Back and Neck Pain

Quick announcement before we get into this week’s question on neck and back pain. I’m so pleased to be able to now offer pinkie balls for sale, 4 for $10! You will find them under products, then click on equipment.

Also… it brings me great pleasure to offer Rebecca Dietzel’s A Dancer’s Guide To Healthy Eating! She is an anatomist who specializes in biochemistry. She teaches anatomy and kinesiology for the Ailey/Fordham BFA program as well as counseling dancers in nutrition. In the near future I’ll post a podcast that Rebecca has so generously offered to record – just for the Dancing Smart Website! More details to come.

Onto the question of the week…

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I have a student who has experienced back pain. Here is her mother’s description of what the doctor said about her x-rays:

“She has a reverse curve shape of the bone structure in her neck. There is definitely a narrowing of the spaces between the vertebrae at the base of the neck. There might be bone fusion that has already occurred. She has been having lower back pain and may have some narrowed spaces in the lower
lumbar also.”

What does this mean for her dancing? What may I be doing as her teacher to help warm up her body before ballet? What do I need to be careful of? She is doing Cecchetti level 6 work.

Thanks! Carroll

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When we look at the normal curves of the spine you can see that there is an arching to the lumbar and cervical curves. (this spine is facing right, the body of the vertebrae are on the inside of the body, and the bumps that you feel along the spinal column are the spinous processes on your back)

These three curves should be in balance, meaning that when one part curves more or rotates the other areas of the spine respond because they are connected.

Now imagine a young dancer who is pulling their chin back and up. I have seen many dancers work to make their spines ‘look’ flat and have that elegant neck that is so desired. You do want the ears over the shoulder and the head balanced easily on top of the neck. You create that by lengthening the whole spine upwards – not – by pulling the chin back.

Watch to make sure your young student doesn’t have an erroneous image of what it means to stand up straight and look like a dancer!

I always encourage my dancers (and non dancers) to warm up by rotating their spine easily and effortlessly. Spine health is often equated with the ability to rotate, and as I have mentioned in prior posts every time there is a lateral curve of the spine there is rotation. (I have never seen a perfectly straight spine – so we all have some degree of lateral curves). We want to be able to rotate the neck, upper back, and lower back evenly to the right and the left.

Your dancer probably is experiencing more discomfort in her lower back area over her neck. The neck is supporting the weight of the head while the pelvis and lower spine carries the weight of everything above it. How well aligned the spine is will determine how it travels through to the legs and how much or little muscular effort is required in standing.

The fact that she has narrowed disc spaces in this area as well is confirmation that something is off in her alignment. I’m assuming that her physician has put her into physical therapy where the PT can evaluate any muscular imbalances.

You don’t mention whether she is slightly tight muscularly, or more of a loosey-goosey flexible dancer. This will help to determine the type of exercises and stretches that would be most appropriate to bring her alignment back to neutral. This is what physical therapy will focus on.

As her teacher, your guidance in having her move in efficient alignment, with just enough muscle effort to create the movement without overworking is invaluable. My intuition tells me she is working too hard – pulling up too hard – and encouraging her to be a little more gentle with herself and her dancing and to enjoy how beautifully her body is moving would be helpful.

Until next time…. be well!

Deborah

“Education is the key to injury prevention”

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