As dancers, it is common to feel that there is a time limit on how long we can continue dancing or that we can only dance up until a certain age. Perhaps you’re noticing pain in your body the day after a big dance rehearsal, or that you can’t jump into the splits without warming up like you used to. While each body is different, there are ways to keep your body dancing and moving well into your 60s and 70s!
The key to longevity in dance is allowing adequate recovery to reduce pain and inflammation between sessions of dance training or rehearsals. If you have ever participated in a sporting team such as soccer or basketball, you may have noticed that as a team, time is usually dedicated to a cool down and recovery immediately after a game. This adequate recovery is also crucial for injury prevention as it improves the body’s ability to perform. In dance we are usually limited by time restraints but also just by the normal culture surrounding dance, that once the class or rehearsal or performance is finished, everyone goes home. Dance teachers and studio owners have the power to shift this attitude towards recovery in dancers. But since our body is our instrument, it is integral that we take care of it and take the responsibility of recovery into our own hands.
This blog will cover the following methods for recovery and injury prevention:
- Cold water immersion
- Contrast water therapy
- Active recovery
- Compression garments
- Physiotherapy for injury prevention
Cold Water Immersion for Recovery and Injury Prevention
Cold water immersion is an effective tool for muscle recovery post-dance training. This is usually performed in a temperature-controlled pool or bath. Research has found that cold water immersion has a significant effect on delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). It is recommended that the water temperature is set between 11-15 degrees for adequate recovery. To have a significant impact on muscle soreness, exposure to cold water is required to last for 11-15 minutes. Cold water immersion is widely used by people participating in high level activities like dance as it has been found to relieve pain, and reduce exercise induced inflammation and muscle damage, allowing for a quicker recovery time.
Hydrotherapy for Recovery and Injury Prevention
Hydrotherapy is a very common practice used for post-exercise recovery. A hydrotherapy pool contains salt water or chlorine and is kept close to 34°C. The water’s relieving and resisting effects have been found to reduce chronic pain, inflammation, muscle tension, and improve coordination and mobility.
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Contrast Water Therapy for Recovery and Injury Prevention
Contrast water therapy involves immersion in alternately cold and warm water to aid muscle recovery. This method has been proven to decrease inflammation and reduce muscle damage after exercise. The transition between cold and warm water on the body causes constriction and dilation of the blood vessels, allowing a reduction in oedema (fluid retention) after exercise.
Active Recovery for Recovery and Injury Prevention
Active recovery involves activating different muscle groups through light exercise such as jogging, walking or swimming following physical activity. For the cool down to be effective, it must be performed immediately after exercise. 7 minutes of active recovery is sufficient. This technique of recovery increases blood flow in the muscle tissue which assists with removal of metabolic waste. This aids to reduce muscle lesions and pain. Active recovery has also been found to improve overall performance of the body.
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Cryotherapy for Recovery and Injury Prevention
Cryotherapy is a treatment applying intense cold for short bursts of time to lower the surface body temperature to 4°C. Whole body treatments are performed in specially designed rooms such as cryo-chambers or cryo-saunas. Liquid nitrogen is used to reduce the temperature of the room. Alternatively, there are more localised treatment options such as frozen gels, ice buckets, cold water, compresses or airflow of liquefied carbon dioxide. Cryotherapy is designed to induce stress on the body which causes constriction of blood vessels and muscle contraction. Subsequently, the body responds with a protective reaction and rapidly dilates blood vessels, causing an increase in blood flow. This allows an increased circulation of nutrients, oxygen and anti-inflammatory products to flow through the body, causing alleviation of pain, swelling and inflammation. Cryotherapy has also been found to positively influence the nervous and immune systems. Cryotherapy can be applied immediately after or within 24 hours after dance training, with the application at a temperature of -20 to -160°C for a duration of about 2-3 minutes.
Massage for Recovery and Injury Prevention
Massage is an effective method of recovery after dance practice. Massage increases blood flow through the muscles and decreases muscle oedema, subsequently reducing DOMS induced by muscle damage. Research has shown that a 20-30 minute massage needs to be performed either immediately after exercise or up to 2 hours after exercise to be effective in reducing DOMS with benefits lasting at least 24 hours following exercise. Massage has also been found to reduce circulating cortisol (stress hormone) and boost the concentration of beta-endorphins which provide pain relief and a feeling of well-being. Other benefits include improved sleep quality, reduced muscle and joint pain, and nervous system regulation (reduces stress).
Stretching for Recovery and Injury Prevention
There is mixed evidence on the effect of stretching on recovery. It has been found that stretching can reduce fatigue following dance training but this outcome is more pronounced in females, having a faster and shorter reduction in fatigue compared with males. Other research has found that stretching has no positive impact on DOMS. Conversely, stretching has even been shown to produce muscle damage (Dupuy, 2018).
Compression Garments for Recovery and Injury Prevention
Compression garments are a form of clothing that fit tightly on the skin. Compression garments worn after exercise are beneficial for reducing DOMS and perceived fatigue, which has been suspected to be due to the reduction in space available for swelling to accumulate with the compression on the limb (Dupuy, 2018).
Physiotherapy for Injury Prevention
For preventative measures, a dance physiotherapist can assess your body alignment and movement to identify potential risks for injury. Your physiotherapist will work with you to tailor a specific home exercise program aimed at improving specific muscle strength, balance, proprioception (joint position awareness) mobility, and flexibility. It is helpful to be more aware of your body’s natural movement patterns and areas of weakness to allow you to be more conscious of these aspects while you dance. Research has found injury prevention programs to be effective and can reduce injuries by at least 40%.
Pilates for Recovery and Injury Prevention
Pilates is an increasingly popular form of exercise used by dancers to prevent injury and aid recovery. Pilates helps improve the activation of your stability muscles required in dance. There is also a large focus on balance and body awareness. There are different forms of Pilates including mat, reformer, and clinical Pilates. Pilates has been found to lower stress levels and is beneficial in preventing injury, making it a helpful adjunct to dance training.
Yoga for Recovery and Injury Prevention
Yoga involves a mix of fluid movement and sustained holds in various poses. It incorporates the coordination of breath with movement and often includes meditation. Recent research supports the theory that yoga can counteract the aging process. It has also been found to improve memory, spatial attention, and decision-making. It has been found that completing 45 minutes of yoga once per week is sufficient to create improvements in mobility, balance, cognitive function, flexibility, strength, sleep, and mental well-being. Yoga is helpful for dancers to gain strength and control through their full range of motion.
If you are a dancer, visit us at PhysioTec and let one of our dance physios assess you and provide you with a personalised program for performing your best!
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