Thursday, January 12, 2012

YOUR DANCE TEAM: SPORTS MEDICINE PROFESSIONALS


A late Happy New Year to you...welcome to my first post of 2012.

We all make New Year's Resolutions-and some we actually even keep!

But seriously, as a dancer, there is nothing more important than your overall health and physical well-being. Your body is your instrument, and it needs to stay in tune in order to perform properly.

So, for 2012, I'm proposing that we all make a resolution to get a working dance team in place.

By dance team, I don't mean a troupe- I’m referring to the variety of sports medicine professionals who keep your body- which is your main means of expression- in optimal running order. Usually, we don't think about this sort of thing until we have an emergency situation! Now's the time to change that.

Like athletes, we dancers put a huge amount of strain on our bodies… and most of us also have an extremely high pain tolerance. Unlike mere “civilians”, we are so driven by what we do that we also have a preternatural disposition to keep on working in spite of our injuries and the resulting pain. Some injuries are incurred from accidents and others from exhaustion or over-use, but any way you cut it, injuries suck!

Most professional athletes have a team that keeps them healthy and able-bodied, and as a dancer, you are essentially an athlete. Like any athlete, you will undoubtedly need sports medicine treatment at some point in your career. Basically, sports medicine is the treatment and prevention of injuries related to exercise.

Though you may not have the big bucks budget that a pro basketball player does, you do need to think ahead and anticipate what professional services your body might need in the future.

Your team should be composed of a number of sports medicine professionals with whom you have a working relationship based upon trust. The members if your team, even if you do not see them regularly, should have an understanding of what you do and the demands that you make on your body as well as what you need in terms of overall health.

On my sports medicine team, there are a couple of people I see regularly, which is at least once a month- my chiropractor and massage therapist. I’ve been working with both of them for years. If it wasn’t for them, I swear I’d be down on all fours howling in pain! They’re both familiar with my body and all it’s quirks (a big hello to all of my hyper-mobile joints!) and all of my old injuries. It’s gotten to the point where either my chiropractor or my masseur can take one look at me… and without even laying a hand on me, know where my body is off-balance.

Both of them are fully aware that I am a professional dancer with a demanding schedule, which includes hours of dancing a day plus extensive travel. Because of this, if I have an emergency, or I’m only in town for a day, they will always make room for me in their busy schedules.

My team also includes a physical therapist, who has gotten me through some serious injuries-including six herniated discs which were the result of a rear-end auto collision that occurred in 2009. Knock on wood, I don’s see him nearly as often as the other two, but he’s there in case I need him! Same with my acupuncturist.

Your team can include physical therapists, chiropractors; massage therapists, acupuncturists, personal trainers, nutritionists, Pilates or yoga instructors, performance coaches…go ahead and count in your manicurist or hair dresser if you want to! Your team members should provide services that keep you feeling robust and ready to work, and of course, everyone’s needs are unique.

Do a bit of proactive homework before you actually need any of these services. It’s a great idea to ask around and get recommendations from other dancers whose opinions you trust.

Once you have some likely prospects, introduce yourself by phone or email, explain your needs, say you are “shopping around”, and see what they have to offer, check out the prices, appointment availability, and general policies. That way, if you happen to sustain an injury, need to work on a specific area of dance, or just would love a relaxing massage, you won’t have to call your friends in desperation or troll the internet looking for whatever you need, you can simply call and make an appointment.


How often you work with your team is up to you; it might be weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, or “as needed” - but the idea is that you have your team in place, so that in case of an emergency, they are there when you need them!

Unfortunately, some of these services are not always covered by insurance and can be expensive, but if you stop to consider that all of this relates to your physical well being, (which in turn reflects on your ability to dance and sustain your career) you will realize that the money will be well spent. Determine your needs, and make absolutely sure to find a competent practitioner who is licensed!

Here are just a few basic types of health services that will keep your body tuned up:

Massage Therapy
There are many types of massage, but in general, a massage therapist works the muscles, fascia, tendons, ligaments, joints and connective tissue to keep your body functioning well. Massage can aid in the body’s natural healing process and promote relaxation and wellbeing. Massage can be gentle or vigorous, depending on what type you get- a sports massage or Shiatsu is vastly different than a Swedish massage. Some people like deeper work, others prefer gentle strokes. Massage therapists often work out of doctor’s offices, health clubs, and spas. Some do house calls, others do not.


Chiropractors

Chiropractors are licensed primary care physicians, and will perform a full intake exam before any treatment for your current complaint or injury gets underway. Chiropractors focus on the patient’s health and musculoskeletal body structures. They treat misaligned bones, joints and spinal vertebrae, which can cause problems like chronic head and neck aches, back pain, bad posture and nerve impingements.

The theory behind chiropractic medicine is to keep the body balanced, and chiropractors maintain the patient’s balance through adjustments to the structures of the body (most often to the spine) by gently manipulating the patient’s body manually. By adjusting the skeleton, the body will be able to heal naturally as it returns to it’s own balance.

Chiropractors often use other treatment modalities such as ultrasound treatment, heat or cold packs, electronic muscle stimulation, or the Activator, a rubber-tipped metal instrument that manipulates joints and vertebrae. If a chiropractor believes a patient needs an X-Ray or MRI, they will make a referral to the appropriate facility. Chiropractors do not prescribe drugs or perform surgery, but can refer patients to doctors who do.


Physical Therapists

Physical Therapists are healthcare professionals who diagnose and treat injuries or an illness that inhibits individuals from participating in the functional activities of their everyday lives. Just some of the injuries they care for are fractures and sprains, injuries of the back and neck, arthritis, and repetitive stress injuries.

A Physical Therapist is often referred to the patient by another healthcare provider, and often works in tandem with the referring physician to develop a plan of treatment and rehabilitation. Physical Therapists practice in private offices, outpatient facilities, fitness centers and hospitals. A physical therapist will fully examine a patient to ascertain what needs to be done to restore function, reduce pain and improve mobility. Some of the techniques used in physical therapy include supervised and at-home therapeutic and strengthening exercises, assistive and adaptive equipment, spinal traction, massage, ultrasound, and electrotherapeutic devices.

Acupuncture
Acupuncture is an alternative medicine treatment involving the insertion of thin needles into the body at certain meridians or points to relieve pain, treat diseases and promote general health. There are many types of acupuncture, including Chinese, Japanese and Korean styles. Stemming from the concepts of traditional Oriental medicine, the general theory behind acupuncture is that bodily functions are regulated by a flowing energy-like entity referred to as chi. By inserting needles into specific points, acupuncture practitioners believe that the energy flow will rebalance, stimulating nerves, muscles and connective tissue. The stimulation of the needles also appears to increase blood flow and boost the activity of the body’s natural painkillers. Just some of the maladies acupuncture is beneficial for are sports injuries and muscle strain, nerve pain, chronic pain management, menstrual problems and allergies.

An acupuncturist will ascertain a patient’s needs in many ways- through inquiring about all of the patient’s bodily functions including medical history, digestion and elimination, sleep patterns, and sensory function. They also take note of body type, pulse, posture, movement, the tone of the skin and luster of the hair, and assess the patient’s tongue.

Acupuncture does not hurt, which is surprising to most people. If there is any pain at all, it may occur when the acupuncturist is manipulating the needles into place, but that usually only lasts for a couple of seconds. Acupuncture treatments are generally very relaxing, but some patients may experience a bit of discomfort stemming from remaining absolutely still while the needles are in the body.


Accidents happen and injuries are inevitable...but in 2012, let's all resolve to be better prepared for them!

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