Dancer Health

Do you know the difference between pain and injury?

dance injury

Through the vigorous workload and seemingly unnatural practices we apply each day to our life, dancers, without doubt during their careers will come across injury and pain. But it is important to know the difference between “improvement pain” and “injury pain”. When is it ok to push through some of the pain to benefit with strength/improvement and when do you stop to rehabilitate due to injury?

Injury to me, falls under any sort of ailment that prohibits you from either performing at your physical peak or sometimes stops you completely. My definition of injury as a dancer is both a physical and emotional one, as sometimes a physical injury may cause a career to end, thus injuring the dancer emotionally.

Teagan Lowe - Sydney Dance Company, Australia

Article author Teagan Lowe dancing with Sydney Dance Company.

Pain for me as a dancer is a daily occurrence, and is usually triggered via overworking or over-stretching certain muscles, joints or ligaments. Of course pain is unpleasant, however as dancers, I feel we have built up a strong pain tolerance to be able to push our bodies to the limits that are required to improve and achieve. General pain would normally force someone to withdraw from the situation that is harming them, however dancers, over time, develop a great understanding to differentiate between the pain of improvement and the pain of injury.

There are definitely varying perceptions of pain within the dance industry. As individuals we all deal and cope with pain and levels of pain in differing ways. Some dancers become acutely aware of their bodies and can instantly recognise the “improvement/work through it” pain and for others it takes a little longer to develop this skill. In this case, these dancers tend to think that general aches and pains are usually injuries and nurse the pain according to their own perceptions, or they push through injury pain blindly, without seeking assistance or taking the rest that they should.

Being a professional dancer now for over ten years, if I have general aches and pains, I have been dancing for long enough to know what pain needs attention and what needs to be pushed through to attain the next level of my own improvement. In rare instances where I have been injured, I have worked with the team of physiotherapists, pilates instructors and also the ballet coaches to maintain what technique I could whilst I was out of my full training/performance schedule. This reduced training and lessened shows allowed me to continue to be active and also kept the medical and artistic team updated daily.

Throughout my career and all my full-time training I have witnessed first hand a vast variety of both “good” (being improvement) and “bad” (being injury) pain situations. I ultimately feel dance gives the illusion that it is entirely painless, which is what we have trained so hard to do. Dance, when exhibited correctly, strongly portrays that it is easy and free of all agony all together. This can be both a good and bad thing, as the illusion then gives off the ideal that it is painless or easy to do…. when in truth it is far from it. I do believe that by being a dancer, or an elite athlete of any kind, is a huge advantage to everyday life as it builds tolerance to pain, which in the bigger picture, is a good attribute to have.

There are always barriers that you must overcome after facing an injury in dance. You need to make sure that you’re always open and honest with yourself and your medical team about your progress and pain levels on your road to recovery. There is no point trying to get back to the stage if you’re not fully healed, as you may end up with a career-ending injury if you’re not sensible.

At the end of the day you must be an intelligent dancer. Try to identify the difference between “improvement pain” and “injury pain” as soon as you can. Do this by not being afraid to ask questions, getting to know your body, your limits and always learn from your pain for your future.

By Teagan Lowe of Dance Informa.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Melissa Mahady Wilton

    Apr 14, 2015 at 2:24 am

    As a teacher, I think that this is an important subject, particularly when it comes to creating awareness and responsibility in developing dancers. However, I would suggest that to really help educate dancers, we need to use other words besides “pain” to describe the physical feelings of improvement that come with hard work: fatigued, tired, discomfort, exertion, soreness, sensitive, swollen, aching, etc. Dancers often need assistance in building a vocabulary to discuss their bodies, to allow them to be as accurate as possible when working with teachers, physiotherapists, etc. “Pain” should be saved for just that — situations that really HURT and can further be elucidated as sharp, stinging, throbbing, etc. Many times in class students can complain that something “hurts,” but when explored further, what they mean is that a muscle is fatigued. When we are specific in our meaning, we have the opportunity to ward off injury and help dancers really tune in to the sensations of their bodies.

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