Monday, 28 January 2013

Injuries and dancing

Injuries happen, it's a fact of life. Studies have shown that in any given year up to 90% of professional dancers will sustain an injury that makes them lose time from work (it makes for some disheartening reading, but have a look - JDMS study CJSM study SJMSS study and MPPA study). That's a lot of injuries in a lot of dancers. Yes we can do our best to prevent them and we should, because it's possible to reduce the instances of injury and that should be a priority for all of us. However injuries happen in any activity where you are pushing your body to it's limits, and when they do we still need to be able to get on with our lives.

An injury can be anything from a simple pulled muscle to severe musculoskeletal trauma. Depending on the severity you may be able to continue working and training, you may need a day or two off, or you may end up missing weeks or months. You need to be smart about your injuries, listen to your body and go from there. If it's a minor injury there's no reason not to continue training, and adapt your practice to work around the injury until it's healed. Speak with your director, choreographers and teachers, let them know the situation with your injury and have them work with it. Accept you may lose a part for a little while, it's better that than allowing something minor to turn into a chronic problem.
Xray of a dancer's foot en pointe with spiral fracture to 5th metatarsal. (c) Schoene,  2005
If it's more serious, then you may have to accept that time off is the only option. Your body needs to heal, and throwing yourself back in the deep end too early can cause major set backs to your recovery. It's frustrating, demoralising and can be incredibly stressful, especially when you have additional financial concerns due to being unable to work. All the more reason to address the problem as quickly as possible and get yourself back dancing without any further complications.

Dancers are renowned for working through pain. It's a tribute to the commitment people have for their art that they are willing to do whatever they need to to continue performing. From the outset of training en pointe through to the often idiotically macho displays of injured dancers throwing themselves full pelt through a performance and barely able to walk out of the theatre afterwards, pain is often accepted as part of the game we're in. Pain from the training stages of dancing en pointe - part of life, the skin toughens, we get on with it. Pain from an injury that you refuse to let you stop performing - not so black and white.  You need to address injuries when they occur.

Stupidity and ego costs; it damages our health and opens us up to further injury and complications down the line. There is no shame in taking time off to let yourself heal if that's what you need to do. Better a few days or weeks missed, than months or years of treatment and pain.

NYCB Principal Sara Mearns’ feet by Henry Leutwyler 2012 (c)
Dance is tough on our bodies, and it's inevitable that sometimes we're going to get hurt. You can minimise the risk of injury and you should; no one ever wants to be injured. However when it happens you need to use your common sense and give your body whatever it needs to recover as quickly as possible.


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