Getting back to dance after injury: 4 steps to increasing your chances of a full recovery.
So you’ve been injured…. What now? The initial treatment for an acute injury is widely know (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation and Referral), but not all injuries are chronic. Some can creep up on you if you ignore the warning signs. These warning signs can be an unusual pulling, pain or tightness and are harder to recognise than the pain of an acute injury. Dancers often delay being assessed by a qualified health professional (like a physiotherapist) due to fear or a hope that it will just go away, but is a very important step. Despite being important, many dancers put off getting professional help after they’ve been injured. So, the first step to increasing your chances of fully recovering from this type of injury is to get that niggle checked out!
Once you’ve seen someone, and received a diagnosis, you should also receive a treatment plan. This might include therapies such as ice, interferential, massage, dry needling etc. A good treatment plan should also include strengthening or flexibility exercises in the form of a home program or a referral / recommendation to see an exercise specialist. The second step – sometimes the hardest! - Is actually sticking to this treatment plan. Recent research into dancers returning to full function after injury, found that only 60% completed their physical therapy program and was a contributing factor to not returning to full pre-injury level dancing (1).
Along with this treatment plan, a health professional may also tell you to stop dancing for a period of time. (please note that this should not be the ONLY treatment offered). Dancers are notoriously bad at following this advice, we hate to stop dancing! We worry that we’ll miss that competition or get replaced by someone, but It’s REALLY important to follow this step and rest. But that doesn’t mean your dancing has to go ‘backwards’. In fact, you can use this time to strengthen your weaker muscles, stretch those tight ones and improve other weaknesses or imbalances you’ve been wanting to work on. So, the third step is: to rest up when recommended.
Step four: Getting back into full dancing needs to be done by degrees, obviously depending on how bad your injury was. Take your time to get back into a full class or rehearsals, and continue your home program to strengthen your injured part and get back your range of motion. Again, follow the advice of your health professional and check in regularly so that you stay on track.
*As a side note, sometimes fear can get in the way to full recovery (37% of dancers who didn’t return to full, pre-injury level dancing in the study mentioned above indicated they were moderately limited by fear). If this is the case, talk to your health professional or someone else you trust. Help IS available and is something that can be overcome.
So, to summarise, four steps to getting back to full capacity post injury include:
Seek qualified professional assessment. Dance or sport specific if you can and apply R.I.C.E for acute injuries as soon as possible.
Stick to your treatment plan including ‘hands on’ treatment and your home exercise program.
Rest as recommended by your health professional. Use this time to strengthen other areas and improve other aspects of your dancing.
Return to full dancing slowly and keep going with your treatment program.
Of course it is better to work at preventing injuries before they occur. There have been many studies that have looked at how strength and conditioning helps in both dancers and athletes prevent injuries. For more information look out for my next blog :)
(1) Junk, E., Richardson, M., Dilgen, F., Liederbach, M. (2017) A retrospective Assessment of Return to Function in Dance After Physical Therapy for Common Dance Injuries, Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, 21 (4), 156 - 167, doi: 10.12678/1089-313X.21.4.156