give”)?
Find a studio that is committed to quality instruction
- Do the students spend a reasonable portion of their class warming-up (not stretching but individual body-part and full-body exercises that encourage blood flow)?
- Are students encouraged to master foundational basics before moving on?
- Do students receive individual attention and feedback from their teachers?
- Etc… (see this series for more on quality instruction)
Encourage dancers to stay hydrated
- How much water is really necessary is debated, however, there are many active dancers that probably do not drink enough water. Here are some suggestions to improve water intake.
Encourage healthy, balanced nutrition
- I know this can be a tough one for families and kids on the go but it is so important! Here are some good pointers on healthy eating from kidshealth.org. Another great resource: nourishinteractive.com
Some other things you can do
- Encourage rest and proper sleep habits
- Encourage a positive outlook
- Remove the stress and pressure to “work through” or “push on” through injury
- Try cross-training with other activities (not to load extra onto already tired kids but to promote balance in the body; you might even speak to your child’s teacher or studio owner about alternatives within the studio)
Check Out These Related Articles!!
This is an excellent article from Dance Spirit magazine. It offers easy guidelines about when to sit out and when to see a doctor.
Another one from Dance Spirit, this article lays out exactly what doctor’s need to know from dancers. A dancer’s “normal” may be different than a non-dancer due to the type of training dancers receive. Physicians need to know what you were capable of before your injury. This article has a lot of great information and stresses that dancers should not minimize their pain, as is their tendency.
Stress fracture signs and treatment on Ballet Shoes and Pointe Shoes Blog.