Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Staying active during injury recovery

First up before I say anything else - speak to your doctor/physio/surgeon before you go hell for leather into any training routine while you're injured. The last thing you want to do it prolong your recovery or worsen your existing injury. Also, there are times when giving your body a break for at least a couple of weeks might actually be the best thing for it. Speak to your doctor, assess your situation and make your decision.

Training when you're injured can have a lot of benefits if you do it safely; it can slow muscle atrophy if you have limb immobilied, maintain your existing fitness levels, or at least prevent them from dropping too far, and can lessen the psychological impacts of injury. Unfortunately if you're injured and want to stay active, you may have to accept that you won't be dancing for a while. This doesn't mean you can't work on specific aspects of technique or fitness, just be smart about it. Any time I've injured myself I've found boredom and frustration can be one of the worst aspects so finding a way to stay motivated and at least maintain a basic level of activity feels better than nothing.

If you want to try and keep dancing through it speak with your teachers or company director. There's no point going in attempting to be able to perform as per usual, or attempting to hide the injury from them. If you are going to work to keep your technique or company class going, without causing further injury, then you need your teacher to understand what the issue is and work with you on it. If you have a lower limb injury you can work on your port de bras, if it's upper limb depending on how you feel you can still do leg work, or at least maintain some aspects of barre repertoire. If your injury affects your back you are unlikely to have as many options, and it is definitely worth consulting a specialist instead of trying to assess what you can do yourself.

Aside from maintaining aspects of dance training, look to other activities to maintain your fitness and strength levels. Join a gym - as much as I'm not a fan of fixed weight machines, they can be a godsend when you are injured and have limited mobility or body parts that you have to go gentle on or keep immobilised. Swimming always gets touted as a means of exercise during injury and can help with rehabilitation and regaining range of motion following joint injuries. Look for low impact activities that will lessen strain on injured joints. Be creative, be sensible and find something that you can do safely.

(c) John Foxx/Stockbyte/Getty Images
Keeping active and maintaining your existing fitness levels will minimise recovery time for you getting back to performance. The body hates asymmetry, so even if you are working one side of your body while a limb on the other is completely immobilised, when you are able to safely work the injured limb again it will catch up with it's counterpart quickly. Maintaining your fitness levels will also allow you to go back to your previous level of performance more quickly while lessening likelihood of sustaining another injury due to a decrease in your strength and fitness.

Be careful not to overtrain or exhaust yourself, your body is expending extra energy to recover from the initial injury. Also be aware that injuries tend to affect the way your carry your entire body - so your balance, alignment and form are all liable to be thrown off for the duration of your recovery. Don't do anything that aggravates, causes pain or discomfort to your injury, and do not take part in activities that risk further injury to it. A no pain no gain attitude isn't going to help the situation. At the end of the day your injury is temporary, and although you will want to get back to full fitness as soon as possible you've got to be patient and allow your body time to heal.

Continue training if it can be done safely, alter your training if you want to stay active but cannot dance on your injury, and if training with your injury feels too problematic then don't do it, it's not worth the risk of further trauma. Find a physio or trainer that you trust and is experienced in working with dancers and/or the specific injury that you have, speak to them about what you want to do and find a balance between allowing yourself to recover and maintaining a degree of physical activity.


  1. This is a very thoughtful, well written article! I wholeheartedly agree with the philosophy of an 'active' recovery. It is true that dancers can often risk further injury by doing too much too early, but often resting too much can have a similar result. The most important aspect of your recovery is finding a practitioner that understands your injury and understands the physical demands of the particular genre of dance that you enjoy. At The Exercise Physiology Group in Melbourne, Australia our goal is to return dancers to their craft stronger and less susceptible to injury.
    Looking at your sidebar on this page, the 90% injury rate is staggering! If the arts had a much funding as sport, injury rates for dancers would be significantly lower. Imagine if 90% of professional footballers in any given year, sustained an injury that stopped them from working! Every club, league, national and international football body would be throwing millions of dollars at a bunch of research to find a solution!
    Sorry for the rant, it just disappoints me that dancers aren't held in the same global esteem as sportspeople when they are indisputably gifted, amazing athletes.

    Brad Taylor
    The Exercise Physiology Group

  2. Hi Brad,

    Thanks for your comment. It's great to hear the Exercise Physiology Group is proactive in supporting dancers' return to work and fitness.

    I agree, it is disheartening that dancers haven't had access to the same levels of injury prevention and rehabilitation as other athletes in the past, although (very) slowly things are starting to change. I think injury prevention and recovery are issues that need to be approached from all aspects of the dance profession, from artists to choreographers and artistic directors to medical specialists. The acknowledgment that the dancer is an athlete as well as an artist is the first step in improving the situation, but a lot of people seem reluctant to change traditionalist ways of thinking, even at the expense of dancers' health.