Keep on Your Toes
Post By: Mandy Blackmon PT, DPT, OCS, CMTPT
Let’s keep you on your toes this season!
Having treated dancers in the Atlanta area for 9 years, the holiday season always arrives with a bit of hope and apprehension. My ballerinas are preparing for the Nutcracker. My Irish step dancers are preparing for Southeastern Regional Oireachtas in Orlando. Even my adult, recreational dancers are in performance mode with upcoming events at Dance 101. Whether you are a Snowflake or the Sugar Plum Fairy, you need to be at your best. As much as I love treating dancers of all ages and styles, I would much rather be busy watching you all dance than treating you. So, how can we all stay healthy, injury-free, and “on our toes” this holiday season? Check out some of my tips below.
1. Pay attention to your nutrition and hydration
It is so easy to get busy with rushing to school, work, dance class, and performance that we are often eating on the go or skipping meals. During this busy time, you have to think of it as preparing your car for a very long road trip in hazardous conditions. You wouldn’t drive to Poughkeepsie, NY to visit Grandma without oil and gas in your car. You can’t expect your body to run the marathon of Nutcracker season without proper nutrition. Frequent meals and snacks, enough protein and fat, and plenty of fruits and veggies are key. Watch your fluid intake too. Avoid the temptation to turn to sodas and coffee for quick energy. These are diuretics, can deplete your hydration, and cause energy crashes.
2. Get enough sleep and avoid getting sick
Your body has to rest to perform at peak levels. When your muscles and brain don’t get enough recovery, you are more at risk for injury because of lack of concentration and decreased muscle performance. If you are fatigued, your immune system and ability to fight off viruses will suffer as well. Not only is it holiday performance season, but it is also cold and flu season. Dance studios and performance spaces are filled with many dancers in small spaces, touching the same barres and props. Viruses can spread quickly among groups of dancers and have detrimental effects on casting. Pay attention to hand-washing, covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze, and avoiding other dancers if you may be contagious! Get at least 8 hours of good sleep each night and wake up refreshed and ready to meet the day!
3. Listen to your body
Dancers are accustomed to being in pain. We push our bodies to the limits everyday and consistently feel sore from the effort and exercises. How do you know the difference in “normal” dance pain and a potential injury? Redness, swelling, asymmetrical symptoms, burning, tingling, or symptoms that don’t decrease with rest are all indicators that you may have an injury. It’s tempting to cover up these signs and symptoms with Advil and tape, but this can be detrimental in the long run. You don’t want a small injury to become a bigger one that keeps you out of the big competition or performance. If you suspect something is wrong, have it looked at early by a PT or physician that understands dancers and their bodies.
4. Stress relief
You can’t dance 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Find something else for stress relief and distraction that you enjoy. Meditate, go on a walk with a friend, cruise Instagram, read a book. Anything that you find relaxing and that is low-impact on your body will decrease your chances of becoming injured.
5. Do your injury-prevention exercises
Those of you whom I’ve treated know how much I love the foam roller. Resist the urge to over stretch and roll out those tight muscles instead. The foam roller exercises are great for your quads, hamstrings, and calves!
Keep your derriere turned on. Dancers tend to overuse their hip flexors and deep turnout muscles, allowing the gluteal muscles to become lazy. The exercises below are great ways to get the glutes turned on and ready to dance.