Because of their very nature, overuse injuries sometimes known as RS or Repetitive Stress injuries end to creep up; you might not even notice you’re until you’ve already been injured for quite some time. This type of injury can affect almost any area of the body. Overuse injuries are cumulative, occurring when a certain part of your body gets tired and over-worked from constantly functioning at a certain level of physical stress. Because of the number of repetitive moves dancers make (Hello…Technique drills?) we are quite vulnerable to overuse injuries.
Examples of non-dance related overuse injuries include carpal tunnel syndrome or tennis elbow, but for dancers, the majority of our injuries tend to occur in the hips or lower back, the knees, ankles and feet.
Many overuse injuries arise from improper posture and body alignment- most dancers typically have one side that is stronger than the other. Having a history of past injuries that weren’t rehabilitated correctly is another culprit. Other causes of overuse injuries are the frequency and duration of classes, rehearsals and shows, inadequate warm-ups and cool downs, or environmental factors such as dancing on concrete floors or in chilly studios. For belly dancers, typical overuse injures include- but is not limited to- tendonitis (inflammation of the tendons) bursitis (inflammation of the bursa, the small fluid-filled sacs which cushion and lubricate tendons, ligaments and joints) muscle strains and tears and sprains. There is even a possibility that you could get carpal tunnel syndrome or tendonitis in the wrists from playing finger cymbals! Burlesque dancers are at risk for most of the same injuries, but might be more at risk from tendon or muscle strain due to wearing high heels which don't offer a lot of support.
If you suspect you may have an overuse injury, look for these factors:
Constant, low-grade pain that gets worse during classes, rehearsals and performances
A sense of physical discomfort that persists even when you are fully rested
A postural change such as favoring one side of the body
Loss of stamina or endurance
Strength and flexibility issues
Intermittent pain in just one area
Numbness and tingling that comes and goes after certain movements are made
Overuse injuries can be treated in a variety of ways. To start off with, you will want to employ R. I.C.E ( which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation) and take an over-the counter anti-inflammatory medication, such as aspirin or ibuprophen. Massage may help, too.
If a few days of rest don’t seem to lessen your symptoms, make an appointment with sports medicine doctor or chiropractor and get an evaluation. Depending on the outcome of the examination you may be ordered to rest further, and/or receive a prescription for physical therapy, which will strengthen the area around your injury and help prevent recurrence.
If your pain is extreme, you may be given a course of steroid pills to take, or be given a local injection to reduce swelling and inflammation. If nothing else works, surgery might have to be considered. If this is the case, find out as much as you possibly can about your injury and get a second opinion! If surgery is absolutely necessary, ask your physician if you are a candidate for a minimally invasive laparoscopic procedure.
Tips For Avoiding Dance Injuries
Focus on proper posture and technique at all times. If you aren’t at the point where you can tell what safe posture feels like, check yourself in the mirror or request that your instructor to watch and correct you. If you aren’t sure of the way a movement should be executed, ask your instructor.
Warm up and cool down properly. Before you start dancing in earnest, do a few minutes of light dancing or aerobic activity, then some light stretching. After you dance, take some time to cool down and then stretch a little more intensely, to prevent lactic acid build-up.
Allow your body ample time to rest after classes, rehearsals and shows. Your body needs to repair and recover from your intense activity.
Stay well hydrated, eat properly, and get enough sleep. Injuries often occur when a dancer is exhausted.
Don’t make dance your only activity. Many injuries can be prevented if you are strong and flexible. Cross training with something that compliments your dancing, like yoga, Pilates or strength training will work different muscle groups and reduce the risk of overuse injury.
Wear shoes during class, rehearsals and at your gigs. Proper foot wear will support and protect your precious feet. Burlesque dancers should consider wearing ballroom or character shoes instead of "off-the-rack " high heels. Also, in the case of belly dancers - you may not like wearing shoes because it doesn't look “traditional”, but it sure beats picking glass out of your feet!
Dance overuse injuries can be daunting and evening frightening, but if you take care of them as close to the onset as possible by getting rest and following your doctor’s instructions to the letter you, should either be able to make a full recovery, or recover sufficiently to be able to resume dancing with a few modifications.
Protect and care for your body vigilantly, and you ought to be able to have a healthy dance practice for years.