If there’s one thing dancers have in common, it’s that we are all absolutely certifiably insane when it comes to injuries. An injury is our worst nightmare. We dread them, we fear them, and many of us ignore them, hoping they will go away. Ultimately, we work through them, but no matter what, we always obsess about them. Though many of us can easily identify the difference between a major acute injury and those that are minor or temporary, we still stress out over the very thought that we are injured… and this leads to obsessive behavior.
Recently, my left knee was acting up. It wasn’t an acute injury, but something that had started slowly and intermittently. An injury that creeps up like this is usually an RSI, or Repetitive Stress Injury, something that occurs over a period of time, due to making certain movements over and over. I was experiencing medial ( inner side of the knee) pain, and I knew it was an RSI, because I dance every damn day. So I iced it a bit and let it rest as much as I could.
But as the nagging discomfort came and went, I went through a series of my own “diagnostic tests”. These included repeatedly standing with my full weight only on the injured leg, as well as going into movements- without an adequate warm up, I might add- just to see if I could reproduce the odd little pops, clicks and twinges of pain that I was getting every so often while I danced.
Let me tell you right now that I am familiar with anatomy- as well as the way my own body feels when it’s working properly as opposed to being injured. But my self-performed “diagnostics” were not only invalid and uninformed as far as real physical tests go, they were just plain stupid! And even though I knew that, I just couldn’t stop my neurotic OCD behavior. It was like an oddly satisfying nervous tick, kind of like when a little kid loses a tooth and is completely preoccupied with poking their tongue into the raw, tender hole where the tooth had been.
I discussed this phenomenon with several friends, all of whom are seasoned performers and instructors; other belly dancers, ballet, jazz, hip hop, burlesque and contemporary dancers, and guess what?
They all do the same thing!
Maybe it’s just an intrinsic part of our dance-life mania, but it sure isn’t helping in any way, shape or form. At best it causes discomfort; at worst, it can aggravate-and prolong- the injury itself.
As frustrating as it may be, you gotta let that injury rest! Quit “testing” it to see if the status has changed in the past ten hours…or ten minutes. As the Beatles said, “Let It Be”. It might be easier said than done, but leaving your injury alone is probably the best thing you can do for it.
It’s absolutely vital to understand that you need to baby your injury- at least for a while- if you want it to get better. It’s much more prudent to cancel a few classes or gigs than try to flail your way through your regular schedule while your injury is in full force. R.I.C.E or Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation are always good; you can ice and injury for fifteen or twenty minutes every couple of hours to help the inflammation calm down. Over the counter NSAIDS will also help with the pain as well as combatting inflammation.
In the meantime, during your recovery, you can work on any areas of your body that aren't injured. To stay conditioned, stretch and strengthen the rest of your body before returning to your full-on schedule of rehearsals, classes and shows. The last thing you want to do is impede your recovery by ignoring the advice of your physicians and/or physical therapist…or by performing any dumb-ass “self diagnostics”.
There are many things you can do to keep learning and to help you feel as though you are progressing, even if you can’t actually dance yet. Ask your instructor(s) if you can audit their dance classes- you can gain insight and learn technique just by watching a class and taking notes. Watch dance videos; analyze the styles or technique you are seeing, and observe more subtle things like stage presence, emotional connection to the music, and the costuming the performing is wearing.
Once you’ve been passed the acute phase of your injury, and with your doctor’s ok, you need to start rehab. If you’ve been prescribed a course of physical therapy, attend the sessions religiously, following your homework exercise regimen to the letter. You might also try Pilates, which was actually designed as a strengthening program to help dancers rehabilitate from injury. Make sure to find a certified instructor and let them know how you are injured. Start out simple, and basic- if you’re feeling pain from any movements, don’t do them yet… and no matter what, don’t push yourself too hard, because you certainly don't want to exacerbate your injury. It’s better to err on the side of caution. Walking is a terrific and low- impact aerobic way of keeping fit, and often a brisk walk will lower your overall physical feelings of discomfort.
If your injury has recovered enough that you have the ability to dance- but aren’t quite at a hundred percent, you will need to make necessary adjustments. However, you need to make sure that whatever you are doing doesn’t throw your body out of alignment. For example, if you’re still unable to completely put your full weight on one leg, do not assume that you’ll be fine bearing all that weight on the other leg! It will only lead to more problems. The more you “protect” the injured side, the more likely it will be that you’ll sustain an injury on the side that’s working over-time.
Try to calm your inner dance-demons while you are recovering, ok? Be grateful for your body’s healing capabilities, have faith in your recovery process, and take the necessary time to recover fully before you get back in the game.
Oh and please… No more “testing”!
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